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King Kong (2005)

July 17th, 2007 · 5 Comments

John Huston once said: “”There is a willful lemming-like persistence in remaking past successes time after time. They can’t make them as good as they are in our memories, but they go on doing them and each time it’s a disaster. Why don’t we remake some of our bad pictures … and make them good?” This Distracted Globe recycles itself and examines the best and worst remakes.

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In New York of 1933, vaudevillian Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) finds herself out of work when the theater that employs her is shuttered. Meanwhile, filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) discovers that studio executives are so contemptuous of his plan to shoot the rest of an epic jungle picture somewhere in the South Seas, they plan to shelve the project and sell his film as stock footage.

With the help of his assistant (Colin Hanks), Denham takes off with his negative. His leading lady has quit, but he spots Ann stealing an apple and offers her the role in his picture. Boarding the tramp steamer Venture one step ahead of the authorities, Denham detains his screenwriter, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) when he learns the dramatist hasn’t completed the script.

Heading into uncharted waters, Ann and Jack fall in love. The crew – including the capable captain (Thomas Kretschmann) and first mate (Evan Parke), matinee idol Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), cook (Andy Serkis) and kid (Jamie Bell) – express anxiety when they learn their destination is the mythical Skull Island. Making their approach through a fog bank, the Venture runs aground.

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Denham brazenly takes his cast and crew ashore, where they’re attacked by a ferocious tribe. The captain rescues them, but natives pole vault onto the ship by night and kidnap Ann, who they offer as a sacrifice to a huge beast that crashes through the jungle. Jack leads a rescue mission, but the expedition discovers Skull Island teeming with dinosaurs and carnivorous insects that stomp on or devour the men.

Ann is captive of a malcontented 25 foot ape. She performs pratfalls and dancing for the beast, and he develops an affinity for her. Ann manages to escape, but the island creatures she encounters – including three T-Rexes – convince her she needs Kong to survive. Jack rescues her, and as Kong pursues them back to the ship, Denham uses chloroform to sedate and capture the giant ape and return with him to New York.

While shooting The Frighteners for Universal Pictures in 1996, director Peter Jackson received a call from the studio. He was asked whether he would be interested in a couple of horror movies they wanted to remake. One was Creature From The Black Lagoon, which didn’t excite Jackson much. The other was King Kong. The original 1933 version was Jackson’s favorite movie of all time, and had been his inspiration for becoming a filmmaker.

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Jackson adapted a screenplay with producer Fran Walsh. Described as “kind of flippant, kind of Hollywood,” it had a tone similar to what would become Universal’s remake of The Mummy. Jackson and his Weta Workshop did preproduction artwork and built maquettes, but in January 1997, the studio delivered bad news. Godzilla and Mighty Joe Young were going to beat them to theaters, and they were canceling the project.

Jackson put Weta to work on designs for The Hobbit instead, which led to six years making The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Halfway through filming The Two Towers, Jackson was contacted by Universal and asked if he would still be interested in revisiting Kong. The director felt a new version should be a “thank you” to the original, and with Walsh & Philippa Boyens, rewrote the script to have more emotional depth and adhere more faithfully to the 1933 version.

The film became one of the top five moneymakers in the history of Universal. Two top selling DVDs raked in added revenue. One thing about Peter Jackson is that the movie that gets released in theaters isn’t really the movie. In this case, 13 minutes were restored to the DVD “extended edition.” As well as inserting two new monster sequences, the 201 minute running time tempers the frantic pacing on Skull Island and does improve the film.

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What never comes into focus is a theme. The 2005 King Kong is a colossus that tries to run a dozen directions at once and falls over itself. Jackson seems to want this epic to be about the Depression, vaudeville, a maverick movie crew, a tramp steamer, a love story, a character ensemble, a serial adventure, and a horror movie. It gets less cluttered as characters die and the story nears its iconic climax, but man, is this a mess trying to get there.

Both Kong – part motion capture performance by Andy Serkis, part digital effects – and the recreation of 1933 New York are pioneering visual achievements. Many of the effects shots – like sunsets – are breathtaking, while others come off like dusty workshop efforts. This unevenness is really apparent in a film that falls flat when it comes to developing its characters and has little more than spectacle to get by on.

Effort went into adding some dimension to the crew of the Venture, but none of that stuff plays. I got the sense Jackson grew bored with the actors. Once we get to the creature feature portion of the film, the camera whips around so wildly it’s difficult to feel any awe or terror about the creatures being unveiled. There’s some fantastic stuff here, but simply too much of it to process without a headache.

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Michael Phillips Jr. at goatdog’s movies enthuses, “Jackson has made a film that is both a remake of the 1933 film and a celebration of its impact on movies.” He gives it 4 goats out of 5.

King Kong is fine, but nothing more. Unless we are talking sheer volume; there it reins supreme,” says Jonny Lieberman at Ruthless Reviews.

Andre Soares at Alternative Film Guide calls the remake, “a technically proficient, unscary, highly sentimental, and utterly soulless thrill ride.”

Tags: Beasts and monsters · Famous line · No opening credits · Wilhelm scream · Woman in jeopardy

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pat Evans // Jul 20, 2007 at 2:06 am

    I can forgive this overstuffed remake a lot if only for the charming scene on the ice in Central Park…

  • 2 matt // Jul 20, 2007 at 2:28 am

    I remember watching King Kong in the theaters and being impressed with the constant barrage of spectacles. The crashing waves of the sea, the bugs, the boulders, and of course, King Kong, were incredible visual feasts. The problem with too much feasting means you get full pretty fast and I also remember thinking “this thing still isn’t over?”

    Plus, I didn’t like Naomi Watt’s juggling routine. It completely destroyed my suspension of disbelief.

  • 3 Damien // Apr 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    When I first saw it in theaters, I was disappointed overall. It’s ponderous time length was unjustified, too many characters had been presented as interesting and then dropped with no explanation, the Skull Island tribe was unnecessarily gruesome and creepy, the editing was sloppy, and I did NOT like the splitting of the original Jack Driscoll into two 1-dimensional characters. The romance between Brody and Watts could have been charming, but fizzled almost before it started, being based only on long wide-eyed staring contests. Jack Black also didn’t cut it as Carl Denham, in my opinion – he was just too modern a presence for a period fantasy picture.

    However, as I’ve seen parts of it over again, I’ve appreciated the spectacle more and more. You must admit, EVERY frame of the movie is gorgeous. The tension builds, the sense of wonder and mystery is always there in much greater quantities than most movies give us (the exception being the dinosaur chase scenes, which were atrocious). Kong is more interesting than in the original, and really…well, the storyline supports pure spectacle, and PJ delivered. New York is astounding beautiful, and frankly I’m grateful just for all the fantastic images that spark my imagination.

  • 4 liz // Nov 13, 2010 at 11:31 am

    are you kidding peoples? this movie is the best of all!

  • 5 Shane // May 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    The best movie I have ever seen and has inspired me to become a filmmaker

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