Peter Jackson’s King Kong

King Kong's eyes, giving a mean look.

I almost forgot to post about this. I saw King Kong over the Christmas weekend and it exceeded my expectations, which were high but wary since I didn’t believe that it could be as good as I was hearing. Much as Michael Mann did with Heat, Jackson is closing the book on King Kong. Message from Jackson to world: “move on, this one is done.” I really don’t think any remake of King Kong would add anything to the narrative. He squeezed every ounce of emotion, depth, and thrill that an earnest telling of this tale could provide.

King Kong's eyes, giving a mean look.

For me, Kong works best in the jungle sequences. The opening of the film in New York is well shot, and establishes our characters in the best way (briskly), but the jungle is Kong’s realm and that’s where the meat of the experience is (though I’m sure Jackson would argue differently). I think he included everything he should have and the film would have lacked depth without the rest, but the jungle sequences were just stunning and by far the most engaging.

I saw it in the theatre and I strongly recommend you do as well. The sequences explode forth, roll and twist, ebb and flow, and they will probably lose something on the small screen in the less-than-focused environment of your home. I’m amazed that I’m writing this, but he put on the screen some of the most intense and adrenalizing action sequences I’ve ever seen in the theatre, and I didn’t expect it at all. For what felt like 15 minute stretches (but may have been longer), the action would grab you, get you involved and charged up, release you for a second, then swing around and up the ante…again, and again, and again. I this flick doesn’t prove that Jackson has mastered the technique of grabbing his audience and keeping them moving where he wants, I don’t know what does.

The New York City vista, looking at Kong on the upper levels of the Empire State Building as biplanes come back for another strafing run.

The only significant flaws I detected were some serious plausibility issues during the closing New York chapter of the film, which tied into a bit of implausible (but thematically inevitable) character behavior. First off, if it’s winter in New York City, then A) your characters’ breath will fog in the air, B) don’t have your lead running around in negligé practically barefoot without any indication that she’s cold, C) do I really have to tell you that she would freeze to death in about 2 minutes at the top of the damn Empire State Building in the winter with next to nothing on? Do I really? Seriously, I get that the contrast of the hot jungle and the cold city is important, but at least acknowledge that you’ve done it. I know that the Faye Wray in the nightgown is an iconic image, but there’s no need to defy obvious reason for a half hour to get that one shot. Secondly, Ann seems to be begging to get killed. I understand that it’s a movie and that it had to happen for the film and that Jackson wanted to make sure that we get that Ann wants to be with Kong, but seriously. She runs through NYC in her underwear, climbs the Empire State Building with Kong, then tries to go even higher up in spite of the biplanes firing machine guns at the building. It all just got to be a bit much. Kong is fantasy, that stuff is just silly. It contributed to my difficulty with the last chapter of the movie also got a bit long and overly drawn out, but this is Peter Jackson, did you see the three endings in Return of the King? We arguably got off easy.

Something that surprised me, particularly in retrospect, is how depressing King Kong is. The themes seem to revolve around the inevitability of fate, the unchanging nature of men and beasts, and the terrible consequences of trying to defy one’s nature or expecting someone to defy theirs. Pretty heavy stuff. In spite of the ’happy’ ending, this is a tragedy.

Overall, well worth a watch and very well done, particularly considering the premise: giant ape and blonde woman have a thing, ape climbs tall building. With the exception of the above faults and a few moments of less-than-perfect CGI work (Kong is so strong that it throws the lesser stuff into high relief), it’s about as good as anyone could ever do with Kong.

MPAA Review: Frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images.
Ad Exec Reviews: The eighth wonder of the world.

Bonus image: Classic Kong.