Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
December 2005

A 'King'-sized epic in every sense of the word

King Kong
Universal Pictures
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 glorious--and heartbreaking--fashion.

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

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