01/01/2006. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Peter Jackson's long-time ambition to make a new version of King Kong is fulfilled with a great yet respectful expansion and remake, says Mark. PJ finds enough ways to improve the original film that even die-hard fans should be impressed. There is a lot of film here for a single admission ticket.
Peter Jackson's long-time ambition to make a new version of King Kong is fulfilled with a great yet respectful expansion and remake. He finds enough ways to improve the original film that even die-hard fans should be impressed. There is a lot of film here for a single admission ticket.
Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10.
The question has been asked, "If you have a favourite film, who would you want to remake it?" And the best answer is, "Nobody!" If you have a favourite film you want the story left as it is. At least that is the common wisdom. But all my life one of my favourite films has been the 1933 King Kong. (I gave the 1976 remake a viewing.
It was painful. The opening was reasonable, but as the film went along it got worse and more painful.) Then it was announced that Peter Jackson was going to make another remake. Well, at that time Jackson had showed some talent. But I was a little relieved when the project was tabled and Jackson went off to make his version of The Lord Of The Rings. That was an extremely hard project and Jackson proved himself to be a very good visual fantasist. He also was the first director ever to have one film I rated -4 (Bad Taste) and another I rated +4 (The Lord Of The Rings). Then he went back to Kong. Okay, Mr. Jackson, do your best.
All right, I admit it. Peter Jackson actually made a better version of King Kong than the original. It really is considerably better. I gave the original King Kong a +4. Jackson's version gets a +3. His film was not as original as the 1933 Kong and he had seventy-two years of technology to help him. But he has made what I would judge one of the greatest action- adventures ever filmed.
By making a film that is almost 80% longer he has the time to develop his characters and it does show. He gives the people back-stories so you can actually get involved with the characters. I have to admit that in the first half-hour or so of the film I was getting involved in the stories of Carl Denham as an unscrupulous filmmaker and of Ann Darrow as someone other than the girl who would be in a hairy paw.
This is not the same Ann Darrow who was in the 1933 version, but she is close enough. Carl Denham is similar to the original but is more of an unprincipled sharpster who is less than likable. Another change that I think would have been made in the original film if the writers had a second chance: the girl is sympathetic to the beast. The same team did that with Son Of Kong and in Mighty Joe Young. But the original Ann Darrow in the 1933 version never seemed to look at Kong as anything but a threat. In fact, any sympathy that the audience felt for the ape may have been unintentional.
I will not say a lot about the plot, since most people have seen the original film, and that tells more than enough about the plot of this version. Jackson has used the original film as an outline and just expanded it with a great deal of respect for the original material. He was content to tell very much the same story and just in scene after scene show how his visual sense and his seventy-two years of additional technology allowed him to outdo the original on a scene-by-scene basis.
For example in the original Kong the natives are not really as impressive as intended, and they are entirely the wrong race. In the new film they are racially more accurate and as scary as the orcs of Lord Of The Rings. In the original film all the character foundation work takes place before Ann is kidnapped so after that the film can be non-stop action. The same is true here, but it is about seventy-five minutes before the real action starts. It does the job, but the film does not drag.
Even some of the best films have a few scenes the fans could do without. I have problems with both versions of KONG. In the original film poking fun at Charlie, the Chinese cook, never sat well with me. In the new film nearly every scene seemed to work for me for most of the film. But there is a silly little idyll that I could have done without with Kong and Ann on a frozen pond in Central Park, away from the hustle and bustle that one might expect would accompany having a twenty-five-foot ape loose in the New York City.
The Jackson team has created a marvellous visualization of the whole Kong story. Skull Island earns its name, not with a giant mountain that looks like a skull, as unlikely as that would be. This film gives the feel of a great previous civilization that at one time lived all over the island, not just on the safe side of the wall. How they did that with the fauna in the interior of the island makes the story all the more mysterious. The dinosaurs are given a new physicality that I have not seen in even the Jurassic Park films.
When stampeding dinosaurs try to go through a narrow space you have the feel that these are massive animals piling into each other. The dinosaurs and most other animals look very good. The bats do not. But close-up bats never look very good on film and it would be better for filmmakers to just leave them out of plots. Kong is much more like a natural gorilla in the new film. He has the posture of a gorilla and he yawns at odd moments making him seem more like a natural animal. The original Kong had too many human gestures, had inconsistent dimensions, and was more a sort of ape-man than a gorilla. The new Kong is a realistic but magnificent ape.
The film is full of loving visual and sound tributes to the original film. The credits are done in the same style. Tiny pieces of the Max Steiner music creep into the James Newton Howard score. Then when we get to Times Square the same neon ads are on the buildings and the Steiner score is reprised in an unexpected way that pokes a little loving fun at the original film. And at the end of the credits there is a nice tribute to many of the names of people who contributed to the original film.
There are a few problems. Kong is graceful, but he is a little too acrobatic to be believed. This is especially true in the scenes where he carries Ann and would have broken her neck if both were more than digital images. In the script Denham sees the ape carry off Ann and does not see them again, but somehow knows that the ape will follow Ann. The script does not explain how he knows that.
This is a production that proves that even a great film can have a remake that is even better. I just wish Willis O'Brien were around and could look what they done to his Kong. I rate it +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Oh, and one thing that I would have been thought would have been obvious from the 1933 film, and this film makes it even more obvious. Some wag has found what some think is a goof in the film. Why leave a Kong-sized gate in the wall that was intended to keep Kong out of the village? It is easy to explain. Suppose Kong decided to climb the wall and he ended on the other side. We know Kong is a climber, after all. Would a native prefer trying to convince Kong to climb the wall again to return to his side or to open the gate and tempt Kong to return through it?
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2005 Mark R. Leeper