Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 3, 2006)
After the enormous success of the three Lord of the Rings films, director Peter Jackson could take on his dream project: a remake of 1933ís King Kong. This project almost got off the ground in the late Nineties, but it didnít happen and the Rings trilogy took priority.
That series made Jackson an ďAĒ-list director and allow him to write his own ticket. Thus his Kong became the common choice as the big flick of 2005. It hit the screens with glowing reviews and predictions that it would dominate the box office and earn serious Oscar consideration.
However, Jacksonís Rings success wouldnít quite repeat itself. On the surface, Kong did well. It made $217 million in the US and grabbed four Academy Award nominations. Those were all four the usual technical categories, though, and these days $217 million just isnít a great take for this kind of blockbuster. Really, anything short of $300 million rendered Kong a disappointment, so it came up decidedly short of its anticipated goals. It ended up fifth in the yearís box office charts, a spot lower than most people dreamed.
Unfortunately, all of this seems to have affected the public perception of Kong. Before release, it looked like itíd be an unqualified success, but now the naysayers appear to dominate. Box office success or failure clearly impacts on the way people view the movie itself, and now it looks like lots see Kong as a lackluster flick.
Balderdash, say I. Not for a second will I claim that Kong doesnít suffer from some flaws, but I think the whole package adds up to a very satisfying experience.
Set in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, we meet adventurous movie mogul Carl Denham (Jack Black). He wants to film another spectacular but he runs into a mix of problems. For one, he lacks a finished script, as writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) hasnít completed one. Denham also lost his leading lady, and his financial situation makes it tough for him to do much about any of these issues.
However, Denhamís fast-talking savvy allows him to sucker Driscoll, charm and cast vaudevillian ingenue Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and escape on a boat just ahead of the dudes to whom he owes money. Denham plans to take them all to a fantastic location called Skull Island. There they encounter vicious natives and an assortment of prehistoric beasts.
Among them they find an enormous gorilla referred to as Kong. Ann ends up in his clutches, and the others lead an attempt to rescue her. The movie follows their pursuit and subsequent drama.
Since I think many now view Kong in a negative light, letís start off with the filmís problems. What goes wrong here? The flickís main drawbacks stem from its length. I donít think that a running time of more than three hours is a flaw in and of itself. To be sure, that factor didnít cause concerns during the Rings pictures.
However, Kong really does drag at times. Most of the slow spots turn up in the excessively plodding first act. The expedition takes forever to get going, and thatís one area which the original Kong excelled. It zipped through the exposition to get us to the fun. It told us just as much as we needed to set up the characters and situations, but it didnít tire us with those elements.
The 2005 Kong falters in this area. I donít know if Iíd say it bores us during the first hour, as thereís enough interesting material to keep our attention, but I will admit the flick tests our patience. The fact many of us already know the story doesnít help. Itís not like we arenít aware where the journey will lead, so we want to get there even more quickly. Perhaps Jacksonís pacing pays off in ways I canít see and the second and third acts would work less well without the long build-up, but I imagine the flick still wouldíve succeeded with less exposition.
Once our characters finally get to Skull Island, however, the movie improves radically. Jackson gets to indulge his love of over the top action and he does so with all the skill he displayed in the Rings movies. I wonít say that Kong is a non-stop rollercoaster ride for its last two hours, but it sure pours on the thrills.
Key among these is the spectacular ďV-RexĒ fight. I donít want to discuss its specifics too explicitly as I want new viewers to see it without much foreknowledge. Thatís how I examined it theatrically, and it made a big difference. The flick took this battle to incredible heights and left my jaw on the floor. I couldnít Ė and still canít Ė get over the amazing level of action and power Jackson packs into this sequence; Iíd argue itís one of the all-time great segments of this sort.
Not that the rest of Kongís second and third hours disappoint. The film offers a great level of action and drama as it pursues its familiar story. Jackson may not reinvent the wheel when it comes to the movieís plot and characters; both change a little from the 1933 flick, but this isnít a radical reimagining. Jackson does bring the film more in line with modern styles, though, and manages to turn the action into something special.
Thatís what ultimately makes the 2005 King Kong a winner. The film lacks the innovation of the original, and its excessive running time means that it lacks that flickís popcorn-chomping consistency. Nonetheless, it recovers from a slow first act to become a memorable experience. Kong isnít Peter Jacksonís finest hour, but it achieves most of its goals.