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  • Writer's pictureCollin Souter

eFilmcritic Archive: "King Kong" (2005)

“King Kong” reawakened my senses as a moviegoer in a way few films have this year. It reminded me of why I love movies, a much-needed reminder that has been long overdue, especially after this crappy year. I never stop loving movies, but sometimes I wonder why I devote my life to them. I always know the answer, but sometimes it takes a moviegoing experience like “King Kong” to validate it for me. Sometimes, I need an emotionally satisfying and complete visceral joyride/horror show/love story to make the world in which I live a little clearer. “King Kong” did that for me and although it won’t quite be my choice for Best film of 2005, by the film’s end it sure felt like the best.

But who cares about lists? Who cares about hype? Great movies should be savored regardless of where they fit in the year-end pop culture lexicon. “King Kong is a stunning film, one that brings back the excitement, beauty and terror of Jackson’s last film, “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” one of the single greatest achievements in film history. We need this now more than ever and Jackson deserves all the credit in the world for not taking a long rest after that mammoth task (For instance, has James Cameron directed anything remotely significant since “Titanic?).

“King Kong” thrilled the hell out of me, scared the bejeezus out of me, made me cringe, made me hold my breath and brace myself, made me nervous and almost made me grab the person next to me. It’s that fun. It’s that exciting. It’s that beautiful. Again, Jackson proves himself an unbeatable showman with the soul of a poet. He crafts and composes his action sequences like symphonies, with the most eye-popping crescendos. Just when you think the characters are safe, another pair of eyes lurk behind them and the beasts just get bigger and bigger at every turn.

And of course, there’s the love story. Anybody familiar with the first two incarnations of “Kong know that it goes far beyond just being an adventure story about a gargantuan ape. True to the 1933 original, Jackson starts with the filmmaker, Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his new, unknown leading lady, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). Denahm can’t afford to lose any more friends in Hollywood, but remains determined to finish his latest adventure by filming it on a remote island that nobody knows even exists. He brings along with him the reluctant screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), his loyal crew and his leading man, Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler).

Naturally, the voyage does not go as planned and their ship crashes into Skull Island where they are greeted by a pack of terrified and unfriendly natives. The crew manages to get off the island, but with one key person left behind: Ann Darrow. Jack Driscoll insists they go back to rescue her, which they do, unbeknownst to them that she has been made the unwitting sacrifice to the dreaded Kong. Again, if you know anything about the original story of “King Kong,” you know that I’m not telling you anything new.

But it doesn’t matter. Most important: Does Jackson pull it off? Can he and his crew at WETA create another CGI character as convincing and soulful as the tormented Gollum from “Lord of the Rings”? The answer is… absolutely. Kong has been created by the same crew and even the same actor, Andy Serkis. The result is a character worthy of our sympathies and our understanding. We know when he feels betrayed, when he feels genuine love and when he notices real beauty. And there’s not a phony moment in the entire thing. Sure, this movie won’t win any points for originality, but it more than makes up for that in sheer innovation and depth.

So, thanks to the ingenious creation and a superb performance by Naomi Watts, the love story works. Jackson gives the two characters some genuine moments together that involve little dialogue, and even a very funny moment where Darrow decides to use her vaudeville shtick as a means of survival. The movie could have easily made the mistake of Darrow talking to Kong endlessly and Kong reacting as though he understands English perfectly. This movie knows that sometimes the best, most moving love stories are the ones told without words. Believe it or not, the most romantic scene of this year involves a woman and an ape in New York at Christmastime.

The most thrilling scenes of the year, on the other hand, are much harder to put in order of preference. As you may already know, a good portion of “King Kong takes place on the island, which incidentally happens to be populated with giant apes, dinosaurs and hundreds of critters great and small that defy description. Like a kid in a candy store, give Jackson some characters, an island and all the special effects at his disposal and watch him go. Like the best horror movies, there are sphincter-tightening moments in this film that made my skin crawl. Like “Return of the King,” there are set pieces and chase scenes that seem so unthinkable, you just watch and think “Did I just see that?”

The added bonus is that the human characters are fun, too. Brody clearly wants to be the hero of the film and gives it a damn good try. Unfortunately, he has to contend with pompous actor Bruce Baxter, who stars in jungle adventure movies, but can’t quite handle a real-life cliffhanger. As filmmaker Carl Denham, Jack Black would not have been my first choice, but he nails most of his moments just right. He sticks out like a sore thumb in a few scenes, but certainly not enough to ruin the film (which is really saying something).

The trajectory of movies the size of “King Kong can already be forecasted easily. It goes like this:

  1. Hype

  2. Rave reviews and acceptance

  3. Box office blockbuster

  4. Academy Awards

  5. Backlash

  6. DVD release

  7. Lame Wayans Brothers parody

But none of that matters. Jackson and his crew have created another masterpiece,

pure and simple. Watching it, I felt that this is what it must have been like to see the original back in 1933, a movie I watched again very recently (thanks to the recent DVD release). There would be no greater tribute to that landmark movie than to make a film that thrills a large audience by pushing the boundaries of special effects while also telling a very human story. It is the true essence of showmanship and a thing of real Beauty. It’s why I love movies.

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