Film review: King Kong

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King Kong

Peter Jackson must feel if he has to tell the story of how the 1933 King Kong inspired him to be a filmmaker one more time, he’ll explode. But there’s no denying it’s wonderful to hear about someone actually realising their fondest childhood dream—and let’s face it, out of all those fledgling flimmakers who played with plasticine and Super8 cameras as kids, how many of them go on to make a $200 million version of their favourite film?

It’s perhaps because of Jackson’s close emotional attachment to the original that King Kong isn’t a complete and utter success; it feels as if he’s been playing with these ideas all his life and isn’t willing to give up any of his toys. Yes, it is too long, at just over three hours. Let’s get that out of the way. I have nothing against long films, but in this case Jackson obviously ran out of time to finish and fine-tune the film. There are places where the compositing work is embarassingly rough, and I imagined how unforgiving the audiences of twenty years hence (hell, the audiences now) will be of those scenes—in much the same way the original’s effects now look naive. Since there’s a good twenty minutes of stuff in the film that could have been left on the cutting room floor, hard decisions should have been made about losing some scenes and allotting more time to others. It’s much like the Director’s Cut of Return of the King: that Paths of the Dead ‘skull avalanche’ sequence should have been trodden underfoot and never seen again. And talking about The Lord of the Rings, here there’s some of the same uncomfortably choppy editing we saw in that trilogy, especially in the film’s first third. In fact I felt things only started to hit a real rhythm at the appearance of the Skull Island natives, twenty minutes in.

There’s a lot of great stuff here, and almost of the great stuff has Kong in it. There’s no question Andy Serkis and the Weta animators have done an incredible job bringing him to life: so much so that he outshines the human actors in the depth of his character and acting. And here, it seems to me, is another lost opportunity. The other characters remain 1930s cardboard cutouts—especially Jack Black as Carl Denham (out of his depth here) and Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll, who struggle with flat material. When the script tries to flesh out character it feels tacked on: especially when the Venture’s first mate starts quoting slabs of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. It’s a huge credit to Naomi Watts that she manages to bring so much character to Ann Darrow. It can’t be easy getting all that emotion across when you’re in a green studio staring at a guy in an ape suit and fake fangs with motion control dots all over him. But there is a real repoire between Kong and Ann that gives us the only real emotional depth in the film; in contrast the touched-on love story between Ann and Jack is paper-thin.

Still, the action sequences are astounding, though perhaps a tad drawn out (and there’s one sequence that I found uncomfortably—and a bit too voyeuristically—violent), with Jackson repeatedly raising the bar on the action until you find yourself laughing in delight. Most of King Kong is an amazing ride.

It’s a great film, but with more disciplined editing, and more time, it could have been a classic. But then again it already was a classic. What we all want to see now is Jackson turn his talents, and that of his team, to something completely original. There’s a Blade Runner in him yet. Come on Mr Jackson, we know you can do it.

Four casually discarded blondes out of five.

One Comment (+add yours?)

  1. anaglyph
    Dec 21, 2005 @ 13:22:02

    Peter Jackson has demonstrated we can do the carnival tricks. Now we need substance. Where are the new Great Works of cinema?