01/01/2006. Contributed by Frank Ochieng
So the Great Ape returns to the scene of the crime! It's very evident that a superb filmmaker in the disciplined form of Peter Jackson could bring one of filmdom's classic beloved beasts to grand cinematic life after various screen interpretations, says Frank. Jackson, the masterful helmer behind the theatrical phenomenon known as The Lord of the Rings experience, doesn't disappoint movie fans of the Huge Hairy One with his characteristic urgency of boisterous scope and precision.
King Kong (2005) Universal Pictures
So the Great Ape returns to the scene of the crime! It's very evident that a superb filmmaker in the disciplined form of Peter Jackson could bring one of filmdom's classic beloved beasts to grand cinematic life after various screen interpretations. Jackson, the masterful helmer behind the theatrical phenomenon known as The Lord of the Rings experience, doesn't disappoint movie fans of the Huge Hairy One with his characteristic urgency of boisterous scope and precision.
In 2005's King Kong, this invigorating and imaginative fantasy/adventure radiates with emotional and visual vibrancy. Reportedly, an adolescent Jackson was inspired to become a big screen storyteller as the original 1933 Kong motivated the youngster to someday deliver technically enhanced tales to feed on the empty imaginations of starving moviegoers. Clearly one of the most skilful offerings to conclude an otherwise meagre movie season, King Kong is an old-fashioned fairy tale wrapped in the durable skin of Jackson's resounding and sophisticated movie-making tendencies.
Thankfully for Jackson's respectable treatment of his revered massive monkey, the familiar theme of "the beauty and the beast" never gets old within the realms of this sensational saga. It is Depression-era New York where Vaudevillian starlet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is out of work and looking for her next artistic challenge. Soon off-kilter adventurer/movie maven Carl Denham (Jack Black) comes to her professional rescue and suggests a movie role that might enlighten her curiosity. More important, Ann is aware of Denham's screenwriter named Jack Driscoll (played by Oscar-winning Adrien Brody from The Pianist) as she professes to be his admirer for his previous on-screen endeavours.
Anyhow, the whole movie production crew sets sail on the SS Venture to make Singapore their targeted destination. The opportunistic Denham doesn't quite come clean about Skull Island as the intended destination and its encompassing dangers highlighted by the unpredictable presence of wild animals, rough terrain, unfriendly natives and other unsuspecting elements that await the American visitors.
Enter King Kong. When the natives capture Ann, they make the sacrificial gesture of presenting the striking blonde entertainer to the sizable simian. Instinctively, King Kong takes an immense liking to the film's attractive star Ann. Apparently Ann has an indescribable influence over the beastly burden. The mountainous monkey becomes her self-appointed affectionate protector. Whether defending her against prehistoric pests such as the island's relentless dinosaurs or the omnipresence of shady human beings, King Kong's beleaguered heart belongs to the trophy-status presence of Ann Darrow.
Denham needs to exploit and lure Kong back to the Big Apple in anticipation of becoming the giant ape's moneymaking manipulator and sideshow guardian. However, Denham underestimates the sentimental attachment that Ann has over the volatile King Kong. When the action switches back to New York, it's a concrete jungle of a different kind that drives King Kong batty. The automatic distrust and overwhelming feeling of becoming a freak show for the annoying city folks has King Kong in an understandable uproar. With only his beloved Ann in his gigantic palm to give him a sense of a calming before the storm, Kong is harassed by countless airplanes and pesky soldiers that ultimately lead to the animal's deadly demise.
For the same reasons that moviegoers can compliment Jackson for his grandiose serving of this familiar epic of unconventional bonding between two completely opposite species looking for fulfilment in their lives, this could also be one of the distracting elements that makes King Kong open to slight criticism. Jackson's overindulgence in presenting King Kong as a hefty three-hour viewing session may come off as being too tedious in the editing department. Co-screenwriters Philippa Boyans and Fran Walsh deliver a bloated excursion to an otherwise simple story about adventure and a questionable romance of a distinctive sort. Granted that character development is crucial in an expanded film of this magnitude.
However, King Kong could have been chopped down a bit and tightened in key spots where the movie would have flowed more harmoniously. Maybe Jackson's inherent enthusiasm and crafty technological trickery can compensate for the necessity to oversee an eye-popping CGI spectacle drenched in its extra trimmings?
As the caring tandem that are dragged along in sensationalism, the real-looking special effects King Kong and Watts' Ann Darrow are convincing as the periled pair being bombarded by misunderstood outside forces. The legendary Fay Wray screamed her lungs throughout the 1933 blueprint in order to convey the obvious terror at large. However, Watts is more subdued as her relationship with the menacing monkey is more touching and introspective in nature. Ironically, Ann is more endangered by her fellow reactionary humans harbouring a selfish need for manufactured destruction. This is probably what makes Ann's embittered and bombastic banana-loving bodyguard in King Kong such a sympathetic icon to root for during these adverse conditions.
Also, kudos should go to Jackson for recreating the atmospheric moodiness of a unique time and place that radiates with 1930's nostalgia. The set designs and spirit of that era are conveyed with an authentic eye. Although rooted deeply in its memorable machinations, there's a contemporary twist to King Kong that feels universal to a majority of moviegoers that were unaware about a distant period that very well may be considered historical in their mindset.
As for the movie's male counterparts-particularly Black and Brody-they somehow get lost in the shuffle with their tepid characterizations. Black's Denham gives off too much of a cartoonish vibe to be considered as a manipulating capitalist moviemaker with an appetizing streak for conniving. And Brody appears too sullen and uncomfortable to be the romantic backbone for Watts' Ann Darrow.
There's never a sense of liveliness or heady spunk in Brody's clumsy portrayal as the probing playwright who captures the actress' imagination. The chemistry between Brody and Watts has all the staying power of scotch tape trying to hold up a red brick in mid air. Overpowering and masculine in every possible manner, King Kong is strangely and comically man enough to fuel Ann's empty soul than the milquetoast Jack Driscoll and scoundrel Carl Denham combined.
Despite Jackson's Oscar-winning pedigree as a dynamo behind the camera lens, the majestic King Kong has its trivial share of shortcomings. Nevertheless, the film still competently rises to the occasion as a generously solid escapist piece of entertainment filled with wonderment and calculating verve.
(c) Frank Ochieng 2006