At The Picture Show
A 'King'-sized epic in every sense of the word
Director: Peter Jackson
Screenplay: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, based on a 1933
script by James A. Creelman and Ruth Rose
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin
Hanks, Kyle Chandler, Evan Parke and Andy Serkis
Rated PG-13 / 3 hours, 7 minutes
Opens Dec. 14, 2005
(out of four)
Duplicitous film director Carl Denham is on a tight schedule. His leading
lady has run off, and he has just an hour or two before he and his crew set sail for
Skull Island. He quickly rattles off a list of potential actresses to his assistant, but
all are unavailable. "What about Fay?" Carl asks. "No," his assistant replies,
"she's doing some movie for RKO."
The "Fay," of course, is actress Fay Wray, star of the 1933 classic, King
Kong, a production of RKO Pictures. This is one of many references to the
original film in the new remake by Peter Jackson, who was inspired into
filmmaking by the original Kong, and who has now brought it back to life in
To compare the 1933 version of King Kong to the new one is
impossible--they exist on two completely different planes. I love the original--it
was a groundbreaking film and rightly deserves its revered place in history. But
what Jackson has created is not just a movie--this is an event. King Kong is
sensational entertainment from start to finish, but it's not just the grand spectacle
we've all been expecting--this is one of the most emotionally captivating films to
hit theatres in a long, long time.
Over the course of the film, Denham (Jack
Black), along with his new lead actress, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), his writer,
Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and a heap of others, will battle dinosaurs, thousands
of oversized bugs--spiders and cockroaches included--and of course Kong, the
apparent ruler of the tribal people who inhabit the island. The events that take
place on the island make for one spectacular action sequence after another--for a
while, it seems like the film will never let up.
But Jackson could throw all the action and special effects up on screen that
he wants to--it's not just that which makes the film work as brilliantly as it does.
What transforms the film from action extravaganza to epic storytelling is the
moving relationship between Kong and Ann Darrow.
She is first offered to him by the natives as a
tribal sacrifice, but soon enough he becomes her savior and protector. He will do
anything for her--even die for her. At its heart, this is a love story, and the bond
that forms between the two is full of such tenderness and warmth, it practically
takes your breath away. Is it possible to get choked up, even cry, over a 50-foot,
computer-generated gorilla? Oh yes, I promise you, it is.
There is a scene about halfway through that encapsulates the heart of the
movie. Still in the midst of the jungle, Kong sits stoically at the edge of a cliff as
the day turns to sunset. After a few moments, he opens up his enormous hand;
Ann, without any hesitation, eases into the palm of his hand, sits for a while and
eventually goes to sleep in his tightened, protective grasp. It's a beautiful and
poignant scene, and in it lies more feeling than just about any manufactured
human-to-human drama that has come along all year.
Who would have thought it possible that such emotion could come from
CGI? Kong himself is played by Andy Serkis, in the same way he played Gollum
in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, with motion-capture technology that required 132
sensors on his face alone, to capture each and every expression. Serkis certainly
deserves a lot of credit--in a film with several good performances, he pulls more
emotional feeling out of us than any other character.
Last week brought the release of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, in
which it was difficult to form an emotional attachment to Aslan, a talking lion who
was meant to be the hero of the film. Take it from Peter Jackson and Andy
Serkis--this is how it's done.
Watts' performance--particularly in the one-on-one scenes with Kong-- is especially impressive, considering the fact that she
didn't have a co-star to work off of, or speak to, during those scenes. She's pretty
much going solo alongside a computer-generated animal. It's not an exaggeration
to say that this is an Oscar-worthy role.
Jack Black, while thought to be a curious choice, is actually a nice fit. His is
not a comedic role, but it's not an altogether dramatic one, either. Carl is a
showman, a manipulative, over-the-top conman who will say anything to get his
way and does everything with the motive of making a quick buck. Brody,
meanwhile, is perfect as the mild-mannered writer, and as Ann's pseudo-romantic
interest. And Thomas Kretschmann (The Pianist) and Evan Parke are both
excellent in small roles as the ship's captain and first mate.
But this is Jackson's movie--and with it, he has firmly established himself
as the king (pun intended) of the epic action-adventure. What else can you say
about Jackson and his creative team? To blend the live actors with CGI creatures
with such precision is an accomplishment in and of itself. Are all the effects
perfect? No. In fact, in their first appearance, I thought the dinosaurs looked rather
synthetic--until, that is, they started hunting down the humans. At that point, you
could start to actually feel the dinosaurs' weight as their feet pounded along the
jungle ground, and you realize just how impressive the effects really are.
But despite minor flaws in some of the CGI, the
fact remains that King Kong himself is the single greatest special effect in film
history--he's absolutely stunning, not just the expressiveness of his face but the
fine detail of every inch of his body. It's rare to say this about any CGI creation,
but when he is on screen, it actually looks like it's all really happening.
But back to the story. King Kong is told in a classic three-act structure. The
first act establishes Depression-era Manhattan circa 1933, with Ann as a
vaudevillian struggling for work until Carl, the disreputable filmmaker,
"discovers" her and casts her in his new film. The second act takes place on the
island, where we get our first glimpse of Kong more than an hour into the film.
And then the third act, of course, is back in Manhattan, culminating in an
extraordinary rendition of the legendary scene atop the Empire State Building.
Jackson will always be remembered, first and foremost, for helming the
Lord of the Rings trilogy. After all, that project was the biggest undertaking in the
history of cinema, and he did a phenomenal job bringing it to the screen. But, in
my opinion, King Kong is the best individual movie of his career. From its gradual
opening exposition all the way through its 187-minute runtime, the film rarely
steps wrong. It is both thrilling and exquisitely sad. This is beautiful filmmaking,
and King Kong is a beautiful film.
Read more by Chris Bellamy