Combustible Celluloid
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With: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell
Written by: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson, Based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
Directed by: Peter Jackson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images
Running Time: 187
Date: 05/12/2005

King Kong (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

This Monkey Shines

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy King Kong on DVD

How does one remake a beloved classic? If you're Peter Jackson, you look deeply within the original work for flaws, and smooth them out.

In King Kong (1933), a filmmaker hops on a ship with a camera and a pretty girl hoping to make a movie about a giant ape. Now with more logic and personal history, Carl Denham (Jack Black) and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) spring to genuine life. Jackson also replaces the bland hero of the original by bringing on board dashing screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) so that Denham's movie will have a story.

But most importantly, Jackson takes the time to strengthen the relationship between ape and girl. After Kong snatches Ann and runs off into the jungle, their mutual (platonic) love becomes more than implied; it's downright heartbreaking. Ann gazes up into Kong's scarred, sadly expressive face (modeled from Andy Serkis, of "Golum" fame), and he back at her. Ann doesn't have much to say, but Watts gives an awesome, effervescently physical performance. When Jack attempts to rescue her from the arms of a sleeping Kong, her face reveals joy, embarrassment, dismay and sadness all in one beat.

Jackson balances these tender moments with slam-bang action sequences the likes of which haven't been seen since Jurassic Park or Titanic -- and surpasses them. One long, relentless sequence has Kong rescuing Ann from a seemingly unending series of attacks from ever-increasingly huge dinosaurs. Yet the two bond throughout; the movie's soul remains intact.

The film also draws interesting parallels between Denham and Kong with their looming, darting eyes; they're equals, both master showmen and kings of their own jungles. Unfortunately, Denham's character stalls during excessive chase sequences. Running from or clawing at giant beasties, he doesn't, for long stretches, get to grow or bond with anyone.

If the new King Kong has one flaw, it's the overwhelming 187-minute running time. Director Merian C. Cooper cut out a potentially exciting sequence, "the spider pit," from his 1933 film because he knew it would kill the pacing. Jackson should have sensed this too, especially given that his 10-hour-plus Lord of the Rings Trilogy has astonishingly few pacing problems. King Kong could easily be 30 minutes shorter.

Nevertheless, King Kong is a pure labor of love for Jackson. It shows in every frame, in the clever script and in the way he photographs his stars with the loving texture of 1930s pin-ups. Most of all, he establishes a depression-era aura of dashed dreams and rebuilt hopes and turns out an entertainment worth remembering.

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