Saturday, December 17, 2005

Movie Review: King Kong (2005)

U.S. Release Date: 12/14/05
Running Time: 3:07
Rated: PG-13 (Violence, frightening images)
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks

Director: Peter Jackson
Producers: Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Screenplay: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
Music: James Newton Howard
Studio: Universal Pictures

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When Peter Jackson set out to recreate King Kong (a film already done twice-over in 1933 and 1976), he was handed $200 million and elevated expectations to follow in the greatness of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What he has helmed is a near immaculate action-adventure pic and a love story for the ages. Even though its hyper-extended running-time nearly causes the kettle to bubble-over, King Kong is still a tour-de-force of action, adventure, and intensity and an emotional roller-coaster powerful enough to set your heart aflame.

After Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) loses her job as an actress/dancer at a vaudeville theater, she is left to roam the streets of New York unemployed. Seemingly by chance, she meets Carl Denham (Jack Black), a filmmaker who is pressed for time to find a leading lady to star in his next film. When Darrow first learns that the film is set to film in Singapore, she displays a lack of interest. However, once Carl mentions that Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is aboard, Ann is immediately attracted to the project, and once Driscoll lays his eyes on Darrow, another attraction surfaces. Little does Ann know that she is setting sail on a most-dangerous mission to locate...Skull Island.

Hoping to stumble upon the uncharted Skull Island, to use its scenery as the backdrop for his film, Carl convinces the Captain (Thomas Kretschmann) of the ship to stay on course—in accordance with his oilskin map. Even after a minor detour, the ship’s crew and passengers soon find themselves traversing through a thick fog—only to crash into dry land.

Once ashore, the sailors and the production team encounter a group of savage natives who begin to slaughter the crew members. In the mix, the natives kidnap Miss Darrow and attempt to sacrifice her to the beast hidden behind a wall. After observing this beast – a 25-foot ape, whom the natives call “Kong” – grasp Darrow in his palm and head into the jungle, Carl bands together with the other men and follows Kong into the foliage. While on their quest to save the girl, the men encounter everything from a dinosaur stampede to an infestation of the world’s largest insects. Meanwhile, Darrow witnesses a ferocious T-Rex battle and a certain primate’s fixation with her blonde beauty.

Months before King Kong’s theatrical release, an online poll asked the public how they felt about the reported 187-minute running-time. The most popular response was, “Who cares? I’m there!” Now, after sitting through the feature, it is obvious that a good 30 minutes could have easily been cut. While Jackson’s Lord of the Rings pictures warranted an inflated three-hour running-time, King Kong simply feels unnecessarily long.

To add to its extensive length, King Kong does have a few petty faults. Some may argue that there are one-too-many prolonged gazes between the beauty and the beast. However, it is equally arguable that the extended eye-contact allows for the perfect height of sentimentality and assists in adding credibility to the CGI ape’s emotions. Also, the character of Jimmy (Jamie Bell) could have been cut entirely; his side-story is irrelevant and distracting. In addition, with King Kong, the suspension of disbelief must be taken into account. Could a young woman really withstand the clutching grasp of Kong and the whiplash – equivalent to 12 car accidents – which he provides? Is it feasible to assume that anyone not central to the storyline has a greater chance of being crushed, beheaded, or eaten than the film’s main players? Could Kong easily adjust to the snowy climate of New York in two shakes of a lamb’s tail? Plus, exactly how does the crew escort a sleepy 25-foot-tall ape to the States, on a tramp steamer that has already taken on water? (At one point, anything not bolted to the ship was thrown overboard in fear of the ship sinking.) Nonetheless, by no means do these discrepancies bog down this monumental motion-picture, and even if you find yourself shifting your weight throughout, the bulk of the shifting will come in the film’s second hour—when a shift from the meat of your seat to the edge will inevitably occur.

To couple the greatness of the action, King Kong is also well-acted. Naomi Watts is utterly iconic—playing the emotional, yet sultry, blonde role that Fay Wray once screamed her way through. Watts is perfect for the part, because she possesses the uncanny ability of being able to muster a jungle of emotions and emit them all through a single teary-eyed gaze. Jack Black, although questionable at first glance, pulls off his dramatic turn as the frenzied and money-hungry filmmaker. If you can avoid the myopia of picturing Black as Dewey Finn from School of Rock or the lead singer of Tenacious D, then you will most likely appreciate his work. Andy Serkis, who previously performed the voice and motions of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, fares well as Lumpy the cook and also does a gracious job of executing the ape’s every motion. In addition, Serkis gets by far the coolest death of all the film's characters. Adrien Brody, Kyle Chandler (formerly from CBS’s “Early Edition”), and Colin Hanks are also pleasing in their limited roles.

Considering the majority of the movie’s midsection is non-stop action, the hardest question for the teenage boy in every male – since “What is the meaning of life?” – is “What is your favorite scene from Jackson’s King Kong?” While the T-Rex battle will most likely take the cake for the action-hounds, those with a softer side will appreciate the beauty in watching Ann and Kong observe a sunset and later dance playfully on a frozen Central Park pond.

King Kong is hands down an awe-inspiring, kinetic motion-picture that possesses an octane level high enough for rocket fuel. It’s the biggest blockbuster of the year—combining all the pluses of the 1933 original, Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, and Cameron’s Titanic. King Kong is certainly worth every dollar of its $200 million budget and worth every dime of your ticket price. Grab the biggest tub of buttery popcorn you can find and curl up with the King; it has all the trimmings of a mid-summer classic, yet it’s undeniably an early X-mas gift. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005