KING KONG: Directed and co-written by Peter Jackson. Co-written by Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, based on the story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. Produced by Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Fran Walsh and Peter Jackson. Cinematography, Andrew Lesnie. Production design, Grant Major. Editors, Jamie Selkirk, Jabez Olssen. Special makeup, creatures and miniatures, Richard Taylor. Visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri. Music by James Newton Howard. Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. With Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Kyle Chandler, Andy Serkis. Universal Pictures, 2005. 180 minutes. PG-13.
The best advice you’ll get from me about Peter Jackson’s brilliantly re-imagined King Kong is: See it the way a child would. Toss out the hype cluttering your mind, and go to the movie with new eyes, as if you had never heard any version of the story. Stop reading now. Just go.
The first hour of the film lends itself to a child-like vision of New York during the Great Depression. In addition to people standing in soup lines and those getting evicted, you also meet a vaudevillian hoofer who’s all heart, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who wants to be a serious actress. When she meets the high-stakes dreamer who promises to make her a movie star, Carl Denham (Jack Black), Ann’s almost ready to sign on. Not unlike Orson Welles in ambition, self-confidence and determination, Denham pitches Darrow an offer she can’t resist.
But after meeting Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), the fearsome captain of the tramp steamer on which the cast and crew are traveling, Ann turns ambivalent. But Denham isn’t above deceiving New York playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to get him to come along and write the film Denham believes will be a great success. And after Ann meets Jack, you better believe the film’s going to be a great romance as well as an adventure.
About the time the steamer left the harbor, I was hooked. The experience was similar to how I read, heard and imagined adventure stories when I was a kid — especially those set in exotic but secret places, such as Skull Island. I knew I was on the right track when the steam ship actually rammed into an unknown, walled island in an unexplored part of the great, warm ocean and worlds away from the shipping lanes and the hustle-bustle of commerce. Wow!
Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have made up the hideous creatures and cruel people of Skull Island. Although Jurasaic Park makes you think you’ve seen all possible prehistoric animals, Jackson and his crew of WETA magicians have given birth to sharp-toothed, whip-smart dinosaurs that chase their prey with relish. The island’s people remind me of the depraved ones with Kurt in the jungles of Southeast Asia in Apocalypse Now. Like them, these folks are gleefully (and creatively) drawn to gore.
When the cast and crew naively disembark the ship, you know trouble is waiting. The filmmaker’s loyal assistant (Colin Hank) see Denham’s less savory side, while Ann’s wimpy co-star (Kyle Chandler) turns out to be less than heroic. After they are all routed, Kong rescues Ann from an ugly death ritual practiced by the locals, plucking her up in his fist like a limp ragdoll and taking her away from the rugged coastline. When he toys with the scantily clad but fiercely resisting Ann. it’s much like watching a cat taunt a stunned mouse or bird.
A rescue party led by Jack tries to find Ann, but the group now is hunted by icky predators, including giant worms apparently attracted by body heat and creepy giant cricket-like things bent on mayhem. Hayes (Evan Parke), the ship’s first mate and a trustworthy officer, reluctantly allows young Jimmy (Jamie Bell) to accompany him to the island’s dank interior. After many battles, the party returns to the ship, and Kong brings Ann to his lair, a cave set high in the mountains, with a view. There she entertains him with hijinks such as cartwheels, which seals the bond between this beauty and her beast. Seeing the giant gorilla’s gentler side transforms horror into wonder and makes the film even more enjoyable.
Black shows himself to be a crafty actor with a mad twinkle in his eyes that’s irresistible. Brody proves to be a desirable lover in his first romantic role. Watts demonstrates again the acting magic that made her film debut in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive so memorable. And Andy Serkis should receive some special award for making Kong’s ending the tragedy it deserves to be.
Now playing at Cinema World and Cinemark, King Kong is one of the great films of the year. Don’t miss it. Very highest recommendations.