Romance, thrills, tragedy, spectacle!
The original “King Kong” was a watershed work with knockout special effects (for its time) by Willis O’Brien and ostentatious melodrama courtesy of Merian Cooper.
There’s another, more recent film that’s full of fantasy drama, scene after scene of innovative effects and reels and reels of narrative excess. There’s three, actually, and they’re all called “The Lord of the Rings.” If those films were the birth of true hybrid digital cinema, “King Kong” announces its coming of age. In “Rings” Peter Jackson’s WETA studio made Tokien’s greedy Gollum a convincing character ― here they up the scale exponentially, crafting an expressive, sympathetic giant gorilla.
This isn’t a remake ― it’s a positive love letter, with all the famous lines, characters and scenes transcribed directly from one century to another. Selfish auteur Carl Denham (Jack Black) is here, fast talking his way onto a ship to a secluded island with his hoodwinked leading lady (Naomi Watts) and screenwriter (Adrien Brody) in tow. The massive gorilla rips the jaw off a tyrannosaurus rex, thrashes through his “chrome steel” chains on Broadway, and finally swings to the very top (and then the very bottom) of the Empire State Building. The film even has one segment Merian Cooper reportedly cut from the original film: men being devoured by giant insects in a pit (a sequence sure to provoke physical revulsion in the audience).
But this is no hollow rehash (see: “Psycho”). Peter Jackson’s film exceeds its predecessor not only in effects but also in character, believability and, at over three hours, sheer size.
That’s almost double the length of the original, but I dare you to notice. The movie is hyperactive imagination in concentrated form. Every last frame is impossibly detailed, like a string of intricate computerized oil paintings. Almost every single outdoor shot is digital ― after all, 1933 New York is today as much an alien world as King Kong’s amazing native land. And the phenomenal action sequences go too far, then keep on going.
The really incredible part of the new film is that the barely plausible story plays straight and works. Black is charismatic, confident and completely despicable. Watts plays with panache the part of the desperate actress and, later, Kong’s sole defender. It’s especially fun to watch her in Denham’s film within the film, performing with relish the role of 1930s romantic damsel.
But the title character steals the show. This Kong (played by Andy Serkis, the same actor behind Gollum) is a fully fledged partner to the tiny Watts. In the film’s rare quiet moments between gorilla and girl, the WETA wizards manage to portray Kong’s emotions ― fear, protectiveness, anger, love ― with expressive simplicity.
This new film promises not only reminiscent smiles for those familiar with the original, but also an awe-inspiring cinematic spectacle for all generations. “King Kong” is a masterpiece of craft, action and heart. It will leave you breathless.
Spectacle / English
by Ben Applegate