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King Kong

Peter Jackson’s remake of his favourite film is a marvel to behold that breaks new ground in visual effects and further enhances his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

Peter Jackson’s remake of his favourite film is a marvel to behold that breaks new ground in visual effects and further enhances his reputation as one of the best filmmakers of his generation.

I must confess I had a few doubts about this project when it was first announced. Was it too soon after the critical and commercial success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Was the original film worth remaking on this scale? Wasn’t the previous remake in 1976 a disaster? The initial teaser trailer was intriguing but it didn’t fill me with awe and anticipation of the Rings films. After viewing a short preview of the film and the more recent trailers I was more excited. However, nothing fully prepared me for the awesome spectacle Jackson and his collaborators have created. It is no exaggeration to say that this film takes visual effects in to a new era and leaves us with the year’s best blockbuster.

Wisely fleshing out and expanding the 1933 original it starts off with some surprisingly gritty but superbly realised scenes in Depression hit New York. By chance the recently unemployed actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and under pressure director Carl Denham (Jack Black) meet outside a theatre. He desperately needs a female lead for his latest project and she needs the work. Enticed by the offer of shooting on an exotic island she sets sail along with Denham’s beleaguered colleagues, a screenwriter (Adrien Brody) and the ships crew.

When they reach the island they are attacked by hostile natives and Ann is eventually kidnapped and offered as sacrifice to a giant gorilla named Kong (‘played’ via CG technology by Andy Serkis). The crew embark on a rescue mission and eventually manage to capture Kong, intending to make money from him as a theatre attraction. But the plan proves unwise as he unleashes havoc on downtown New York in search of the woman he forged a connection with on the island.

The first and most striking thing about this King Kong is the extraordinary attention to detail up on screen. From the desolate streets of Depression era New York to the exotic mystery of Skull Island and finally back to a wintry Manhattan the film is a marvel of production design and digitally rendered landscapes. More than that, the film integrates its characters into these environments with such verve that the more fantastical elements of the story appear believable. Added to this the pacing and editing makes the three hour running time breeze by as it moves from one well executed set piece to the next.

Some may find the first hour drags a little in comparison to the last two, but the build up helps ground the films characters in a more believable setting. It might not seem believable but once you are inside the film, the fantastical creatures on the island seem all too plausible. All this is aided by the shrewd casting that makes the leads more rounded and interesting individuals. Naomi Watts further demonstrates her considerable acting presence in a role that could have just descended into a lot of running and screaming. Instead we get a deeper and more soulful Ann Darrow than previous screen incarnations, one which makes her interaction with Kong all the more touching.

Jack Black is more of a surprise as he is less comedic here than in previous roles. He has some funny lines but mostly gives an assured and serious performance of a maverick filmmaker living by a grey moral compass. Adrien Brody gives solid support as the film’s screenwriter, although his would be romance with Ann is overshadowed somewhat by all the action. The other supporting roles are also capably filled out, without ever being truly outstanding, but are largely overshadowed by the films true star – Kong himself.

Which brings us to Kong himself. When WETA Digital created Gollum for The Two Towers and Return of the King it felt like a landmark moment in CGI, along with the T100 in Terminator 2 and the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But this is something else altogether. Andy Serkis provided the acting muscle beneath Gollum and he returns here to provide Kong’s movements underneath WETA’s incredible visual costume. The giant gorilla feels like a truly believable character – his fights with the dinosaurs on the island and his interaction with Ann are superbly realised, as are the revolting creatures that attack the crew. At times you can see some joins but mostly the effects are first rate and in the final third of the film Jackson and his team pull out all the stops.

Kong in New York is simply one of the best action sequences in recent memory, a triumph of pacing, emotion and eye popping visuals that have raised the bar to a new level. The recreation of the Empire State building and the landscape of New York are executed with remarkable precision  and they add weight to the relationship between Kong and Anne – one that is much more emotional than I had expected. Where Jackson and his team go after this will certainly be interesting. He is slated to adapt Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones, which is likely to be a much smaller scale project, but until then he be proud at having created two of the most remarkable film projects in recent memory. 

MORE DETAIL
> Official Site
> Kong is King – The main site for news on this production with video diaries featuring Peter Jackson and the cast and crew. A must visit. 
> Wired Magazine with a story of the Kong is King site and the making of the film
> Watch the trailers
> IMDb Link
> Wikipedia on the character of King Kong
> Dark Horizons talks to Peter Jackson about the film
> Andy Serkis talks to Coming Soon about his role(s) in the film
> The Observer profile Jack Black
> Also in The Observer Peter Conrad muses on the appeal of Kong
> Gauge the critical reaction to the film at Metacritic
> BBC News took some pictures at the London premiere
> King Kong Tag on Flickr
> Kong drunk in Times Square đŸ˜‰

By Ambrose Heron

Editor of FILMdetail