Coming out in December, Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s King Kong is literally the 800-pound gorilla of this year’s cinema box office. This 2005 version is a more-than-faithful remake of the classic 1933 original about a monstrously huge gorilla found on a remote island who abducts and falls for a struggling actress, gets brought back to the US to be a living spectacle and ends up climbing the Empire State Building (with girl in hand) and being brought down to its death.
Though even most people who haven’t seen either version of King Kong will know this story, what they might not know is that a large part of the story takes place on Kong’s home of Skull Island and it’s an adventure movie much more than a tragic, ape-girl love story. While the original was groundbreaking in its day for exciting special effects, CGI is definitely Jackson’s friend as the creatures and vistas on Skull Island put Jurassic Park’s Isla Sorna to shame. Not only has Jackson presented the most frickin’ scary primitive island natives I’ve ever seen, this place is full of dangers—super-sized. Be warned if you want to bring the kids because every beastie, from bugs to bats to dinosaurs, is so big and nasty that I would even run from a fluffy kitten if it came from Skull Island.
The first two thirds of the movie is about desperate director Carl Denham (School of Rock’s Jack Black slightly miscast) tricking everyone onto the boat and then onto Skull Island for his jungle masterpiece. Little did he or anyone suspect that they would be breaking out the heroics to fend for themselves and to rescue actress Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) from the giant ape. From the moment they arrive on the island, it’s vine-swinging jungle action until they get back to the States. However (while there’s still some ape-induced New York trashing action), most of the latter parts of the film are devoted to the tragedy of Kong and his love for Ann.
I give credit to Watts for a valiant effort convincing us of a growing relationship between her character and the ape (especially since she was only working with Andy Sirkis—the genius behind Gollum’s mannerism—as the motion-capture stand-in for the digitally-created Kong). Unfortunately I had a hard time buying anything more than a buddy relationship between the two. Sure, he didn’t kill her, and sure he saved her from the dinos and the other things that were trying to kill her but, come on! Granted, the ape-girl thing was built into the original story and Jackson tried to beef it up with romantic background music and ice-skating in Central Park, but the attempted romance (such as it was) weakened the story and made the tragedy of Kong a bit more laughable and less sad to me. So that’s a touch of schmaltz if you want it, and there are some lessons about human (and animal) nature thrown in for good measure. Regardless, overall this movie is top-notch adventure, excitement and awesome visuals. Another big-screen-must-see. (4 out of 5)