Okay so here we go with Peter Jackson’s first film since the Lord of the Rings phenomenon. King Kong has a much less distinguished pedigree than that extraordinary trilogy, and it probably pays to keep this in mind. It took me a while to adjust to this film after LOTR, as the original King Kong – whilst iconic now and revelatory at the time – was certainly never screen literature. Naturally the 2005 version’s running time is way too long – I suppose no one really expected an 100 minute quickie from Jackson, but 187 minutes is still a case of overkill for me. The build up to the central characters’ arrival at the immensely overpopulated Skull Island is a drag, and whilst I appreciate that there is some intense ‘character development’ going on, I’m sure it could have been handled much more efficiently.
Once things get going, however, it’s one helluva rollercoaster ride. Spielberg’s big action work seems rather meek and unassuming by comparison, but his is probably the more effective. Kong feels rather unbalanced, with huge chunks of action pieces clumped together, making the calmer moments all the more mundane. Unfortunately one of the first things that struck me was the special effects – in a bad way. It may simply be a case of attempting too much, and the first couple of big action moments look pretty awful, featuring some appalling examples of blue/green screen. Whilst the film is constantly over the top, Jackson thankfully keeps it fun.
The beast himself is fantastic. I may complain about a lot of the other creatures in the film, but Kong is great – powerful, emotive, and most importantly believable. The filmmakers (or perhaps stand in Andy Serkis himself) manage to strike the perfect balance between the animalistic and the human. Even more impressive is Naomi Watts’ (Stay) performance, which is extraordinary when one considers she was most likely acting opposite a complete absence of ape. (Not to mention the fact that the poor thing seemed to spend most of the time barefoot – I’m referring to Watts, not Kong). When it comes down to it she has very little in the way of dialogue, and in fact much of the film rides on her silent expressions. Jack Black (Shark Tale) is great as the obsessed filmmaker – this must be one of his first serious roles (excepting that short moment in JFK) and his inspired grin is almost gleefully megalomaniacal at times. The two main characters’ silent moments perhaps serve to honour the original, at a time where film sound (whilst not entirely new) still had a long way to go.
I suppose my main criticism with King Kong, aside from the length, is that there is simply too much. Too many monsters, too many action scenes one after the other. The much talked about ‘giant spider’ scene that was deep sixed from the original 1933 film has been recreated in this version, but (surprise, surprise) it feels kinda superfluous.
King Kong is certainly one of the major cinematic events of 2005. Much of the film is supremely entertaining, but completely lacking in complexity or narrative maturity. But isn’t that the point? Big dumb fun? I guess so, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. This is a special effects extravaganza, with a strong emotional core. It stops short of brilliant, however.
Review by Stuart Wilson, 14th December 2005
Headlining this modern remake of the beloved classic from 1933, Andy Serkis gives another astonishing performance in what has been a big few years thanks to his amazing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His role as Kong is liable to go down as one of the great leading man turns in film, and has prompted me to christen the method used to capture him as Kong as the ‘Serkis technique’.
Seriously, Kong is that good. He is entirely believable at all times, and without a word manages to become the romantic heart of this film, purely through the depth of nuance in his facial expression. Kong is morose, bitter, frustrated and then at turns angry, amused and delighted. The magic used to place Kong on our screens may just be the best creature animation ever filmed. Serkis lies at the base of all this, having spent months aping expressions (pun intended), stuck underneath tens of electrodes that measured every twitch of his facial muscles, before finally being converted into the muscle and soft tissue movement of the greatest of great apes.
Naomi Watts tries hard to convey the emotions Ann Darrow must traverse before her final love scenes with the beast, and performs admirably. (Certainly, if one considers she spent much of her time in filming running madly from invisible attackers or staring up at Andy Serkis atop a cherry picker, she has done a great job.) Her initial scenes with Kong – when they begin to elevate their relationship beyond merely sacrificial offering and one who must be appeased, respectively – are simply a joy to watch. That their interactions are almost without on screen flaw is the true testimony to the greatness of the production team.
There are several action sequences also worthy of particular mention, the first being the stunning ‘Kong vs T-Rex³ whilst falling through a vine-strewn chasm’ scene, that truly must be seen to be believed. In addition, the later New York scenes, particular the penultimate ones, are brilliantly brought to life, without a moment of CGI failure to tarnish them. In fact, I only noted two very brief shots in the entire film that stood out as disappointingly animated, which is another incredible achievement in a film of this length with this number of non-human characters and settings. Jackson and Weta Workshop have given another lesson to George Lucas and ILM, who were responsible for the laughable-in-comparison Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith and its prequels.
Disappointingly, the wonderful production performance is let down by a lacklustre entrée and some gratuitous creature fight scenes that serve only as easy-to-look-at padding for an already overlong treatment of what is essentially an extremely simple story. Merian C. Cooper’s original feature was only 100 minutes, and yet Jackson has allowed his remake to stretch beyond three hours; although the second and third acts fly by, there is no question this could have been more economically presented.
Jackson’s personal devotion to this material is evident in the depths he goes to ensure his homage is accurate and stylistically appropriate for the depression-era in which he sets his film. In one sequence in particular, he has Carl Denham (Jack Black) and Preston (Colin Hanks) discussing a rival production, and the names of the principles include Cooper, Wray and RKO Productions – all of whom were involved in the original film that inspired him to take up this craft. If only he had had someone to reign in his obvious desire to make as much of this as possible, we may have been left with proof that sometimes less is more.
Review by Mark Lavercombe, 14th December 2005Hoopla Factor: