King Kong
"Big is back."

Big is back.

Not just the ape, but the budget. Co-writer/director Peter Jackson forked out millions of his own dosh to finish this film the way he wanted. It has that labour-of-love look about it.

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You could pitch the story from the back of a fag packet. Hollywood director accompanies skeleton crew, plus a couple of actors, to an island off Sumatra, where they discover a giant gorilla that takes a shine to the lead actress. By means never entirely believable, they bring the beast to New York where it is exhibited in chains at a theatre on Broadway. Ape escapes, finds girl and climbs The Empire State Building. Cue army and air force. Much screaming.

This latest version (no 3) is so well made that discrepancies in the script and holes in the plot don't make any difference, because you sit there with your jaw on the floor, amazed by the bare brilliance of it.

Jackson takes his time to set the scene, gather his characters, find the boat. The director, Carl Denham (Jack Black), has been grounded by his producers for wasting their money on footling safari pictures. He grabs a camera and legs it out of there, picking up an unemployed vaudeville clown, called Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), from outside a burlesque theatre and tricking playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) into staying on board. By the time they are at sea, there is a warrant out for Denham's arrest and Ann is finding Driscoll's advances anything but unwelcome.

They reach Skull Island in a fog and immediately are faced by natives, who live in caves, protected from the rest of the island by a high wall and a gaping chasm. They are not the topless patronise-my-ethnic-purity types, who can be bribed with Hershey bars. They are vicious, savage and superstitious. The first thing they do, after subduing the white invaders, is string Ann up in a wooden contraption that carries her across the chasm, as a sacrifice to the great Kong.

That part of the island where the natives never go is like Conan Doyle's The Lost World, only scarier, because the animals and insects have been supersized, which makes you wonder about Mrs Kong and the Kong kiddies. Where are they? Are they? If not, why not?

Resistance becomes futile at this point. Ann's ability to create a kind of rapport with this wild creature is neither sentimental, nor beyond belief. Kong saves her many times from the carnivorous dinosaurs and she repays him with her trust. It is unspoken, unexplored, and due to Watts' performance and Kong's empathy the centre holds, for this is the heart and blood of the film - Beauty and the Beast.

King Kong is a B-movie, dressed up to look like the real thing. The story - Edgar Wallace had a hand in it, which explains a lot - is pure pulp. The romance between a starlet and a big monkey is on a par with those daft sci-fi flicks about blobs taking over Mid-Western small towns. And yet Jackson treats it with the utmost respect and MAKES you believe, not by throwing money at the CGI bods (okay, he does!), but by caring so much, it's contagious.

Like Spielberg, he is a film fan, neither arty farty, nor a snob. He understands that genres have rules and you break them at your peril. Michael Cimino broke them in Heaven's Gate. James Cameron didn't in Titanic. Jackson's King Kong works on several levels, as a monster movie, a love story, a Boys Own adventure, a thriller, a period piece, and if looks could kill, we'd all be dead, because every scene and every location has been immaculately prepared.

It is not difficult to think of half a dozen plot defects - what's Ann doing walking about the streets of New York at night in a white satin dress with snow on the ground in mid winter? - but they really don't matter. The centre holds. When you walk out of the cinema at the end, something has changed. Is it the world? Is it you? Did the earth move?

Ann teaches Kong a sign word. He uses it tentatively as they sit together at the top of The Empire State Building, with the sun coming up over the Hudson and the biplanes circling. The word is "beautiful".

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2005
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King Kong packshot
Peter Jackson revisits his favourite film in a great remake.
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Read more King Kong reviews:

Anton Bitel *****
Chris ****

Director: Peter Jackson

Writer: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, based on a screen story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Kyle Chandler, Andy Serkis, Lobo Chan

Year: 2005

Runtime: 187 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: New Zealand/US


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King Kong