King Kong (PG-13) A-
by Amy Diaz
Peter Jackson proves that, yes, he is that good with the grand and
romantic homage to showmanship that is King Kong.
This movie doesnít try to update its 1933 origins; it embraces them,
starting with its title cards, done in an art deco RKO style that recall
a time when a movie was more than just a thing you watched, it was an
event in which you participated. It was burlesque with bigger stars, the
circus with better magic, the opera for ticket-buyers of every class.
so I hear; Iím not, like, 90 years old and I would have to be to comment
firsthand on the showmanship of the early cinema.
King Kong clearly speaks to something primal. The monsters are enormous,
the emotions are unironically straightforward and sweeping, the thrills
are, frankly, thrilling.
the big gorilla? Really cool.
Actually, what is even cooler about King Kong is the many times it
reminds you of the little monkeys that are human beings. When the humans
start traipsing around the mysterious island that is Kongís home, they
run into a variety of creatures that are either prehistoric or scarier
versions of scary modern animals. Even though the humans are equipped
with guns and opposable thumbs, they are no match, just weak tiny
monkeys. That kind of humbling creates a surprisingly real sense that
there is a great unknown element to the world and that element might
really want to eat us.
before we get to the island of People-As-Lunch, we open on
Depression-era New York. Young actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) dreams
of being in Important Theater but likes her vaudeville performance
enough that she finds herself distraught when itís closed down,
distraught about the loss of her stage and her paycheck. Across town,
movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) is nearly out of work himself
when his studio bosses decide to kill his current adventure movie and
sell his footage for stock film. Hearing this (via the glass-to-the-wall
method), Carl skedaddles before he can be officially fired. He grabs his
film reels and tells his assistant to round up the actors and crew Ė
they set sail for their island location that night.
Carl has a problem, though: his leading lady has bailed on him. He heads
to a burlesque house in search of a girl who can fit in the old
thatís when Carl finds Ann. Desperate for work, she considers the
burlesque but then runs off. Carl follows her, buys her a hot meal and
then makes his pitch. Ann, though poor, declines until Carl mentions
that the movieís screenwriter is Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a
playwright whose work she particularly admires. Ann agrees to do the
movie and the ship sets off, pulling away from the dock just as the
police show up to arrest Carl.
They head off in search of an island that the shipís captain doesnít
believe exists. It is only when they give up the hunt that they run
smack into the high, walled cliffs of the foreboding Skull Island. When
the shipís crew attempt to repair the boat, Carl heads on shore with his
crew and cast. They land and find what at first appear to be the
deserted ruins of some ancient primitive peoples. After a little stroll
through the bone-strewn remains, however, they discover living,
breathing, extremely creepy natives. These natives, in true 1930s movie
style, are not wise and docile but terrifying and immediately violent.
They abscond with Ann, tie her up and shove her across a moat-like
ravine in the direction of a horrifying roar.
Itís then that we and the offered-up Ann get our first glimpse of the
gigantic Kong. Bounding out of the jungle, he gives a few from-the-gut
howls, snatches Ann and heads off.
Carl, Jack and other members of the crew that will soon take on roles as
bait decide to mount a search for Ann ó Jack because he has grown fond
of her and Carl because he thinks it will make some damn fine footage.
the men search, Ann tries to deal with her bizarre situation. At first
she makes a few escape attempts but, partly from weariness, she
eventually attempts to just calm down her huge new friend. Ann performs
some of her vaudeville routines for Kong, which gets him laughing and in
a playful mood. Her pushes her down a few times and eventually she tells
him enough and, like a scorned boyfriend, he pounds his chest and
angrily stomps off. Ann heads for what she hopes will be civilization as
well but soon finds herself meeting up with animals far scarier and with
far more horrifying teeth than Kong. In fact itís just as Ann is about
to be eaten by a T-Rex that Kong returns and, boy, does he really not
like something else messing with his woman.
Eventually, Kong and Ann form something of a friendship, just in time of
course for the men to show up and start the rescuing. But by this point
Carl has decided to forget the film and bring back the living, breathing
gorilla. Luckily, the ship has plenty of chloroform and Carl correctly
guesses that if Jack saves Ann, Kong will try to get her back.
you know anything about King Kong you know that this leads back to New
York, to Kong in chains and to a trip up the outside of the Empire State
Size is big in Kong. The difference between the animals of Skull Island
and the tiny squishable people. The difference between the ship and the
islandís rock wall coast. The way the Empire State building dwarfs Kong.
The bigness adds the element of wonder that is one of Kongís other
themes ó can wonders still be wondrous if they are captured and sold to
an audience, one admission ticket at a time?
the case of this movie, yes. The actors, especially Watts and Black,
give us reactions that allow us to forget that dinosaurs and giant bugs
we are seeing arenít real. Andy Serkis, the human who provided the model
for Kong, gives the giant ape a soul, conveying pain and love through
his eyes and feelings both tender and rage-filled through his actions.
Even the CGI comes through, providing enhancement to the movie without
taking over the film.
Whatís most impressive about the very impressive King Kong is that at
its monstrous three-hour length the movie flies by. The movie is a
breathless adventure from its opening shots of bootleggers and
Hoovervilles to its final scene of sunrise from high above Manhattan.
last, a movie bigger than its hype.