Directed by Peter Jackson
December 5, 2005 (New York City) / December 13, 2005 (New Zealand) / December 14, 2005 (United States)
A jungle film producer travels to a mysterious island where he encounters a creature on dreamed of by the outside world.
This version of the King Kong story is largely a rehash of the original Kong film-just with padding. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I am a big believer that remakes should be new versions of the original film and not similar in name and broad concepts. I give director Jackson credit for sticking to the original.
The film follows mostly the same beat as the 1933 original but there are changes. There are a few additional characters while others get more of a backstory. We know something of Ann Darrow’s life prior to joining the expedition. The character of Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) who was originally a crewman on the boat is turned into a sensitive New York playwright while the aspects of the original character are transferred to Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann).
Jack Black takes over the role of Carl Denham. He is more sideshow showman than huckster filmmaker. As much con artist as producer. As dishonest and conniving as those around him realize he is, it is amazing than anyone is willing to get on the boat with him. He pays nobody until forced and has a general reputation for dishonesty.
The natives of Skull Island feel much less important here than they did in the original. They provide an element of danger for the crew of the Venture but do nothing much for the plot in my opinion other than create a need for Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) to be rescued. By that point in the story the decision by Denham had already been made (though not vocalized) to capture the creature.
Speaking of capturing the creature, they at least create a better Broadway show for the display of Kong here than in the original. Originally it was $20 to gawk. Here it is a fictionalized recreation of events with new character Hollywood actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler who would star in Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the upcoming Godzilla vs Kong) taking over as being Ann’s savior rather than Jack.
There are tons of nods in Peter Jackson’s King Kong to not only Hollywood of old but to the original film. Reportedly Jackson was trying to get the original Ann Darrow, Fay Wray, to utter the film’s final line “It was beauty killed the beast” but she passed away after appearing to come around to the idea and before the scene could be filmed and so the line was spoken by Denham just like in the original film.
When Denham is scrambling for a replacement for his lead actress, he suggests Fay but is shot down because she is doing a picture with Cooper at RKO. All references to the original film. In this moment Merian C. Cooper is alluded to as perhaps a rival of Denham.
Kong’s New York stage seems to be a recreation of the original’s sacrifice scene down to the nearly identical performance, costumes, and blackface makeup of the dancers with the orchestra playing the original film’s score. That and more pops up throughout the film. Nothing heavy handed and is a treat to fans of the original that catch it.
My first exposure to this film was the infamous ice-skating scene one random night on cable and it is quite possibly the worst scene in the entire film. Why? It is ridiculous and campy and just plain silly and is so awful to me that I avoided this film until writing this post. Why would anybody think this story needed Ice Capades?
Jackson does a good job of re-creating the environment of the time. But he spends too much time on establishing it. The old cars and the old style of dress are more than enough. The multiple shots of the unemployed or the homeless are excessive. They could have been reduced in number. In fact I think a lot of the extra stuff could’ve been removed and you could’ve brought the film down another 15 minutes or so and had a much better narrative.
The tone is a little uneven. The original was a product of its time and I give it credit for taking its subject as seriously as it could then. This version falls between being serious and goofy. Treat the material seriously and lighten the mood at times with jokes. Do not have long stretches that are silly or characters that are caricatures. Was this an action comedy or a serious monster movie?
Peter Jackson’s King Kong is not a bad film, but it is not great either. It is less than what it should have been given the resume of those involved. This is a watch it for Kong fans but an if you want for the rest.