Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Thomas Kretschmann, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Kyle Chandler, Colin Hanks and Andy Serkis
Plot: A group of desperate film-makers head to an undiscovered island where their lead actress (Watts) is captured by a giant ape, King Kong.
It says a lot about the credentials of Peter Jackson that he is probably one of the few directors who I would trust with a remake of this calibre. King Kong is one of those iconic films that has been dubbed one of the greatest films of all time, a powerhouse picture. It is a heart-wrenching story of a relationship between a beautiful woman and a monster, a love story that can only conclude one way. It is the kind of film that should be left to stand tall and proud in the past. However, Peter Jackson, the director who gave us one of the greatest film trilogies of all time, and a lover of the 1933 original, had a vision of bringing the story into the modern age, telling this great legend to a younger audience, perhaps not aware of this legendary movie, as well as the benefit of updating the visuals with some of the jaw-dropping special effects that made Lord of the Rings so mesmerising. At the very least, with a movie already horribly remade in 1976, not to mention a handful of shoddy sequels, King Kong is hardly untarnished in the remake category. So with a sense of ‘why not’, we dive into the 2005 update of King Kong.
The end result is thankfully pretty glorious. Peter Jackson’s strength is knowing the correct places to remake exactly and the correct places to correct slightly. For example, the weak point of the original was arguably a weak Jack Driscoll, more a symptom of the era rather than an actor or director being purposefully bad. Peter Jackson slows his opening scenes down to a crawl and explores the human characters, before sending them off to the infamous Skull Island. A wise move on Jackson’s part was returning the action to the 1930s, capturing New York during the Great Depression. The period is vital to the remake as the financial ruin of New York explains why a lot of the characters do the things they do. Ann Darrow’s willingness to go along with Denham’s wild quest is a sign of the desperation of the times. Denham too feels less self-serving in this adaptation and more a man pushed to extreme measures by the Depression. His actions here are ones made by a man pushed against a wall. The acting is also the kind of performances that we can only get with Peter Jackson’s keen eye for casting his leads. Naomi Watts was always going to be brilliant, taking the role from Fay Wray and adding her own level of charisma. It helps that Jackson’s script puts extra time into developing Ann away from the helpless heroine figure that she was in the original. As she spends time with her ape captor, it is easy to see why the monster could fall in love with her. Adrien Brody is also strong as the quietly intense Driscoll. Brody is always a good choice for the unconventional hero and his bookish figure means that whenever one of the gruesome creatures of Skull Island comes for him, we believe that he might not make it. Jack Black is obviously one of the big talking points of this film, the comedy actor so far out of his comfort zone you can almost feel the critics rubbing their hands with glee. However, Black is the perfect choice, worlds away from Robert Armstrong’s version of the character. Black keeps his usual charisma and even gets to use some of this strong comedy timing, but in playing the character totally straight, we are given a Black performance that feels pleasantly different from anything he has done before.
But the humans are, as always with a Kong film, the side dish rather than the main course. This is a film about King Kong and right from the moment we start watching this film, we are hanging on for the next moment where we get to see the iconic creature. Both visually and emotionally, Kong does not disappoint. Using motion capture technology used to give us Gollum in Lord of the Rings, Jackson straps his go-to actor Andy Serkis, now a pioneer in motion capture acting, into the old suit for animating Gollum and asks him to perform as Kong. This is the real charm of the remake, as every emotion is visible in the gorilla’s eyes. The rage he feels during a fight, the burning love he gets for Ann, the sadness he feels when scorned. In fact, this movie is weighed down by moments where we are not spending with Kong. Clocking in at a painful three hours and eight minutes, King Kong is an almighty commitment to make. Any scene that feels unnecessary is not just a minor inconvenience but a criminal offence. Jackson spends time developing the red shirt sailors, a whole sub-plot added where Jamie Bell’s young sailor has a confrontational relationship with a wise mentor figure. It means we feel for the supporting cast, but really what do their characters bring to the main narrative arc? Arguably not enough to justify their extensive development. The best scenes in the films do not involve Driscoll or Denham, do not even involve the fighting, but are the quiet moments between Kong and Ann. Kong and Ann climb a mountain and stare at a sun-set, the pair of them have their first row, a heart-breaking moment of serenity in New York’s icy winter evening. While the original did very well to capture the romance at play here, even with limited technology, Jackson is free to go the full way, throwing every trick in the book at the chemistry between beauty and the beast. It makes the finale one of the most heart-breaking scenes to ever appear in a movie. The visuals also make the fight sequences absolutely phenomenal. The fight between Kong and the T. Rexes is upgraded to a three-on-one breath-taking punch-up that will have you squirming in your seat throughout the entire battle. There is also a terrifying creepy moment where the human characters have to fight their way out of a cavern full of gigantic insect monsters, certain beats of the sequence pulled straight out of the stuff nightmares are made of. They become perfect arguments to explain why it was perhaps necessary to remake this iconic 1930s picture.
Final Verdict: While the three hours running time is painfully self-indulgent, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a strong, emotional piece, one of the finer examples of a remake done right.