Running Time: 185 mins.
Rated: Rated M.
Peter Jackson has done it again. Of course, it is not Lord of the Rings with its extraordinary sweep and vision, but King Kong is a reverent re-make of the 1933 classic - if 188 minutes, colour, continuous excitement, cliffhanger after cliffhanger, spectacular stunts, extraordinary sets, a wonderful use of cinema technology (all done in New Zealand) could be simply called 'reverent'. It is really a very entertaining homage.
Jackson has said that while the film is fantasy he wanted to anchor it in a sense of realism. While this could not happen, it might have happened!
The story is familiar to most moviegoers (and Jackson saw it on TV when he was twelve, was so passionately moved that he decided to become a film-maker and got his mother to give him props to make his own version). This version has a wonderful New York opening giving us powerful glimpses of the Depression and its effect, giving a context to the adventure which is to follow.
The main characters are all desperate in their own ways. Naomi Watts is the new Ann Darrow (and gets a chance to scream even more than her famous predecessor, Fay Wray), a down-and-own vaudeville entertainer who is offered the chance to star in an adventure film by quick-thinking conman movie director, Carl Denham, played by Jack Black. Trapped on board the ship which will take them to the unchartered Skull Island is playwright, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). (In the original Driscoll was a crew member rather than a writer.)
The three principal performers are very good. Naomi Watts is just right as the charming but feisty heroine who is able to stand her ground with Kong, charm him and become his champion. Jack Black utilises his cheeky screen personal to fine effect but has to give it more depth than usual. Adrien Brody moves from meek writer to courageous hero.
And he has a lot to be courageous about. Skull Island turns out to be peopled by a fearsome tribe. They are right out of those Tarzan type of tale so popular in the past, only more so. The island also turns out to be another Jurassic Park with more dinosaurs, pterodactyls, giant bats, fearful scorpions and gorging leeches than any other film. And more breathtaking battles (and that's just the audience being breathless let alone the on-screen struggles) than ever before. They are spectacular, edge-of-the-seat feats that also make you wonder how ever they did it, so credible it all looks. There are so many cliffhangers (literally) that keep us in constant amazement.
Andy Serkis, who made Gollum so memorable, gave his expressions to Kong and was always present so that Naomi Watts could act with him. The scene where she performs her stage routines for Kong and he responds by playing with her makes the bonds between Ann and Kong quite poignant.
There are explicit references to Beauty and the Beast, as well as Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
We remember it all culminates with Kong on display in New York City and a pursuit which culminates on top of the newly built Empire State Building. And this climax is breathtaking too. And dizzy-making as our heroine climbs to the top to be with Kong. In fact, so much of the action could make you experience vertigo in your comfortable seat.
Maybe at 188 minutes it is a bit long. But, never mind. If you enjoy this kind of film, you will be glad that Peter Jackson is probably giving us his full director's cut on the big screen rather than keeping it for the DVD.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.