It’s the end of the movie when Carl Denham delivers the infamous line, saying “it wasn’t the planes; it was beauty that killed the beast.”; and with that King Kong – both the character and the movie – is finished.
King Kong kicks off in New York in 1933, with Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) finding out that the theatre she works at is being closed down, which sends her into a downward spiral as she is forced to fend for herself. A chance encounter with dodgy movie maker Carl Denham (Jack Black) finds Ann cruising towards the mysterious Skull Island on a boat named the Venture, with the movie and ship crew in tow – a likely lot including scriptwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), Denham’s assistant Preston (Colin Hanks), co-star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and an assortment of other likely lads.
After the Venture crashes onto rocks upon its arrival at Skull Island, the intrepid explorers head to shore and are confronted by the most unlikely adventure any of them could ever have imagined. The native people of Skull Island offer Ann to Kong as a sacrifice, and after the crew of the Venture figure out this is where Ann has gone to they mount a rescue mission to go in and get her; as you could imagine, all hell pretty much breaks loose from there onwards, both on Skull Island and on Manhattan Island, as Kong ends up in New York for the inevitable finale at the top of the Empire State Building.
By the time Denham does deliver his classic line, you’ve been subjected to 3 hours and 7 minutes of the best film-making you will potentially ever see.
The biggest surprise in King Kong is the emotion of the film. Peter Jackson has done his utmost to inject a level of emotion to the movie which simply wasn’t in the original, and which endears the viewer to the giant ape. Where the 1933 version of King Kong paints the giant ape as a disgusting monster who kidnaps a woman and should be hated, Jackson’s version paints Kong as a lonely animal looking for a friend, and largely misunderstood.
By the time Kong dies at the end of the film (yes, he dies – don’t act like you didn’t already know that), the viewer is emotionally tied to Kong – a tie which you could argue Jackson engineered through the various scenes featuring Kong and Ann, especially several scenes on the frozen lake in Central Park and at the top of Skull Island.
Don’t get me wrong: its not like Ann and Kong fall in love or anything – that would just be gross! Its just that they have a mutual understanding of one another, and a friendship which goes beyond what is visible to the human eye.
The acting is also fantastic – Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Kyle Chandler all turn in fantastic performances here, and are supported by a terrific ensemble cast, including Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Thomas Kretschmann and a core of Kiwis.
(Just like with Lord of the Rings trilogy, its time to play Spot the Kiwi!!! To play, all you have to do is watch the movie, and see how many Kiwis you recognise – but take note: they only count if you can either name the actor/actress, or name something they’ve been in previously. I spotted 7 Kiwi actors, including Geraldine Brophy, Mark Hadlow, That Girl from The Strip, and That Guy from Mercy Peak)
Of course, the real star of the show here is King Kong himself. What’s interesting is that Jackson filmed Kong using the same technique he used to film Gollum for the Rings trilogy, with Andy Serkis dressed up in a motion capture suit (including 132 sensors on his head, to catch all his facial features) doing the actions in front of a blue screen. Serkis spent a lot of time studying gorillas in Rwanda (and even struck up a “close friendship” with a gorilla at a London zoo – whatever that means) and it shows – the result is the most realistic looking CGI creature ever created, with every detail – from the movement of the fingers, to every last hair on his body – accounted for.
Plus, I haven’t even mentioned the dinosaurs (of which there are 5 different distinct kinds), giant bugs (including huhu grubs, wetas, spiders, mosquitos, centipedes and scorpions) and environments, including Skull Island and 30s New York – many of which are entirely computer generated. Basically, King Kong contains the best quality graphics that $200 million can buy.
In addition to all this, the production is fantastic. Some of the situations that arise defy belief, the dialogue is engaging and entertaining from start to finish, and the camera-work is some of the best you are likely to ever see. Peter Jackson is a brilliant and visionary director (and potentially a genius of film), and using King Kong as proof I don’t think this can be argued against.
Of course King Kong does have a couple of inevitable question marks hanging over it.
While fantastic, brilliant, awesome, exciting, engaging, entertaining, stunning and incredible are all suitable words to describe this movie, “superfluous” is also a word that comes to mind. Some of the scenes go on a little longer than they need to, for example the t-rex fight or the valley of the giant bugs. But in saying that, the scenes are still excellent, and were entertaining nonetheless, so it goes both ways as to whether they needed to be there or not. Peter Jackson is well known for excessiveness on camera, and Kong is no exception.
The other question mark is Jack Black. While I think he does do a great job in the role of Carl Denham, I still feel he was out of his depth at a couple of stages in the movie. But again, it’s goes both ways, because the role of Denham is almost a comedic character anyway and Black is as good a comedic actor as anyone.
Question marks aside, when all is said and done King Kong is as close to perfect as you could possible get (without selling your soul to the devil or something like that). I’ve given it a 9.5 out of 10 – to be honest, I briefly flirted with the idea of giving it a 10 out of 10, but the fact that the questions regarding Jack Blacks performance and the length of the film even popped up saw it drop down a half-notch.
Don’t let that discourage you though – King Kong is the best film of the year without any doubt whatsoever.