Movie Review: Peter Jackson’s King Kong

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When Peter Jackson had such huge success from making The Lord of the Rings books into movies, it’s not hard to imagine that he would have had a virtual blank check to make whatever he wanted after that. Who wouldn’t take that opportunity and use it to fulfill a lifelong dream? That’s exactly what Jackson did when he made his new version of King Kong.

You can really tell, too, how much he loves the original movie and the story surrounding it. He stays remarkably true to the original while fleshing out areas that painfully fall flat in the outdated mode of moviemaking of the ’30s. He adds soul to the characters—including Kong, adds Weta’s masterful special and visual effects, and adds modern sensibilities to otherwise corny dialogue lifted from the original to make it ring true (without resorting to lines like, “What’s your sign?” a la 1976’s version with Jessica Lange).

For the few uninitiated viewers, King Kong is the story of moviemakers who go on a safari-type expedition to an uncharted island hoping to make an adventure movie. What they find is a 25-foot gorilla that is keeping the locals in a state of fear. To appease the beast, Ann Darrow is sacrificed to Kong, who eventually develops a protectiveness of her.

I really enjoyed this movie. I saw it twice in the theater and it’s a really fun ride. It’s essentially a chase film, with some great creature fights. Peter Jackson also manages to make the connection between Ann and Kong believable and touching, something not previously done very well. Except for one part, the special effects are flawless too. The digital reconstruction of 1930s New York is amazing and the Jungle settings are lush and painterly.

As I mentioned in Monday’s review of the 1933 version, I loved all the inside jokes and references to the original. My favorite is the production that occurs on the stage when Kong is presented at Radio City Music Hall. If you see the original, you’ll know that what was on the stage with the costumes and music, was a direct lift from the original 1933 sequence from Skull Island.

There are a few quotes that Jack Black had to deliver as the filmmaker Carl Denham which were direct lifts from the original. It was nice to see them delivered in a believable way, since they were actually very corny things to say. Things like, “We’re millionaires boys, and I’ll share it with all of ya. In a few months his name will be up in lights on Broadway… KONG! THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD!” and then later “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast.” These lines actually work because of how well Jack Black plays this character and the kind of person we end up believing him to be.

Another part that really made me laugh when I caught it on my second viewing (which was embarrassing because I was the only one in the theater who was laughing) was a scene where Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody’s screenwriter character) were working over their script and they start talking about killing off the first officer right at the beginning. Well, I had to laugh, because in the original, Jack Driscoll was the first officer, not a screenwriter at all. So in essence, Peter Jackson killed off the first officer by eliminating him from the movie and making Jack a writer instead. It was funny that they talked about it that way.

The ultimate hat-tip to the original for me was the fight between Kong and the last t-rex. Everything from the wrestling style of fighting, to the jaw-breaking, to the chest-beating afterward was taken directly from the original and I took it as one of those necessary elements that I would have missed if it wasn’t there.

There’s one part of the movie that highly bothered me, though. It might sound silly, but it involves a large herd of brontosaurus-type dinosaurs stampeding through a canyon with the entire main cast running for their lives as they dodge the dinosaur’s legs. So, why did this bother me so much when I’m ok with the thought of a 25-foot gorilla falling in love with a normal proportioned woman? Well, part of it is the fact that it looked like the actors were either running on a treadmill, or just in place. Another is poor compositing of the people and the animals—I never really believed that they were actually there. They should have been knocked around much more than they were. Up until and after this part, everyone seemed to be restricted to normal physical limitations, but here, they were almost super human. Ultimately I think this part could have been fixed by just having everyone climb into cracks in the canyon and narrowly escape the stampede. That would have been better than trying to run with it.

The only other thing that I find distracting in Peter Jackson’s movies is his incessant need to give everyone (and everything) a back-story. This, of course is ultimately so that there is more of an emotional payoff when those characters meet grizzly ends, but it also takes up a lot of screen time that could have been used to focus on the main characters, or to shorten the movie so that it’s more palatable to casual audiences—3 hours and 8 minutes is a long time.

So, would I recommend this movie? Of course. These complaints are literally the only problems I had with the whole movie which otherwise is a spectacular thing to see. I loved it, and if you’re up for a great adventure, you will too!

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