March 31, 2006
Director: Peter Jackson, ,
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler, Bill Johnson, ,
You’d think after spending five years working on the most epic of trilogies Peter Jackson would take time out, or do a smaller project, and for a while it looked like The Lovely Bones would be his next film; a follow-up of sorts to Heavenly Creatures in that it involves murder in a small town. That project got put back and since the Lord of the Rings team were now so strong Jackson decided to ride the wave and engage them to start immediately on his remake of King Kong. His favourite film from a young age, here was a chance to see the difference 70 years can make in movie FX.
Let’s get this out of the way: Kong is long. A three hour monster movie damn well better deliver, and thankfully Jackson proves once again he’s one of the best directors around, not because of his skill with FX but because he regards story as the most important thing. Sure, the first hour could have been trimmed back, but there’s just so much great stuff that you forgive him this minor indulgence as traffic swarms around New York circa 1933, illegal drinking hideouts are raided and theatre performers juggle and dance their socks off. Here we find Ann Darrow (Watts) who like most people around the depression of that period is struggling simply to afford food. The hand of fate pushes her in front of failing director Carl Denham (Black) who is looking for a leading lady to take to a mysterious island to shoot his new movie along with playwright-turned-screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Brody) and vain leading man Bruce Baxter (Chandler).
When we get to Skull Island the movie really shifts into gear, unleashing a sacrificial tribe, a last minute rescue, rampaging dinosaur pile-ups and just about everything Spielberg would have done on Jurassic Park…if he was taking speed. Instead of one T-Rex we get three (who get well and truly WWF’d by Kong). Instead of a few bugs we get a whole swamp full. The critics might roll their eyes and dismiss this as more CGI vacuousness but if you’re along for the ride it reduces you to a grinning schoolboy.
Watts shines in a potentially difficult role (acting to a green screen is hard enough – breaking our hearts is damn near impossible but she does it) and Black is a wonderful surprise playing it serious (and we have to say, rather dark). Adrien Brody does well as the romantic lead but comes off second best (no doubt deliberately) when it comes to Kong and Ann’s story. Jackson was the first director to bring us a fully CGI character in Gollum that could emote and invoke emotions, and Kong is equally if not more successful. Again motion-captured by Andy Serkis, Kong laughs, he ponders, he throws a tantrum…hell he even appreciates the beauty of a sunset. Those Weta boys must have ILM ready to jump out a window.
Jackson also flexes his horror muscles in several insect sequences (a particularly nasty death awaits the ship’s cook) that stretch the boundaries of its 12 certificate. However, there’s that length to get over. Even ardent fans will have to clear their schedule days in advance just to fit in the time to watch this, and though there isn’t neccesarily a bad scene to be found, did we really need Ann to be rescued and then abducted again before meeting Kong, or the Jimmy ‘I wants to finds her’ sub-plot? The large number of CGI shots means quality is going to suffer in places and thus some of the dino rampage isn’t quite up to scratch, as are early scenes of Kong carrying Ann in his fist. But mostly the work on Kong is exceptional and the performance-acrobatics scene with him and Ann is as funny as it is technically outstanding. Come the end you already know, you might just find a tear in your eye for an ape that only exists on a computer, and that’s one hell of an accomplishment.
Hmm, hands up who thinks there’ll be a bigger special edition come Christmas? No commentary from Jackson (he goes out of his way to do these) and very little input from the main cast is a big giveaway. Apart from an introduction from the man himself, what we’re left with is three featurettes.
‘The Post-Production Diaries’ are already available as a seperate release and are included here. We follow Jackson over 33 weeks of editing and finishing the FX and music. It does fall into fanboy territory on more than one occassion during its two and a half hours but for the most part is a decent guide to what goes into making a movie.
‘Kong’s New York, 1933’ is a half hour look at New York during the depression, where the film is set and gives you an interesting view of life at that time.
‘The Natural History of Skull Island’ is one of those ill-advised ‘it all really exists’ programmes but does show a lot of the design work created for the island and the thinking that went into it.
This is a great set but since we all but know a better edition is on the way it’s also a bit redundant.