THE Hollywood blockbuster movie of the year. No question about it, because Peter Jackson's long-awaited, big budget remake of KING KONG is a mammoth, grand entertainment you'll be spellbound watching this in the big screen.
The history of making this splendid film extravaganza has nevertheless come from a long, long way to turn everything into fruitation. When Peter Jackson was a young, 9-year-old New Zealand boy, he watched the 1933 black-and-white KING KONG classic at one Friday night and knew from that point onward, the particular viewing experience has changed his life forever -- he's decided to become a filmmaker.
At the age of 12, he started working on his own version of the 1933 classic where his mother donated an old stole, which provided the gorilla's fur. The garment was cut up and used to cover a padded wire-frame body so he can build a stop-motion Kong figurine. That's not all, he's also constructed a replica of the Empire State Building where he's building it in a painted cardboard model and the rest of the New York skyline was provided via a painted bedsheet. Unfortunately the film was never completed, althought the fur-covered figure of Kong, the Empire State Building model and the skyline backdrop still exist. Still the idea continued to live on in his mind.
Several years later, the adult Jackson has become a cult filmmaker in his native country, who has involved in several memorable projects including 1992's horror campfest DEAD ALIVE before he gained Hollywood reputation when his 1994's highly-acclaimed HEAVENLY CREATURES which saw him receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay puts him into the map.
In 1996, he made his first Hollywood debut in the entertaining but underappreciated horror comedy THE FRIGHTENERS. At the same year, his thoughts once again returned to make KING KONG and this time, he has advanced that a full-length screenplay was already drafted. He had once recalled the 1996 version was written in a very Hollywood-style manner, sort of tongue-in-cheek adventure story, full of gags and one-liners. Univeral has ultimately halted his pet project when the studio has begun welcoming its own "big gorilla" blockbuster genre in the $100 million-budgeted MIGHTY JOE YOUNG and other projects like GODZILLA (both released in 1998). Sadly both of the films bombed in the box-office.
The result was a real heartbreak for Peter Jackson and instead he went on to begin his other ambitious project that would re-established his Hollywood reputation as among the top bankable director -- THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. After the tremendous success of the epic trilogy, more especially when THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003) made a clean sweep of 11 Oscars while Jackson also made motion picture history to nab the prestigious Best Picture, the first ever received for a fantasy genre, he's finally given a golden opportunity to greenlit whatever project he's always dreamt for.
That of course, the birth of KING KONG is soon to be materialized. And here, he's clearly pays grand tribute to Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's 1933 iconic KING KONG and re-established his own version that will pretty much become an icon for years to come.
Set during the Depression-era in Manhattan at the year of 1933 (an obvious reference to the original film that released the same year), the film begins with Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) who is working as a comedian stage performer but the following day she and the rest of her performers realized the theater has been closed down and they're out of job. Hungry and struggling to look for new job, she is lucky when she had a run-in with adventurer-turned-director Carl Denham (Jack Black), who's saving her by paying an apple she tries to steal from a stall. In fact, Carl finds her perfect enough to fit for a leading lady role for his next project since his original female star has just dropped out. After several hesitation, Ann agreed to take on the role especially when Carl mentioned the name of a playwright named Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), whom she idolized him very much. As a matter of fact, Carl is very desperate to get his project done since his studio backers refused to help him financed his latest jungle epic, especially when he goes way over his head on shooting the location scene in an uncharted island he has a map in his possession called Skull Island, which located somewhere far in the South Pacific. Carl, in turn, absconds with the existing footage and equipment and the local police are aftering him. That night Carl bring along Ann Darrow onboard to a big boat, belonging to his partner-in-crime, Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), who is specialized in shady undertakings such as transporting exotic animals and weapons. Carl sets a course for Skull Island, where Jack Driscoll was on board as well and upset with Carl for not paying him the effort he has contributed a screenplay. The shooting starts in the boat where Ann is starred along with egoistic action star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler). Day and night goes by and by the time they finally reached to the fog-shrouded Skull Island, bad things about to happen. They set their foot onto the uncharted ground where they found mass ruins and decomposed bodies and skulls all over the place. Thing gets even worse when they encountered Skull Island's degenerate natives who killed one of the film crew and kidnap Ann as a ritual sacrifice to the terrifying god-creature called Kong, who's taken her away deep into the jungle. Soon Carl and the rest follow her in hot pursuit while prepared to battle dangerous threats including dinosaurs, giant insects and such. Ann, in the meantime, tries to escape but the mighty Kong never leaves her out of its sight. But she managed to win the lonely beast's heart with her cheerful ways of comic capering, and it doesn't take long that Kong will do anything to keep her safe. The rest of the film, as those who have seen the original before, leads to a tragic conclusion where Carl hauls Kong to New York City as a form of a stage entertainment to make big money, and the angry Kong wreck havoc in the big city to locate Ann and facing threats from the U.S. military that ultimately lead the 25-foot beast to its inevitable death.
The oft-told Beauty and the Beast-like storyline is given a refreshing, yet compelling facelift, thanks to a thought-provoking screenplay well nourished by Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh.
The original 1933 classic was basically a simple action-adventure story but Peter Jackson pushes the envelope admirably and stretches the source material as long as three-hour length. The first hour is admittedly slow-moving, yet a bit draggy and could have been done with a little tighter editing. Not only that, Jackson could have streamlined his few extraneous characters aboard the boat en route to the mysterious Skull Island to keep things flowing in better pace.
A minor shortcomings aside, the film comes alive once the crew reached to Skull Island, and as promised, it's a giant-scale adventure executed to the fullest. It's almost nonstop action, as the scene become chaotic and the pace is breathless, with Jackson's constantly mobile, swirling camerawork ensues all the dramatic moments are captured in "you-are-there" kind of claustrophobic feel it's simply a pure adrenalin-rush.
The Skull Island scene is particularly breathtaking, as viewers are treated to a stunning sequence involving the crew running for their life to avoid the mass stampede of Brontosaurus and the grand battle smackdown between Kong, Ann and the three raging Tyrannosaurs, which leading to a superbly intense moment among hanging vines will no doubt take your breath away and send your heart pounding with sheer excitement.
The final scenes are also equally memorable, as Kong wrecking havoc in New York city while trying to pursue Jack who's distracting the beast in a runaway cab and the iconic scene in which Kong climbed atop the Empire State Building while trying to fend off the heavily-armed WWI army bi-planes flying across the sky. All the action sequences are nothing short of astonishment and that alone are more than enough for a worth of your ticket.
The technical attributes, as expected, are top-notch as Jackson and his filmmaking crew spend endless hours to meticulously re-creates the 1930s New York city, which shot in 3-D and the Skull Island with spectacular result, while using all the state-of-the-art CGI technology to make sure everything are achieved to the fullest. The CGI creation of the 25-foot giant gorilla is no doubt a remarkable achievement. The beast may have been spotty in certain areas but it's also the finest animatronic effect ever created in the big screen as the physical movement and the animal behavior of the giant gorilla is meticulously well-studied by Andy Serkis (who also provided the voice of Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and does double duty as the disgruntled boat crew named Lumpy), who has spent a year in Africa. The dinosaur effects as well as other creatures are sight to behold, and Jackson has successfully making them as lifelike as possible. Andrew Lesnie's epic cinematography is spectacular, captured everything in a soft vintage glow that recalled a nostalgic postcard-like feeling while James Newton Howard's music score (who replaced the original composer, Howard Shore, citing of "creative indifference") is majestic and poignant at the same time.
The performances are first-rate, and the highlight goes to Naomi Watts who is simply stunning as Ann Darrow, a struggling woman with sweet vulnerability that makes her much more than just a damsel in distress. Thankfully she's not channeling completely obsessed into Fay Wray's iconic almost nonstop screaming performance as she injected layered performance with such genuine integrity while successfully vesting her B-movie character with memorable result. Watching her constantly running, jumping, screaming, and being tossed around in Kong's giant hand is not only fun and intense, but she also made her physically-demanding role well-worthy of every moment. The beautiful scene between her and Kong is genuinely sweet, given much of her deepest devotion of her acting and Serkis's heartfelt expression made their odd chemistry between the "beauty and the beast" hardly feeling cheesy at all, yet their mutual relationship really sinked our heart deeply into their constant affection. Jack Black, who is seemingly miscast at first, given the fact he's lacking in dramatic chops managed to pick up his acting with admirable result when he's gradually revealing his greedy character as a money-and-hungry-for-fame filmmaker who actually cares nothing but profit. The rest of the actors are equally credible, though Adrien Brody is downright forgettable as Jack Driscoll whose romance moment with Ann soars.
Last but not least, this is a spectacular achievement all the way for director Peter Jackson, who made everything as imaginative as possible and clearly in control of his materials and metaphors. No doubt KING KONG is chock filled of collective movie mythology and pop-culture references that succeed in every level -- it's a gigantic epic that passes greatly from a socially conscious Depression-era drama to a tongue-in-cheek comedy, bittersweet romance, gritty horror, big-time adventure, and science-fiction fantasy -- all wrapped up in a clever package.
And by the time the film closed in with the legendary last line by Carl Denham (originally given to Fay Wray but she died before the production even begun): "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.", this is simply unforgettable event -- something for a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster that rarely achieved successfully these days.
A must-see for everyone.