King Kong

Image for King Kong

Maverick filmmaker Carl Denham (Black) is determined to shoot his latest adventure flick on a mysterious, unexplored island, despite the fact his bosses want to close the picture down and his leading lady’s walked. With the authorities on his tail, he con


**Warning: Review contains minor spoilers.


There are many reasons why directors attempt remakes, but “I wanna ’cos it’s my favourite movie ever” shouldn’t really rank as the most encouraging. Spielberg sensed contemporary relevance in his update of The War Of The Worlds. Soderbergh saw vast room for improvement with Ocean’s Eleven. And numerous others have, quite simply, thought a new take on an old story would guarantee big bucks. No doubt Universal had the latter in mind when finally greenlighting this latest reworking of the 1933 monster classic, but, as is well-documented, that wasn’t the key driving impulse. No, Peter Jackson just wanted to emulate the film that lit his first fires of inspiration and repay that creative ignition with a fitting tribute.

Pre-Lord Of The Rings, this sounded like pure folly, especially as the last Kong (John Guillermin’s ’76 monstrosity) was such a flop. No wonder Jackson struggled to get it rolling in ’96, regardless of the fact that remakes of Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were already crowding out the marketplace. Of course, after Rings, Jackson could have suggested remaking Plan 9 From Outer Space and been showered with greenbacks. Still wouldn’t have made it a great idea. Yet his wanting to remake Kong, even if cinema quite frankly doesn’t need another Kong, turns out to be this movie’s greatest strength.

Like Sam Raimi, Jackson is a filmmaker who lets his inner fanboy guide him rather than blind him. Indeed, Jackson’s avidity is so tangible — in his insertion of winking in-jokes , in his choreography of the action sequences and, most importantly, in his detailed realisation of the great, battle-scarred ape himself— it allows us to easily forgive the few flaws the movie does have.

Such as? Well, why, for example, spend so long in the first act detailing middle-rung characters like Venture crewman Jimmy (Jamie Bell) and Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) if you’re just going to drop them out of the story come the climactic New York rampage? It seems an odd choice to pad the script in one area, pushing our arrival at Skull Island back to the end of the first hour, then keep it lean in another. And on the technical side, the occasional CG shot looks unfinished; an ambitious brontosaurus stampede, for instance, doesn’t quite gel its madly scrambling human element with its dino-participants to form a believable whole.

Fortunately, Jackson spends so much time knocking your socks off that you won’t really feel like scratching your head. (Besides, there’s a level of criticism you just can’t go to, unless you want to start questioning Ann’s Wolverine-like ability
to resist skeletal fractures, while accepting the existence of a 25-foot-tall gorilla.) His horror sensibility serves the story well, as does his dark sense of humour — watch Denham mourn his ruined celluloid like his companions mourning their dead friends. He also teases fine performances out of his ensemble, Jack Black deserving a special mention for making Denham so appealingly reprehensible.

The overlong Skull Island section, meanwhile, might be an indulgent action binge but it still out-Spielbergs Spielberg at his most Jurassic: icky giant bugs elicit schoolgirl squeals, while Kong’s T-Rex tussle causes fanboys to shriek with delight. Even the monster-free sequences will cause mandibles to slacken, such as the Venture’s attempts to navigate the island’s rock-spike coast, or the Kong-summoning ritual, disturbingly portrayed as an ecstatic religious experience for the island’s wretched, hissing natives.

As for the King himself, if he doesn’t win this film the special-effects Oscar in a few months, Empire will be a monkey’s uncle. In fact, if the Academy weren’t so damn conservative, he’d be in with a fighting chance of earning Andy Serkis (who provided the motion-captured moves) an acting gong, too. Kong represents the next evolutionary step up from Gollum in Weta’s peerless splicing of performance and VFX. While the biplane-swatting and skyscraper-clambering undoubtedly impress, it’s in his facial performance and interaction with Ann (Watts, in a knock-out turn) that he truly astonishes, not least because at all times he remains vigilantly unanthropomorphized — and yet still invites sufficient emotional involvement for you to blub come the Empire State showdown. It’s as a romance that the ’05 King Kong outdoes the original hands-down, with some wonderful interludes tautening the couple’s bond to such a degree that its ultimate snapping is painful.

Unlike its newly trim director, Kong does boast some flab around the middle but by the final reel there’s little doubt that what could have been Jackson’s folly is a triumph, the kind of romantic action spectacle that makes the big screen silver and provi