Movie Reviews

King Kong

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 9 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow
Jack Black as Carl Denham
Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll
Andy Serkis as King Kong/Lumpy the Cook
Jamie Bell as Jimmy
Kyle Chandler as Bruce Baxter
Lobo Chan as Choy
Thomas Kretschmann as Captain Englehorn
Evan Parke as Hayes
Colin Hanks as Preston
John Sumner as Herb
David Dengelo as Venture Crew
Stephen Hall as Venture Crew
Richard Kavanagh as Venture Crew
Louis Sutherland as Venture Crew

Summary:
"King Kong" not only is faithful to the 1933 version, it improves on it. The film features a great cast, impressive visual effects, and a fun story. But a very lifelike King Kong is what makes the picture really work.

Story:
"King Kong" is based on the 1933 film of the same name.

Having found a map to a mysterious uncharted island, filmmaker Carl Denham is determined to shoot his next picture there. Unfortunately, his financiers are about to pull out all of his funding on the movie. To make matters worse, his leading lady has quit on him. Desperate to leave New York on his chartered ship, the Venture, Denham hires a new leading lady literally off of the street. Ann Darrow is out of work and desperate for cash. Little does she realize that Denham is leading her into the adventure of a lifetime.

Leaving New York in the nick of time, Denham also happens to shanghai famous screenwriter and his collaborator Jack Driscoll. Together the group heads into the South Pacific to shoot the film. But when they arrive on the island, it is much more than they expected. They find it inhabited by ferocious natives, prehistoric creatures, and other enormous animals. But most impressive of all is the ruler of the island a 25 ft tall gorilla named Kong.

When the islanders kidnap Ann and offer her as a sacrifice to Kong, Jack, Carl, and the crew of the Venture race to rescue her. But they must face the perils of Skull Island in order to save beauty from the beast. Will any of them survive?

"King Kong" is rated PG-13 for frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images.

What Worked:
I watched the original "King Kong" shortly before viewing the remake and was impressed with how Peter Jackson took the best elements from the 1933 version and remade them into a modern version that was very faithful to its predecessor. The final result is a fantastic popcorn flick that is filled with action, adventure, humor, horror, drama and romance. There's a little something here for everyone. Everything that thrilled audiences in 1933 is still here in this new and improved version. Yes, it's better than the original as far as story, effects, acting, and characterization.

One of the things that impressed me most was the King Kong character. He's easily one of the best CG characters ever created for the screen. Andy Serkis and the animators give the giant gorilla so much personality and emotion. You start to feel like you're watching a real gorilla on the screen. When Kong gets angry and rages, you hold your breath. In a scene where Ann entertains him with acrobatics and tricks, the character comes alive as he gives a gorilla laugh and prompts her to do more. Kong also comes across as a child when he throws a temper tantrum because he doesn't get his way. You even start to feel sorry for him when you realize he's the last of his species and incredibly lonely. The creators really make you buy his relationship with Ann. I also have to acknowledge the influence of the original animation on this updated version. When Kong cracks the dinosaur's jaw, the audience gasped in horror. When he started playing with its head, they started laughing. I'm sure this is the same reaction 1933 audiences had, and it is repeated today. It really shows how lasting their animation was despite the old stop motion technology.

The other great thing about "King Kong" is the action. It features some of the most breathtaking action scenes of any movie this year. When the island natives attack the crew, you hold your breath in horror. When the crew is caught in the dinosaur stampede, you're on the edge of your seat. And when Kong battles the T-Rex dinosaurs and goes over the cliff, you laugh, gasp, and grip your armrest. It's a heck of a ride. Almost from the moment the Venture enters the fog, the movie never lets up.

The visual effects in the movie are, for the most part, very good. Most of the effort is put into Kong and it really shows on the screen. The detail in his eyes, hair, and movements is stunning. Kong alone makes this movie deserve the Oscar for visual effects. They also do a good job of recreating 1930's New York City. The attention to detail from street signs to cars is impressive. But the work on Skull Island is most fun. The large wall, obviously a miniature, looks great. The dinosaurs vary in quality, but it's what they do that is more memorable than what they look like. The "Jurassic Park" dinosaurs still hold the CG dino crown, but these get the job done.

The acting is great. Naomi Watts really stands out as Ann Darrow. Not only is she a pretty face, but she handles the action, drama, and comedy well. Hopefully this will lead to her getting even more starring roles. I have to admit that I had a lot of doubts about Jack Black as Carl Denham, but he ended up being good in the role. You could buy him as a noble soul or an obsessed filmmaker that loses sight of what's important. This is a really big role for Black because it shows he's capable of more than just comedy. Adrien Brody is good as Jack Driscoll, the everyman hero in the film. He's more appealing because of his good deeds than his looks. Brody doesn't have as much to do in the film in the third act, but he's still a big part in making the story believable. Most of the characters are established in the first act as they head toward the island. This is the time when the secondary characters really get to shine. Andy Serkis does double duty as Lumpy the Cook, Jamie Bell plays the overeager Jimmy, Evan Parke plays the noble Hayes, and Thomas Kretschmann plays Captain Englehorn. All have moments that make you care about them when they're put in peril. Also noteworthy is "Early Edition" star Kyle Chandler as Bruce Baxter. He's the last guy on Earth I would have thought of for the role of the lantern jawed star of the film, but he looks perfect in the part. His vanity and cowardice also add a lot of laughs to the early acts.

What Didn't Work:
As much as I enjoyed the film, I recognize that it had some low points. For one, Peter Jackson uses a lot of slow motion scenes. They never really did anything for the film and they seemed out of place. It didn't help matters that they added to the long running time of the movie. He also uses a lot of long, lingering stares between Ann and Kong. The first couple of times it was no big deal. Since there is no dialogue between the two, this serves as communication and establishing a bond between the characters. However, by the end of the movie you're saying, "Enough already, let's move on."

There were also a few moments of pure cheese in the film. In one scene, Bruce Baxter comes swinging in on a vine shooting a tommy gun. It was a bit stupid. The same goes for another scene where Jimmy shoots bugs off of another character. It was over the top. Another scene where Ann walks out of the lights into the gaze of a rampaging Kong was a bit too dramatic. The film could have done without these moments.

Some of the effects weren't quite up to snuff. There were many bluescreen shots where a blue haze can be seen around the character's hair. Some scenes with the ship looked very fake as well. And as previously mentioned, some of the dinosaurs could have been better. However, this is all forgivable since the story and characters are so good.

Finally, the score by James Newton Howard wasn't all it could have been. There was no notable Kong theme and the music frequently got lost in the background or was generic. However, this is forgivable too since Howard only had two months to create the score. Perhaps if he had more time he could have done some work as notable as his stuff for "ER," "The Sixth Sense," or many of his other films.

It's also worth nothing that the film is quite intense at times. My young son wanted to see it, but I think it's a bit much for him. The scene where the natives attack is quite bloody and horrific. A scene where the crew is attacked by bugs is also the stuff that nightmares are made of. You'll want to carefully think about the sensitivity of kids before you take them to this. It's a little more intense at times than "Lord of the Rings".

The Bottom Line:
"King Kong" is a fantastic remake and an exciting popcorn flick. With healthy doses of action, adventure, horror, drama and humor, there's something here for everyone.

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