King Kong: In the style of Lord of the Rings
Retelling the myth
As many of you will remember, in 2005, Peter Jackson put out his own version of the King Kong story. Honestly, it's well made, and very compelling, but there are problems with it. Most notably, it's waaay too long. The original is an hour and forty-four minutes long. This version is a good hour and twenty-three minutes longer.
And why? Simply because Peter Jackson is physically incapable of making anything less than a super big movie these days.
Now, while the 1976 version with Jeff Bridges was made as an adaptation and modernization of the story, Peter Jackson made his movie as a period piece, setting the movie in the same era as when it was originally produced.
It follows an actress named Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) as she joins a filming expedition—led by the dangerously ambitious Carl Denham (Jack Black)—to an uncharted island where the native population regularly makes human sacrifices to a giant ape. She gets put on the menu and kidnapped by the ape, and her shipmates—primarily one Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody)—rescue her at great peril. The ape gets captured and brought to New York City so he can start that remodeling they've been putting off for so long.
He and Ann decide to lope away together, but the authorities catch them hiding on the top of the Empire State Building—a seriously terrible place to hide—and shoot the ape down.
By making this one a period piece, the final showdown has been moved back to the Empire State Building after the 1976 version made the controversial decision to place it at the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. It also allows the film makers to make a couple of references to the original movie.
For instance, while trying to come up with actresses who could take place of their leading actress after she pulled out of the movie, one character suggests that Fay (referring to Fay Wray, the original Ann Darrow) would be good. His companion, however, points out that she is tied up making a movie with RKO (the production company for the original King Kong).
There are lines that are taken from the original movie but now with a different context. Scenes that were cut from the original but now produced in full detail. It's clear that this movie was made by people who loved the original and merely wanted to do it justice with more modern film-making sensibilities and better production values.
It just ends up way too long.
First, let's talk the effects: Top notch.
The ape is very identifiable. And I don't just mean in a "spot the giant ape" kind of identifiable. You can almost see exactly what he's thinking. The special effects team did a great job, but a giant "congratulations" has to go to Andy Serkis who provided him with the performance. It's amazing.
I also understand that, at several points in filming, they had Serkis and Watts in the room together so that they could work off of each other's performance. They did the same thing in The Lord of the Rings with Gollum, but it's a different thing entirely when one person is going to be replaced with a hairy meat mountain.
There are other effects that we could talk about, but in this day and age, it's hardly surprising to see CG creatures interacting with real people. It's impressively done, but it doesn't exactly compare with what they did in creating a full fledged personality in Kong.
One other thing that this movie does better than the '33 original, overlooking the slick visuals, is the characters. They're more fleshed out and real. This is done, in part, by adding back story at the beginning of the film. We find that Ann Darrow is a vaudeville actor whose theater was recently closed. Denham is a director who is going to make his latest picture even if he has to go behind the back of the studio that funded it but is now trying to stop him.
There are conversations between Denham and Driscoll that talk about Driscoll's history as a writer for "legitimate theater" but is now stuck writing dialog for Denham's movies.
This all helps us understand and connect with the characters better. However it also pads the running time.
Jackson also spends a fair amount of time on the developing relationship between Ann and Kong. She starts out rightfully terrified, as anyone would. Then, little by little, she begins to understand him. And he her. After the T-Rex fight, he begins to walk away from her, upset that she'd run away. But she runs after him. He clearly has a bit of a grudge, but he eventually swings her up over his shoulder like a mother ape does with a baby. He isn't carrying her like a possession. He's trusting her to hold on and stay with him, and she's trusting him to watch out for her.
Again, devoting time to this relationship adds to the run-time. But what really makes this movie so long is the action sequences.
The brontosaurus chase down the canyon. The bugs eating the crew (based on a scene from the original that was cut when test audiences got too squeamish). The fight between Kong and the T-Rex clan. These things just go way too long. Half way through each action scene, I was completely ready for it to be over and to get back to the story. And yet they go on and on.
Jackson adds elements to the movie to make it more rounded. He makes the characters and overall story more real. But he doesn't take anything out of the original story. If he'd tried, he may have been able to intersperse the new background among the old scenes, but he doesn't. He adds his own new stuff, stretches out action scenes to the point of boring you, and doesn't take anything out from the original story-line. In short, it could and should have been shorter.
And that's almost the biggest reason I can't quite call this one "the definitive Kong". It's a great, well done movie. If I could find a version that has been edited down to even just over two hours, this would be a wonderful version of the story. It's just too long for its own good.
For me, I give this one 7 / 10.
King Kong is rated PG-13 for adventure violence and some disturbing images (such as watching a man getting eaten by a worm with fangs).
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