Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson (Screenplay: Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace)
Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell, Lobo Chan, John Sumner, Craig Hall, Kyle Chandler
PG-13 (For frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images)
It’s been remade before but Peter Jackson’s lavish retelling of the classic black-and-white film King Kong is quite entertaining.
Instead of putting on a mangy ape suit, Andy Serkis returns to the motion-capture acting arena as the famed Kong, eighth wonder of the world. With only motion sensors on his body and a visual effects department worthy of an Academy Award, Serkis transforms the brooding beast into a life-and-blood character on par with his riveting performance as lonely Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
There are many characters to pay attention to, which could be part of the reason why the film lasts more than three hours, but as we build our way to the exciting adventure scenes, we’re glad we’ve learned a little something about these people.
Naomi Watts does an impressive job in the role made famous by Fay Wray (who even merits a wink-nudge line in the film). She plays the doe-eyed Ann Darrow with a vigor that’s needed for such a central role. Playing her love interest playwright Jack Driscoll, Adrien Brody gives everyone reasons to forget his now-famous Halle Berry kiss. His performance is good enough to highlight his characters motivations but falls short of greatness.
There are other quality performances in King Kong but it also has its share of dreadful ones. Money-hungry director Carl Denham played by comedian Jack Black wants to make a movie that he thinks will be huge. When his wildest dreams are fulfilled discovering the island that leads him to his greatest discovery, we expect to see a more obsessive character. Black stares intently at everything, almost never blinking. It’s probably the most disconcerting thing about his performance. You would expect more expression from an actor whose been given raves for his work in School of Rock but his work here is laughable. It’s very difficult to imagine such a character as realistic. He’s larger than life, like his creation, but lacking entirely in emotion. Sure, Black changes his vocal tones when conveying excitement or disappointment but without a more ocular investment in the performance, it feels entirely wasted.
A few other actors are worthy of note. Thomas Kretschmann as the crusty sea captain, Evan Park as the wizened first mate and Jamie Bell as the courageous former stowaway are each delightful. It’s a bit of a recognition jump when you see Bell’s Jimmy for the first time. Sudden memories of Billy Elliott rush back and you realize how much he’s grown as an adult, if not as an actor.
What truly makes King Kong special is its visual effects. Lord of the Rings impresario Jackson knows what it takes to make an exciting film. Much like Steven Spielberg in his youth, Jackson creates improbable situations for his stories and brings them to brilliant life on the big screen. The world of depression era New York is marvelous to behold. From the squalor of Shanty Town to the glamour of Broadway, we’re reminded of a past that can only exist in our most vivid memories.
King Kong is exciting, if not a bit long. Everything is so spectacularly realized that anyone who loves a grand adventure and doesn’t mind sitting still for three hours will enjoy the marvel that is King Kong.
December 31, 2005