King Kong

King Kong

****

Reviewed by: Chris

King Kong has the whisper of greatness beneath a clamour of commercialism.

Peter Jackson has wisely chosen to emphasise the "beauty and the beast" symbolism in this definitive remake that puts it streets ahead of mere storytelling, of the sort employed by directors such as Spielberg. But for all its integrity of purpose, it is still an expensive movie, determined to make lots of money and any deeper levels may be lost on moviegoers, who simply want to be entertained. Even so, using psychology common to legend makes the entertainment a more authentic experience.

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In the days when film cameras were cranked by hand, out-of-luck director Carl Denham (Jack Black) risks everything to make a movie on an uncharted island. His leading lady has cancelled and he takes a chance on relative unknown Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), whom he meets at the last minute before setting sail from New York.

Adrien Brody makes a fine appearance as playwright Jack Driscoll, unwillingly kept on board and soon attracted to the luminous Ann. Long before they have found the island, had numerous adventures that attempt to put Lost Island and Jurassic Park to shame, and shipped the gigantic gorilla back to New York, Jack has fallen hopelessly in love, yet finds himself unable to express it.

Watts is stellar, with all the quirks of persona she polished for Mulholland Drive, mysterious - she is drawn quite believably to Kong - and wide-eyed, always full of more emotion than she can say in words. Used wisely, actors like these add immeasurably to an adventure story, which is basically action driven. With minimal dialogue, they hint at deeper themes that give something more substantial to hold on to, and, at just over three hours (at times, the film plays like "the extended DVD version"), this is sorely needed by anyone over the age of 12.

The lengthy introduction (New York and the sea journey) gives some body to the story. The scariness of the islands' human inhabitants gets the audience on edge far more effectively than suddenly introducing special effect monsters. By the time we get to know Kong, our suspension of disbelief is in full swing. This is important, since the main emotional thrust is the dynamic between the doe-eyed blonde and the gorilla's "sensitive side". Sacrificed and captured, she becomes first a trophy and then an amusing plaything. It is easy to imagine a parallel with a child who catches a bug, or a rodent, and then, finding it fascinating, becomes protective towards it.

So develops the "love affair" between King Kong and Ann Darrow. He becomes her knight in shining armour, fighting off other dangers until eventually she learns to trust him for who he is rather than what he is. In Cocteau's 1946 masterpiece of the 18th century story, Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et la Bete), the monster is eventually replaced (becomes) the prince. Apart from the haunting gothic scenery, there are minimal special effects and it is easy to focus on the true "meaning" of the fairy tale, which mirrors other folk tales, legends and myths of ancient Greece and Rome, where the higher ideal, or mystery, is clothed in animal (repulsive) form, either as an initiatic test, or some different symbolic lesson, of looking beneath appearances and overcoming the animal nature within us. The Beast has to learn not to be dazzled by external beauty, as Brody's character is in the film, and Beauty has to look beyond external ugliness to what is really important.

Just as in Mulholland Drive, Watts' character has some well-orchestrated double takes. Playing an actress, she is shot at length for the dramatic moment when she first sees the island, yet the scenes when she beholds the sun from Kong's mountaintop, or from The Empire State Building, are truly magnificent. At last, she has travelled from pretence to external reality and thence to inner reality and when she speaks the word "beautiful," finally she applies it to Kong.

Jackson, in what he admits is a labour of love, has added depth to a well-worn story. We might even say he has tamed the beast - Universal Pictures - but to do so would be inaccurate. Great art takes an idea and develops it, or makes a truth beyond itself more apparent, discovering a new way of looking at things, inspiring us, or adding to our lives, in a way that is more than mere entertainment.

King Kong is an exceptionally entertaining blockbuster, but Cocteau, unsurprisingly, it ain't. With vast budgets (and personal wealth if need be) at his disposal, Jackson is a talented director, but one wonders if he will ever scrape beneath the veneer of dollar-driven cinema to make independent works of true genius, of which he is surely capable.

Reviewed on: 16 Dec 2005
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Peter Jackson revisits his favourite film in a great remake.
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Read more King Kong reviews:

Angus Wolfe Murray *****
Anton Bitel *****

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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