DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
This review also contains several review points of the 1933 film: “King Kong: The Eighth Wonder Of The World”.
Back in 2004, production on a Peter Jackson remake of the 1933 classic were well underway, and this being off the back of the seminal Lord Of The Rings franchise, peaked my interest. This was one of the reasons that I revisited the original, a film that I hadn’t seen since the late 1980’s, as a child.
I watched the 1933 Fay Wray classic and was more than a little impressed with this early ground breaking blockbuster, with a fast pace, incredible special effects, in the context of the day, and a real sense of self. This was a monster movie, nothing more, nothing less but in doing that so well it became a lasting classic as many films who know what they are, often do.
Peter Jackson claims to be a huge fan of King Kong, a point that it supremely obvious, as in December 2004, he unveiled his fanboy version of his childhood favourite. The love lavished on this film is palpable, with a similar art direction to the original and it’s 1930’s setting littered with references to its inspiration.
The main problem here is that the ’30’s King Kong: The Eighth Wonder Of The World, was a tight 90 minutes, which consisted of a straight forward setup; so-called romance that generally consisted of Fay Wray being ordered around by the ‘Venture’s’ first officer, John Driscoll, played by Bruce Cabot; a character re-imagined as a Adrian Brody’s writer in the new version; the arrival at the exotic ‘Skull Island’, the battle with Kong and various dinosaurs and the climatic show down on the roof of the Empire State.
This 180 minute version consists of the same plot elements… and is literally TWICE the length! It offers nothing and I mean NOTHING new to the original plot, yet Jackson has managed to stretch it to 90 minutes longer that the story demands.
But what he has achieved are some cracking special effects sequences, and some very attractive re-envisionings of the original, especially the Kong vs. T-Rex fight which has been expanded to an epic battle with no less than three T-rexes. Kong looks great, the island, islanders, the sea, the recreation of 1933 New York city all look wonderful. But, he is too keen to dwell of them, stretching the plot out to demonstrate who wonderful everything can look.
He also loves this project so much, that he was unable to put the rains on it and seemed to miss understand the source material, which was a monster movie, not a love story! Kong fell for Wray, but she didn’t really fall for him. That would be bestiality, wouldn’t it? There was more of a perverse take of the original, with Kong’s fascination with the ‘little woman’ rather than planning to settle down and have little Kongs.
In this version, their relationship is treated as unrequited love, with Naome Watts, Anne Darrow, seemingly encouraging the ape. This just didn’t sit well with me on so many levels, but still, the biggest problem is Jackson’s direction. Simply put, his visual style is brilliant, epic and classy, but his love for the subject has blinded him to becoming to ponderous, slow and sloppy.
Every key moment is tent-poled, even Darrow’s first step on the ‘Venture’ is overblown. There was a little more emphasis and background given to Darrow’s actress role than in the original, but this was fine as it was used to explain the context of time, The Great Depression. This was absent from the original most likely due to the fact that it was a product of that era anyway and the audience didn’t need such historical contextualisation.
This isn’t as bad as it sounds though, as it’s action is at times thrilling, Jack Black puts in a great performance as Carl Denham, seeming capturing the overblown spirit of the original, and the look of the film truly is classical. It’s just overblown, ponderous and way, way too long!