A lot of people dislike Peter Jackson’s remake of 1933’s King Kong, made simply because the original is one of Jackson’s own favourite films, but once you get past the overlong New York-set character establishing and the woeful miscasting of Jack Black as movie producer Carl Denham, what’s left is an entertaining and well realised modern retelling of a well known story with a renowned ending known to all, whether they’ve seen the films or not. Aside from Black, it is this sense of inevitability that lets the film down. We all know going in that at some point a giant gorilla is going to capture, then fall for aspiring actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts, doing the best she can as essentially a scream on legs), before being captured himself, shipped to New York and thrown on stage as the latest attraction, ultimately forcing him to escape and take a fateful climb atop the Empire State Building, ultimately being killed not by machine gun-toting bi-planes, but by the bright, bloody blade of beauty. I’m not suggesting for a moment that the ending should have been changed, maybe with Kong swimming back to Skull Island with Ann perched on his head, or perhaps the NY locals gradually accepting Kong for who he is, eventually electing him mayor, paving the way for a comedy-heavy sequel, seeing Ann escorting Kong to various prestigious events, climaxing in an unveiling at the Smithsonian, where confronting a T-Rex skeleton brings back too many memories for the now refined ape, causing him to rip off his custom made tuxedo (with comically oversized and troublesome bowtie), break the skeletons jaw and finally settle down in an overgrown corner of Central Park, or in an enclosure at San Diego Zoo. No, the story was rightfully left intact, if a little extended in places, and mercifully the 1930s setting was also maintained, moving it all to the modern day could have ruined this movie.
As for Black, I’m not sure who could have replaced him as the egotistical, deceitful, driven moviemaker, but I think an older actor could have lent a little gravitas to the role, and since watching Midnight Run I’ve wanted to recast everyone with Charles Grodin, so I’m going to go with him.
The film doesn’t really get going until the approach to the island, with Jackson using some innovative effects and camerawork (the screaming rocks and the shot of Jamie Bell being flung around in the crow’s nest are particular highlights), but the best parts, in my opinion, involve the creatures of the island. Populated with dinosaurs, creepy-crawlies the size of caravans and creatures that are essentially giant penises with teeth and a penchant for human limbs, it’s not exactly an ideal holiday destination, but the respective battles and chases involving these beasties are the most entertaining and thrilling sequences in the film, the CGI is impeccable if a little soulless at times. Kong’s fight against three Tyrannosaurs over Ann is beautifully choreographed, and worth the three hour runtime alone.
There’s also some nice in-jokes (Denham can’t cast Fay Wray in his picture, as she’s shooting a rival film at RKO with Merian C. Cooper, that’ll be the original Kong then), and the interpretation of Kong is astounding, with Andy Serkis using his motion capture skills seen as Gollum to great effect, soon to be used again in Jackson and Spielberg’s Tintin, and the absurdly named Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
Choose film 7/10
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