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King Kong (2005)

Reviewing director Peter Jackon’s latest CGI epic is going to be fairly easy because, very simply, it delivers on what it’s been promising.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Peter Jackson

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

Year: 2005

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Country: New Zealand / USA

The trailers and commercials for the film have hit on all the key points: it’s big, it’s action-packed and it features a scantily clad Naomi Watts doing lots of running and screaming.

And, to its credit, King Kong will meet the expectations of all those who have been hanging on its promotional hype, because it’s big, it’s action-packed and it features a scantily clad Naomi Watts doing lots of running and screaming.

Watts stars as waify vaudeville actress Ann Darrow, who’s literally starving for her art in Depression-era New York. When conniving film director Carl Denham (Jack Black channeling Snively Whiplash) offers her a part in his latest doomed project, she eagerly accepts. Soon, the duo – along with nebbish screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), scrappy deck hand Jimmy (Jamie Bell, who inexplicably disappears around the end of the second hour and is never seen again) and self-involved leading man Bruce Baxter (a perfectly cast Kyle Chandler) – set sail for a far-off island where they’ll shoot the picture.

Unfortunately, said island happens to be home to, among other things, a tribe of freakishly frightening natives, countless species of humongously-mutated insects and reptiles, and one very, very large gorilla named Kong. And once Kong sees Ann, he’s smitten…which, naturally, means plenty of trouble for all involved.

The film is basically divided into three parts: hour one (pre-Kong), hour two (Skull Island Kong) and hour three (Manhattan Monkey: Kong in New York). All three work, but the second 2/3 of the movie are much more spirited than the first third. I tend to think that Jackson became a little too enamored with the all that computer-imaging would allow, though, because a number of sequences (the dinosaur stampede, the Kong vs. T-Rex battle, marauding Kong in the Big Apple, to name but a few) seemed to go on and on and on…well past the point where they remained interesting and relevant. It felt a little like Jackson and his CGI team were standing just offscreen, jumping up and down like five-year-olds and gleefully whispering, “Did you see?! Did you see what we made?! Look! Look at it some more! Look at it now! And now! And now!” We get it. Digital technology rocks. Can we get back to the actual humans?

As for that non-CGI cast, Watts is surprisingly strong, given that she’s essentially being asked to act opposite nothing and still make us believe she loves a big fake gorilla that isn’t there. Her Ann is unexpectedly sad and moving in a delicate way, and her performance is easily the best among the cast. Black is funny, but it rings a bit off for the film, and Brody’s too-little-too-late writer wound up eliciting increasingly frequent fits of laughter among the audience…laughter I’m not entirely sure the filmmakers were hoping for.

At the heart of the whole movie, though, is Kong. While some scenes look and feel fake, the close-ups are breathtaking and eerily real. By the time Kong hits NYC, in chains and depressed, he’s gone from fierce jungle giant to over-sized golden lab complete with big, sad, brown eyes. The facial nuances and attention to detail are more than impressive, and they help make the behemoth beast sympathetic.

As an aside, one of the most fun aspects of the film for me was gauging audience reaction, and here’s what I learned: nothing creeps people out or scares the crap out of them like giant centipedes, gargantuan creepy-crawly spiders and somewhat-obscene man-eating slugs the size of tree trunks. Forget nightmare-inducing killer natives or angry raptors, it’s the bugs that had people covering their eyes and literally squealing in fear. Fun!

So, does the movie really need to be three hours long? No. Two and a quarter would have done it, thanks. Will it win a boatload of Oscars as some are predicting? Probably not, though the technical awards are a near-lock.

Is it a cinematic thrill ride for the holidays that will appeal to many and please even more? You bet.

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