Peter Jackson's remake of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 KING KONG is twice as long as the original and uses every trick of modern technology to resurrect not one but two lost worlds — the neverland of Skull Island as well as 1930s Manhattan — while remaining faithful to the original's fairy-tale heart. Manhattan, 1933: Egocentric adventurer-turned-director Carl Denham (Jack Black) is up to his hip boots in trouble › his studio backers are unimpressed with the rushes of his newest jungle epic, his leading lady has just dropped out, and writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is reneging on his promise to deliver a finished screenplay before moving on to write a play. But it's Denham's wild plan to move production to a fog-shrouded island somewhere in the South Pacific that gets the plug pulled, except that Denham absconds with the existing footage and equipment, and finds Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), an actress desperate enough to get on a rust bucket of a steamer bound for parts unknown. Watts plays a down-and-out vaudevillian whose make-'em-laugh idealism has been ground into ashes by the realities of Depression-era privation. Denham's partner in crime, Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), specializes in shady undertakings such as transporting exotic animals and gunrunning (judging by the sheer volume of firepower stashed in his hold). He sets a course for Skull Island, and against all odds, the tattered, hand-drawn map on which Denham's hopes are pinned actually leads them there. But Skull Island's degenerate natives kidnap Ann as a ritual sacrifice to the terrifying god-creature called Kong, who spirits her off into the jungle primordial. Denham and company follow her in hot pursuit, prepared to battle dinosaurs, giant insects and repellent, man-sized, muck-dwelling tubeworms with nightmarish rows of razor-sharp teeth. Ann, meanwhile, has won her lonely beast's heart with her winsome ways and comic capering. But for all the razzle-dazzle — Kong's near-balletic, one-handed battle (the terrified Ann is in the other) with three tyrannosaurs, which culminates in a tangle of swaying vines that threaten to deliver Ann straight into a set of prehistoric jaws, walks the fine line between exhilaration and exasperating excess — it's just the prelude to the tale's foregone conclusion. Denham hauls Kong to New York City, and animal essence meets human hubris with tragic results.
From his establishing shot of zoo animals, which dissolves into a dismal Central Park Hooverville, Jackson is firmly in control of his materials and metaphors. Aware of how bound up with movie mythology and the collective pop-unconscious KONG is, he indulges in a couple of sly in-jokes: An offhanded reference to Fay Wray, the first girl in the hairy paw (she's unavailable to step into Denham's epic because she's working on another picture) to a cage in Englehorn's hold labeled "Sumatran Rat Monkey," a dual nod to Jackson's own scrappy DEAD ALIVE and the outer fringes of Sherlock Holmes-iana. Even his conception of the Skull Islanders cannily overlays outdated colonial stereotypes with a jolt of that SLAVE OF THE CANNIBAL GOD/APOCALYPSE NOW-style savagery: The heart of darkness hasn't lost its symbolic hold on the modern imagination. But overall, Jackson goes for the magic by sidestepping every error of judgment and failure of imagination that brought the ponderous 1976 remake thudding to Earth before Kong ever did. He delivers three solid hours of breathless, enchanting entertainment.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: Peter Jackson's remake of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 KING KONG is twice as long as the original and uses every trick of modern technology to resurrect not one but two lost worlds — the neverland of Skull Island as well as 1930s Manhat… (more)