Spectacular Remake, but Too Much of a Good Thing
King Kong (2005), a remake of the 1933 classic, was directed by Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), and Naomi Watts takes the role played by Fay Wray in the original. The remake boasts greatly improved special effects and runs about an hour and 20 minutes longer, but the story remains essentially the same. The movie won Academy Awards for sound, sound design and visual effects.
There are many entertaining things about Jackson's King Kong, but for me the film was rather like a party where I had some fun, but it went on for too long. The movie's running time is about three hours, and I was grateful that DVD allowed me to spread watching it over two evenings. There's lots of spectacle, but I was only sporadically engaged emotionally.
The Pretty Actress and the Gargantuan Ape
King Kong is set during the Great Depression, when money is tight and jobs are scarce. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), an out-of-work vaudevillian, encounters Carl Denham (Jack Black), a filmmaker who desperately needs a leading lady. Denham recruits her, and he manipulates playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) into being his screenwriter. Soon all three of these characters take an ocean voyage into uncharted waters and end up on Skull Island, where they find many wondrous creatures, including a huge gorilla known as Kong. Ann and Kong develop a special bond, and later when the gorilla is taken back to New York, he winds up atop the Empire State Building.
Kong, created via computer from motion performed by Andy Serkis, is a marvel. The film's central relationship is the one between Kong and Ann, and there's a magical scene where they cavort on an iced-over pond in Central Park. But one of my main criticisms is that the movie is an hour and 10 minutes old before the giant gorilla appears. The overall narrative drive is weakened because Jackson spends too much time on minor incidentsalthough some of them are interesting in their own righton the way to getting to the core of the story, which is a variant of "Beauty and the Beast."
Action Sequences Impressive, but Overly Long
When the people who sailed from New York reach Skull Island, they encounter hostile natives, ferocious dinosaurs and vile insects, resulting in lots of fighting and chasing around. Many people and animals die, but this was done in a way that the deaths had no emotional impact on me. Still, the island is a fascinating place, and up to a point the action sequences that take place there are exciting. Howeverand this is my second major criticism of the moviethe Skull Island action sequences go on for so long that I sometimes grew impatient waiting for the story to resume.
Two Top-Notch Documentaries
The second disc of the King Kong Two-Disc Special Edition contains a pair of first-rate documentaries, both of which enhanced my enjoyment of the movie. One of these is actually a faux documentary, the 17-minute "Skull Island: A Natural History," which treats the fictional place as if it were real. We are told that massive fissures housed thermal vents which permitted prehistoric creatures like dinosaurs to survive and continue to evolve on Skull Island, instead of dying out as they did everywhere else on Earth. For example, the animal in the movie that resembles the tyrannosaurus rex is its more nimble, more aggressive, more intelligent descendant, the vastatosaurus rex.
The other documentary, "Kong's New York, 1933," is more serious-minded and takes a 28-minute look at the Big Apple as it was at the time of the film's story. The Great Depression was on, and the city had Hoovervilles (shantytowns), breadlines and soup kitchens. Also, vaudeville was still around, and the documentary covers some of the acts, including a guy and his duck singing "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me." (The duck made a sound resembling "Ma" at the proper time.) And there was the competition for the world's tallest skyscraper, with the winner changing quickly from the Woolworth Building to the Chrysler Building to the Empire State Building.
So-So Bonus Materials Brought Over From the Web
Also on the second disc are the "Post Production Diaries," which are made up of 35 segments about the movie after principal photography ended. Each segment is roughly four or five minutes in length, and their total running time is about two-and-a-half hours. Most of the segments are technical in nature, covering things like creation of the soundtrack, music, visual effects, miniatures and color timing. Other topics include pick-up shooting and premieres of the film. All the segments have been brought over to DVD from the kongisking.net Web site.
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