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King Kong (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Although far too long at three hours (the original was only 100 minutes), with far too many special effects-driven fight scenes involving horrible monsters, it’s still a smashing love story.

Carl Denham (Jack Black in a terrific Orson Welles imitation) is the film producer who lures Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) on a ship to Skull Island and their fateful meeting with King Kong. Director Peter Jackson, although relatively faithful to the original, has made some puzzling changes.

Jack Gibson (Adrien Brody), who falls in love with Ann, was originally played by Bruce Cabot and was modeled after producer-director Merian C. Cooper’s partner and co-director, Ernest B. Schoedsack. In the original he is the first mate on the ship. But Jackson has turned him into a screenwriter, which seems to be a change without a reason. Denham, who is based on Cooper himself, is still a film producer, but is much more avaricious in Jackson’s film.

Jackson’s film creates much more of an emotional bond between Kong and Ann, something that Cooper didn’t emphasize. Cooper’s Kong loves Ann, but there’s not much indication that it’s reciprocated. In Jackson’s film the affection is mutual and it is slowly but adeptly well-developed. In that respect, this film is much better than the original.

Jackson, of course, is a master of special effects and he flaunts them in his version. The last two hours are almost entirely special effects, full of fights between Kong and other monsters as well as other horrible monsters, including huge insects, attacking the Driscoll and the people who are trying to find and rescue Ann. There is one scene in which Driscoll is being attacked by huge insects. They are all over his body. One character has a submachine gun (remember, this is 1933) and shoots them off Driscoll’s body without ever hitting Driscoll. Sure, you have to suspend disbelief in these monster thrillers, but this scene is too absurd. It demeans the film.

Jackson’s special effects are exceptionally well done. This is a lot like “Jurassic Park” (1993) because there are some terrific dinosaurs and other exotic prehistoric beasts that it’s fun to watch.

But Jackson has modern technology at his beck and call. Cooper was inventing it as he went along. If Cooper didn’t invent the miniature rear projection screen he certainly used it to wonderful effect, in addition to being among the first, if not the first, to use the mat camera and multi screen paintings, all effects used in Kong to great effect. While stop action animation had been tried in “The Lost World” (1925) and an aborted film to be entitled “Creation” in the late 1920s, it was first used extensively in Kong. What Cooper created was far more original and compelling than what Jackson does in his version because he was making it up as he went along. Although Jackson does have a few cute lines in homage to the original, there’s nothing to rival the ending in the original, in which the pilot of the plane that finally kills Kong is producer-writer-director Cooper and the shooter in the second seat is his partner and co-director, Schoedsack. For the record, Cooper was a war hero who fought in three wars, a truly legendary figure.

Watts is such a fine actress and so beautiful that one doesn’t miss Fay Wray, who mostly just screamed a lot in the original. Jackson’s recreation of 1933 New York is mesmerizing.

Cut the first hour substantially (Kong doesn’t appear until hour 2, although he was absent for the first 45 minutes in Cooper’s original) and a half hour of the fights and it is a good entertainment. Despite its epic length, I enjoyed it.

December 15, 2005