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King Kong DVD Review

King Kong

April 6, 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, ,

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DVD Review

King Kong (2005) is Peter Jackson’s epic, mega-budget, fanboy love letter to the film that inspired him to become a movie director in the first place. Clocking in at double the running time of the original, Jackson’s film is an ambitious juggernaut of a movie that, like his The Lord of the Rings films, is epic in scale and scope and yet still has that personal touch.

Ann Darrow (Watts) is a struggling Vaudevillian actress whose venue has been closed down due to poor attendance. The country is in the grips of the Great Depression and times are tough. Carl Denham (Black) is a filmmaker working on an adventure film that is in danger of losing its funding. However, he has come into the possession of a map to a mysterious island that may save his film. Denham even tricks up-and-coming screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Brody) to stay on board so that he can finish the film’s screenplay. In desperation, Denham steals the existing cans of film and assembles a cast and crew (including Darrow) and sets sail for the island on his map.

Jackson follows the story structure of the original quite faithfully but fleshes out each segment so that we spend more time in New York City/on the boat, Skull Island and back in New York. He takes the elements from these segments and amplifies them. For example, Kong doesn’t fight a Tyrannosaurus Rex, he fights three of them! Jackson also goes to great lengths to flesh out the main characters and show what motivates them and develop the relationships between them. By the time we get to the action sequences we know what makes them tick, what is at stake and what they have to lose thereby making the action sequences more compelling.

He still manages to think like an independent director by inserting whimsical interludes, like those early on in the film between Denham and his assistant (Hanks). It is these details that are just as important as capturing Manhattan circa 1930s. Jackson thinks on a macro and micro level unlike Ridley Scott or Michael Bay who work on only a grandiose level. Jackson takes the time to let us get to know the characters.

The attention to period detail is incredible. 1930s Manhattan is faithfully recreated. The extensive use of warm, golden lighting in a lot of the New York City scenes is quite inviting. There is a scene where Denham convinces Darrow to join his expedition that takes place in a diner that is like something out of an Edward Hopper painting. Another example is the glowing, warm light that comes out of the portholes of the Venture in the background of a scene that suggests warm life and a more intimate feeling. There is a connection between the characters and all the elements in the scene.

Jackson is also a master at creating the kind of atmospheric worlds in his movies that immerse the viewer completely. The places the characters inhabit have that lived in look and an authenticity that gives this world texture. The lighting in this film is impressive with nods to Classic Hollywood cinema. For example, Naomi Watts looks absolutely radiant in the initial scenes on the boat as Jackson manages to top the visual splendor of James Cameron’s Titanic (1997). In sharp contrast is his depiction of Skull Island as a horrifying, foreboding place, a harsh environment filled with jagged rocks and inhabited by nightmarish natives. There is something very unnatural about them and it’s in their wild and crazed eyes.

The film takes us deeper into the island as the rescue party sets out to find and bring back Darrow from the clutches of Kong. This is an action-packed section that manages to top anything seen in all three Jurassic Park movies. The Brontosaurus stampede, for example, is intense and exciting as is the Tyrannosaurus/Kong rumble in the jungle.

Jackson is able to create almost unbearable amounts of tension out of every exciting chase as the rescue party is picked off by Kong and other nasties on Skull Island. He also gently guides us into terror as we go from the whimsy of the Darrow-Driscoll romance to the tension and an unease of the fog-enshrouded, uncharted waters of the island. Its first appearance, cued by ominous music and then the sight of the massive wall appearing out of the fog is impressively staged.

Kong is arguably the most realistically CGI rendered character ever put on film (even topping Jackson’s previous achievement with Gollum from the Rings films) and this is due in large part to Andy Serkis providing the basis for Kong’s movements and the realistic expressions on the giant gorilla’s face. For example, there is a scene where Darrow performs for him and we see his mood go from anger to bemusement and back to anger when she stops. We see all of these emotions play out on Kong’s face in completely believable fashion. It really is an astounding achievement as over the course of the movie we begin to empathize with Kong just like in the original.

Both the 1933 and 2005 versions are about the hubris of man. Jackson understands that the message of the original King Kong was that man shouldn’t mess with things that he does not understand, like the forces of nature such as Kong because it will only end tragically. He has created an epic action/adventure film with a heart.

Special Features:

None. Although, the two-disc special edition contains the Post Production Diaries, taking up where the Production Diaries DVD set left off, a wonderful mockumentary on Skull Island (done in the same vein as Forgotten Silver) and a factual look at New York City circa 1933.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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