KING KONG

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You?e Peter Jackson. You?e just finished directing a trilogy of films which might well change the face of modern film-making forever. You?e certainly done the impossible – brought the rich fantasy world of JR Tolkien? LORD OF THE RINGS to the big screen, shattering several box office records in your wake. So what do you do next? Some low budget comedy? A nice, easy character piece with a cast of six? Nope. You go back to where it all started, and you reinvent the film that created your passion for movies in the first place. You remake KING KONG. As you do.

The new KING KONG is not only a visually breath-taking, spectacularly-imaginative take on one of the first great event pics of the movie industry, it? also a film which doesn? just slavishly reinvent its original. It doesn?, as I? feared, tell the same story but with better tools – ?oh, look at our dinosaurs! Look at our ape!?KING KONG 2005 instead takes the original movie as its template, as its foundations, and builds steadily upon it, using modern story-telling techniques and visual effects to create the film Merrian C Cooper would doubtless have loved to have made in 1933 if this exciting new celluloid art form had been more confident and, of course, if he? had the benefit of a phalanx of devoted and obsessive CGI technicians working day and night at a bank of hot computers.

KING KONG 1933 is a film so loved, so revered that it? almost impossible to find fault with it. Yes, the acting is stagey, yes, the effects are nasty compared with the hi-tech stuff we get today but none of this has ever mattered because of the film? unassailable position as one of the very cornerstones of classic cinema. Peter Jackson loves the film as much as everyone else and he clearly appreciated that there? no pointing in remaking a film so beloved unless you can bring something new to the party. This he? done by opening up the film? back story in a way that Cooper could only have approved of, and giving the special effects a 21st century wash??rush up. KING KONG is one of those curious films that the audience will go and seeing knowing in advance, even in broad strokes, exactly what happens and how the story plays itself out. It? here that the genius of Jackson comes to the fore, following the structure of the original movie and creating a visual tour de force which the original, with its primitive (but still effective) stop-motion techniques could barely dream of.

So the story? the same as it ever was but the characters are just a bit more believable this time around. As the film opens – a stunning montage of depression-era New York sound tracked with jaunty feel good music – we meet slightly seedy film director Carl Denham (Black) who is desperately trying to persuade his financers to bankroll his latest wildlife epic. They?e not impressed and he? forced to flee before they can impound his film and his equipment. He? also lost his leading lady but a chance encounter with the virtually-destitute hoofer Ann Darrow (Watts) gets his latest project – a thriller set and filmed on a mythical island in the middle of nowhere – back on track and Denham and his company board a clapped-out steamer called ?he Venture?and set off to make cinema history before the Police can arrive and shut them down. Script-writer Jack Driscoll (Brody) is tricked into staying on board the ship and before long the steamer is powering out into the unknown?n

And what an unknown! The captivating first act sets up our characters and roots them very firmly in their beautifully-realised 1920s America. But this is just a sublime prelude to the absolute roller-coaster of the second hour. Once the ship literally crashes into the far-from-reassuringly-named Skull Island, we?e off and running and we just don? pause for breath. Investigating the island the group find an apparently-deserted village. Then they?e attacked by murderous natives and, in due course, Ann is snatched and taken off for sacrifice. Denham and co invade the village but they?e too late to rescue her as a huge, twenty-five foot ape crashes out of the jungle and sweeps her away. You know most of what happens next and I don? want to spoil it for you but quite frankly the next sixty-odd minutes are just edge-of-the-seat stuff as visual rolls after visual and spectacle tumbles upon spectacle. Just when you think the incredible brontosaurus stampede can? be beaten, we see Kong and his girly captive battle not one, not two, but three slavering, enraged Tyrannosaurs in a fight which last a good ten minutes and will leave you breathless with excitement. Then there? the Spider Pit sequence (a legendary lost scene from the original film awesomely reinterpreted here) which is as disturbing as it? thrilling as Denham, Jack and a bunch of sailors find themselves surviving an attack by Kong only too face a veritable swarming army of disgusting creepy-crawlies. The fate of ship? cook Lumpy (Serkis) is especially revolting.

Kong is finally incapacitated and Denham decides to recoup his losses by dragging him back to New York and putting him on exhibit for the masses. Just when you think the film can? possibly sustain this sort of energy – and after a slightly-unsettling change of pace when we?e suddenly back in New York some months later with no real explanation of how the Hell they managed to get there on a battered steamer with a twenty-five foot angry ape on board – the carnage kicks off again when Kong breaks free from his chains and goes on a bit of a rampage. Kong wants Ann back and it? at once amusing and alarming to see him pick on random blonde girls and then toss them aside like broken dolls when he realises they?e not who he? looking for. 1920s New York and its people, vehicle and buildings are casually smashed to pieces as the wild ape goes crazy with desire. Only when finally reunited with Ann does the destruction endond Kong makes his way to the Empire State Building and his date with cinema history?n

KING KONG is three hours plus long and yet it? over in the blink of an eye – if you can bear to blink your eyes for fear of missing some new spectacle. The film has all the emotional punch you could have hoped for and the denouement – the legendary bi-plane battle at the very top of the Empire State – is as tear-jerking as ever it was in 1933. This is a film which grabs you by the jugular and just won? let go. The storyline is at once exciting and touching – only the hardest heart could fail to find something extraordinarily human in the desperately-lonely giant ape – and there are moments of such mesmerising beauty on display here that you really feel that if you?e not witnessing a genuine work of art then you?e certainly watching a genius film-maker at just about the height of his powers. Adhering closely to the frame of the original story has allowed Jackson and his fellow script-writers to create some marvellous new set pieces, perhaps the very best being the wonderful sequence where Kong, Ann in tow, wanders into a snowy Central Park and slips and slides on the ice. It? one of the most romantic scenes I?e ever witnessed in a film and, in its stark, brutal interruption, also one of the most poignant.

KING KONG has got the lot. The spectacle is matchless – although there are one or two occasions where the CGI is a bit iffy (the frankly silly-looking pole-vaulting native on his way to the stricken Venture and occasionally Kong? fluid movements are just a bit too fluid to be entirely convincing) but there are scenes which will chill you and thrill you and will stay with you forever. Despite the high quality script it? not really a film about actors – once we?e in Kong territory words don? matter much any more apart from ?un away!?and it? hard to argue that Jackson didn? let his love for Kong overwhelm the needs of his cast and characters who frankly don? have a lot to do once we?e focussed on the ape. There? the odd lapse in artistic judgment too – the scene where Ann tries to divert Kong by dancing and juggling and generally cavorting is amusing but unfortunately topples into the ravine of silliness. But the cast work well with what they?e got; Jack Black, often irritating in his lowbrow comedies, has never been better, Naomi Watts gives Ann Darrow a believability Fay Wray could never have dreamed of and the odd-looking Adrien Brody makes an efficient hero figure, even if he loses his place in the story once we?e back in New York. But these are very minor and really rather mean-minded criticisms of a film so steeped in love, so raw with power and emotion. However, it? also a film which I suspect may not do as well at the box office as expected because a lot of the audience might think they know KING KONG so well they really don? need another one. But they? be wrong. Anyone who loves movies, who loves monsters, who loves KONG has to see and be captivated by this remarkable film.

And the sixty-four thousand dollar question? Is it better than the original? Well?hat? for your and your conscience to decide.]]>

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