Director – Peter Jackson
Cast – Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler
Release Year – 2005
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The original 1933 version of King Kong is regarded by many as one of the most prolific horror films of all time. It perfectly blends action, adventure, and strong elements of horror into a 100-minute experience with one of the most heartbreaking climaxes there is. Famed director Peter Jackson got his start with the horror genre, and he is admittedly a big fan of the original King Kong. When this film first hit in 2005 I just wasn’t interested in it. The trailer looked like it was a CGI fest and the CGI looked terrible as well. So, nearly 100 years later I am finally giving it a watch and while there is a lot I did not like…it did keep my interest and never lost me.
In 1933 New York, the aspiring movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) coerces struggling actress Ann Morrow, writer Jack Driscoll, and a hired ship to embark on a journey with him to the uncharted Skull Island. Their attempt to film a movie becomes much more than that when they meet hostile natives and a very large gorilla that falls for Ann.
I am not a big fan of Jack Black, but that was not enough to keep Jackson from sucking me in from the get-go. We watch as Carl hits rock bottom and is forced to scheme everyone around him in order to get this film in motion – lying about paying them and about where they are going. It does not take too long for them to leave the port and start their journey, and Jackson takes his sweet time in getting them there. At 187 minutes the first act is about an hour long. Jackson and his longtime writing duo of wife Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens do a good job of keeping things moving at a solid pace. There are constant developments, lots of conflict, and once they reach the island there is no turning back when it comes to your attention. I always loved the idea of naïve people arriving on Skull Island and being faced with horrors they never saw coming. The horrors here are very similar to the ones seen in the original film. The natives are savage killers, there are carnivorous dinosaurs hunting our protagonists, and of course…there’s Kong. Danger lurks around ever corner on Skull Island, and when Kong makes his escape in New York City his rampage continues raises the body count to an astonishing 53 people and 3 Tyrannosaurs, referred to as V-Rexs. I know this isn’t seen as a devoutly horror film, but when you have that many people being eaten / crushed / torn to shreds, it warrants conclusion on my site.
The writers pen our characters very well, and of course Kong steals the show. With an extra 87 minutes in comparison to the original, we see a lot more of the beast in this effort. We watch his instant infatuation with Ann and the extremes he will go to in order to keep her in his possession. He is a savage at times, but one who eventually displays a level of affection you would not normally expect to see. Andy Serkis portrays Kong, and Jackson uses amazing special effects to bring him to life. Earlier I mentioned bad CGI. Somehow, this did not apply to Kong. It applied to something else I will mention soon. The rest of the actors did a fine job, and I didn’t dislike Jack Black as much as I usually do. For the human characters, Adrien Brody steals the show. He is used as a solid supporting actor who eventually becomes a lead and fuels a slight romantic sub-plot that eventually battles Kong’s romance.
I liked the film and its colossal ambitions, but it is not without its faults. Surprisingly enough, the biggest faults lie within the direction. This first issue will be more of a personal matter, but I did not enjoy the terrible use of the green screens behind our actors. The CGI here is extremely bad, but keep in mind this is an obvious homage to the effects screen scenes of the original film. You eventually get over these scenes, but then they happen again. If you don’t quite understand what I am saying…you’ll know right away when you see them. The next fault is both direction and story-related, and it is how far-fetched the fight scenes are. Obviously, a giant gorilla fighting a carnivorous dinosaur in the 20th century is pretty far fetched in itself, but the fight scenes were so dramatically cinematic that they turned me off. These scenes were incredibly long in length, and that lead to these awesome matchups becoming a bore. They were cool and engaging for the first minute, but 5 minutes later I was wishing they’d be over. This insanity continues with events that should be unfathomable to both warring beasts, but are somehow possible on Skull Island. I am referring to the scenes taking place above the ravine where a T-Rex is dangling from a vine hundreds of feet in the air and still trying to devour a protagonist. Stuff like that was just silly and detrimental.
Despite my previous paragraph, Jackson’s direction is great. As I mentioned earlier, he sucks you in and rarely gives you a break. I enjoyed the sets used for the boat scenes and all of Skull Island, and he did a good job of recreated the monumental final act where Kong lays waste to New York City. Also, he included the infamous “spider pit scene” that was discarded from the original film and subsequently lost, having never been shown to the public – a damn shame. Jackson’s version of this scene is brutal, gut-wrenching, and the most horrific scene of his since the climax of his 1992 gorefest, Dead Alive. The spider pit scene in this effort is one of the few instances where going over the top proved to be a solid choice.
Overall, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is an enjoyable film that manages to keep the elements of horror, love, and adventure that have left the original effort forever etched in history. If you have three hours to spare then this is worth checking out.