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Kong isnít too happy when he finds out
that CG movie stars arenít even paid as
much as the guy driving the catering truck.

King Kong
Review written by: Alex Sandell

Kong vs. Kong

The original 1933 King Kong was the most groundbreaking action and adventure flick ever filmed.  While other films from its era have been shoved into the dustbin of history; Kong has continued to find new audiences and entertain one generation after another for the past 72 years.  The movie inspired adventure favorites from Mighty Joe Young to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Jurassic Park.  Effects change, but Kong remains timeless.  So why another?

With a full-blown remake already released in 1976, it's not as though Peter Jackson is breaking some sacred taboo by filming King Kong in 2005.  Nothing memorable came out of the '76 film, outside of a now defunct ride at Universal and a memorable twist where Kong climbs the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building. 

Jackson is attempting to do something more with his version of Kong.  The Oscar Winning director of the Lord of the Rings' trilogy is hoping that this is the one remake to rule them all!

The one remake to rule them all?!?

I love the original King Kong.  I looked forward to the remastered, restored DVD collector's edition of the 1933 film, with its 7 part documentary, audio commentary, test footage, lost spider sequence (directed by Peter Jackson, no less), and unrivalled packaging, more than I did any theatrical film released this year.  Since buying it last month, I've watched the DVD no less than 5 times. 

Peter Jackson's 2005 remake isn't half as good as the 1933 King Kong.  I'm guessing Peter Jackson -- who claims he wouldn't be making films today if he hadn't seen the '33 version -- would be the first to agree with me on that.  But, thankfully, the talented director does the original justice.

From the opening credits -- which look almost exactly like the title cards in the original Kong -- it's obvious that this movie is as much homage as it is remake.  Jackson starts the film in New York of 1933.  The Great Depression is in full swing. 

Film producer Carl Denham's (Jack Black) in a pickle -- he's leaving to shoot his film but doesn't have a leading lady.  All he asks for is a pretty woman in a size 4 dress.  "Fay would fit the dress perfectly!" he says to his assistant.  "She's already working on a picture," the assistant replies.  "That's right," says Denham, "Damn Cooper!"  The conversation (which I paraphrased the hell out of) is an obvious reference to Merian C. Cooper and Fay Wray.  The two happened to be filming King Kong at the time.  Jackson gives plenty of nods like this to fans of the original, rather than pretend his is an upgrade that makes the '33 version obsolete.

So is it really the "one remake to rule them all?"  It depends.  Remaking King Kong would be no easy task (the '76 fiasco proved that).  Jackson and the gang get as much right as they do wrong.  What they get right is awe-inspiring.  What they get wrong is groan-inducing.  There's a lot of room for improvement, but the movie is more satisfactory than most remakes.  I guess it's the one remake to rule them all ... almost. 

As much as Jackson wants to recapture the magic of the original King Kong, he can't resist following up his Lord of the Rings' trilogy with another film of epic proportions (and running time).  While Rings was a huge story that needed the time to adequately tell the tale, King Kong is a small-scale story about a girl and a gorilla that screams "3 hour epic" about as much as the latest Adam Sandler movie.  And that leads us to the biggest problem with the film ...

Peter Jackson forgot how to nip and tuck!

King Kong 2005 is a 90 minute film stretched out to a tumescent 187.  And you can feel it.  Your ass feels it before it's even hit your brain.  It works its way up from your sore buttocks to your aching lower back, climbs up your spine and finally smacks you in the head 2 hours into the movie.  You realize that the damn thing should be over, but find there's still an hour left! 

This movie could have been cut back by 60 minutes without losing anything.  Peter Jackson goes overboard with the romance between the gorilla and the girl.  While King Kong is quite a character, and Naomi Watts does a great job as Ann Darrow; the couple's public displays of affection grow old (and slightly disturbing) before the film comes to a close. 

Did we really need to see Kong sliding on his king-sized bum across New York ice -- Ann in hand having a splendid time -- surrounded by Christmas trees?  It felt like a moment out of Home Alone 2:  Lost in New York.  What was Jackson thinking?  He slows the film down over and over again with this absolutely preposterous love story between ape and woman.  King Kong even learns a small amount of sign language, to further put a lump in the audience's throat.  "Look!" We're meant to say, "He's communicating!  He can't die now!" 

Jackson starts out recreating the 1933 King Kong and, by the second half, ends up remaking the 1976 remake of the 1933 film.  The '76 remake also had the girl get all gushy over the ape.  It also ran long (not 3 hours long, but too long for Kong) and dragged out the ending with sentimental silliness (Kong's heartbeat slowing down as he died is embarrassing to this day).  What John Guillermin forgot in 1976 and Peter Jackson forgot in 2005, is that in the 1933 version they both loved, Ann Darrow couldn't stand that damn ape!

Sure, she screamed for him when she was about to be attacked by a Tyrannosaurus Rex, but only because he was a better alternative to the carnivorous dinosaur.  The point of the original film was that beauty killed the beast.  He would do anything for her, and she would use him, despite her fear of the animal.  At the same time, King Kong cared about Ann Darrow more than his own safety and well-being.  Anyone got between the two, he would stomp them, chomp them and tear them to shreds -- no matter what the consequence. 

Jackson wants it both ways.  He wants the monstrous Kong, but he also wants the romantic Kong.  He wants the girl to be frightened, but also intrigued and in love.  There is one amusing romantic moment between the two, when Darrow puts on a Vaudeville show for Kong and Kong chuckles whenever she falls (usually with his help) over.  I couldn't help getting a kick out of it, even though it was so sappy I simultaneously wanted to laugh, clap and puke. 

More about the good stuff

Peter Jackson made a great 2 hour movie that happens to run 3 hours.  The first half of the film is excellent.  The T-Rex scenes are amazing.  Although slightly absurd; the native pole vaulting to the ship to kidnap Ann was a fun visual.  The scene where Darrow is offered as a sacrifice to Kong is thrilling.  And Kong himself.  Wow!

Andy Serkis (also the man behind the CG Gollum) breathes life into the character of King Kong and the CG effects are incredible (the best I've ever seen).  No need to suspend disbelief for Kong, because he really looks like a gigantic ape.  The rest of the effects aren't as great as Kong himself, but they get the job done.   

Some have complained that the island scenes are excessive, but watch the original and you'll see that they're just as frantic.  Some of the shots are taken directly from the original.  When Kong breaks the T-Rex's jaw and then opens and closes it with his hands, the audience laughed, winced and cheered.  This scene was taken directly from the '33 version of the film.  More often than not, the scenes that really got the audience going were the ones taken almost shot for shot from the original film.

If Jackson would have stuck with the story he knows and loves, Kong coulda been a contender for best adventure film of the year.  As it is, it's a decent and damn fun remake that gets too bogged down in Peter Jackson's affection for the character of Kong to ever fully emerge as a great film in its own right.  Any chance of it reaching classic status was stomped on and destroyed by the ludicrous running time and Peter Jackson's love of that ape.  

I'm recommending the 2005 King Kong, but only to those who have seen the superior 1933 version.  Don't let the 2005 version take the place of the '33 film, and don't consider it the definitive King Kong.  At 3 hours, the movie still couldn't develop a convincing romance between Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) and Ann Darrow.  At 3 hours, the movie still couldn't develop most of its characters.  At half the length, the original had an excuse for making these same mistakes.

You can't have it both ways 

Jack Black's Carl Denham is pathetic and Black himself is horribly miscast.  He's not so much an Indiana Jones type adventurer as he is an opportunist.  When he says he'll share the money the captured Kong will bring in with his crew, the audience laughed.  In the original you believe him, because that's the kind of man Denham was (his character was partially based on Marian C. Cooper).  I can't figure out why Jackson took this approach with the character, but it doesn't work.

Jackson wanted Black to play Denham both ways.  The adventurer and the greedy producer.  He wanted Kong to be the monster and the gallant Knight in Shining Armor.  He wanted Ann to be both the terrified damsel in distress and the woman with a gorilla fetish.  I don't think Jackson knew exactly what he wanted, so he decided to cover all his bases.  Because of that, he leaves the audience wanting more. 

On the other hand

You'll want to see this one, despite its flaws.  The movie isn't the emotional powerhouse Peter Jackson intended, but it still makes for an above average popcorn flick.  Hell, the T-Rex scenes alone are worth the full price of admission.  Just don't expect a classic, and you shouldn't walk away disappointed.  Actually, it would be hard not to have a good time watching the film.  On the other hand, you may walk away with a back ache and blisteringly sore ass.  Don't forget to take the Ibuprofen and preparation H along with the soda and JuJu Bees.  You also may do well to bring an air sickness bag, in case you have a low tolerance for gooey, gushy sentimentality between an ape and his girl. 


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