Written by: The Red Baron, CC2K Staff Writer
Which brings me to Kong ’05. THE RE-TELLING category. The outline of the original remains completely intact. The characters remain the same, with some interesting additions. We have the captain of the ship, his first mate, the scrappy kid that the first mate took under his wing, Carl Denham’s assistant ( played pretty well by Colin Hanks ), oooh, and Andy Serkis as a surly Cockney sailor with a more impressive mustache than Grodin.
The one welcome change that they did here was transforming Jack Driscoll into a famous playwright who’s writing the script for Denham’s movie. Interesting choice. It’s even more interesting to see how well he handles himself in the jungle with a bevy of weapons – even though he’s just a New York playwright.
While Kong ’33 was simply a product of the 1930s – Jackson’s film makes a film ABOUT the 1930s. The first ten minutes or so of the film is a glorious montage, beginning with shots of jungle animals behind bars in the Brooklyn Zoo ( symbolism, anyone? ) and then proceeds to give us many slices of life of the New York populace of the Great Depression. We’re even introduced to Ann Darrow as a Vaudevillian, an acrobat, and a comedian – which is a great detail to consider when you see how well she’s able to handle herself within all the physical turmoil of her exploits on Skull Island.
WATCH AS MAN
Ann’s theater is shut down. She’s down on her luck.
The cigar-chomping studio executives in the screening room don’t like the way Carl Denham’s most recent movie is going. He’s down on his luck.
Jack Driscoll is waiting on the boat Carl has rented for the voyage and his running late for a rehearsal for one of his plays. He’s down on his luck.
Okay, maybe Driscoll’s life isn’t that bad.
In the midst of re-creating classic moments from Kong ’33 – Ann stealing the apple, Carl discovering her, their meeting in the café where he sells her on the movie – Jackson adds lovely little flourishes to what was originally mundane. Ann has integrity as an artist – and tries to scare up honest theater work from an agent she knows. The agent explains how times are tough, and suggests she try working in a burlesque show. She makes it as far as the front door, then walks away. Fortunately, Carl was there ( about to venture inside seek out an actress amongst the strippers ) and saw her reflection in the glass door – and casts her on the spot – in his mind anyway. Ann isn’t sold on the job until he reveals that Jack Driscoll is writing the script. She’s a huge Driscoll fan, whose work inspires he to be a better artist.
There’s also much hijinks and shenanigans surrounding Carl’s departure with his crew. He’s stolen the film he’s already shot, and they really need to disembark before the police show up to arrest him. Fortunately, their hasty departure leaves Driscoll stuck on the boat, so he has no choice but to go on the adventure with them.
The time spent on the boat is also very compelling. We have the opportunity to get to know the characters on board, and allow the relationship between Driscoll and Ann develop. It’s not the most magnificent love affair to hit the screen – but it’s serviceable enough. There’s a delicious nod to the dialogue of the original film in a scene where Carl shoots a scene for his movie. The first mate and Andy Serkis tell Carl the legend they’ve heard of Skull Island. It’s revealed that the scrappy kid has been reading “Hearts of Darkness”, and the first mate ( possibly my favorite character in this version ) eloquently quotes Joseph Campbell’s text as Carl and his film crew venture to the shore of Skull Island. Quoting “Hearts of Darkness” to highlight a megalomaniacal filmmaker’s journey into the unknown? Way to go, Peter.
Their encounter with the natives is played very differently that the previous two films. These natives, are FUCKING SCARY AS HELL. I mean, I found them scarier than the Orcs in LOTR. That’s all I’ll say about that. No communication occurs between them and the white invaders at all. Just a near death experience. I will say that in all three movies, it becomes clear to the crewmen that the girl has been snatched by the natives when they find a bracelet left behind by one of the captors. Homage-o-riffic.
Something that was left out of Kong ’76 was the dinosaurs. Too difficult to do at the time without it looking silly. Probably a good choice. But it sure is nice to see them again here – not just because the CG is so rich, but because this is exactly what happened in the original. The way in which Kong kills the T-Rex is exactly the same as in Kong ’33. The struggle on the log bridging the gorge plays out the same way ( as it does in Kong ’76 ). The drugging of Kong with chloroform plays out roughly the same way. And I know there are other examples that I’m simply not recalling at the moment. Forgive me.
But there’s stupendous stuff that they added like the bugs! Ahhh, scary bugs.
I liked the depiction of Carl’s megalomania. Desperately trying to avoid failure and obscurity by manufacturing spectacle – and gregariously celebrate the noble deaths of his crew – announcing that he’ll donate the proceeds to their wife and kids. A speech he repeats more than once. And wait until you see what Jack Black does when his camera gets smashed along with all film he had been shooting? Have you seen King Lear?
I liked the way Jackson played the Kong/Ann relationship. After the T-Rex interlude, Kong takes her to his favorite spot on the island, a cliff with a spectacular view of the sunset. It’s a somber setting – peppered with the bones of other giant apes – giving us the impression that Kong is all alone on Skull Island. Ann is able to win Kong’s affection through her Vaudeville act ( this is a lot more tender than it sounds ). It appears that Kong falls in love with Ann because she can make him laugh. It may look bizarre in writing – but the shit works on screen. Believe me.
WATCH AS KONG
Once they get back to New York, and Kong runs amok, and Ann discovers what’s going on – she goes to Kong – to soothe the beast from more wanton destruction. You know how it ends. But it feels fresh because we’ve been with these characters and their plight for so long. The ending carries more weight.
I won’t reveal it, but there’s a quiet scene before the final climax that was glorious and sublime. You’ll know it when you see it.
And there’s so many other solid gold elements of this adaptation to celebrate. Things you just wouldn’t expect from a King Kong movie – like a scene in a theater showing one of Jack’s plays, with the dialogue from the play overlapping with scenes with Ann – commenting on their relationship and the events of the film. Who does that? Who has the luxury of actually spending time in a theater in 1930s New York after a battle royale with giant lizards and insects and simians on a jungle island? Peter does. And does it well.
This film explores the essence and power of narrative. The three main characters are struggling artists, after all. Carl actually tries to interweave actual adventure into a fictional one – urging his male lead actor to get closer to the dinosaurs so he can get the perfect shot. He captures Kong because real life adventure sells better than a movie.
The film explores man’s neverending attempts to control and exploit nature. Kong bound in chains on stage with bright lights and applauding spectators after we see him in his natural habitiat. Heartbreaking, and reminicient of the little monkeys we saw behind bars in the beginning of the film.
Atop the Empire State Building, Kong is able to communicate to Ann a memory they shared together on the island.
And I haven’t even gone into the motion capture work Andy Serkis did for Kong’s CG animation.
So, The Kong Trilogy.
Kong ’33 – A Grand Spectacle
Kong ’76 – An Inventive Modernization
Kong ’05 – A Grand Re-Telling
Kong ’33 – Ray Harryhausen uses groundbreaking stop motion animation to give Kong life
Kong ’76 – A guy in a Kong suit, a huge mechanical Kong hand, and effective optical effects give Kong life
Kong ’05 – Peter Jackson’s WETA Digital gives Kong life
Kong ’33 – Hammy 1930s stylized performances
Kong ’76 – Effective, realistic performances from Grodin, Bridges, Lange
Kong -05 – Increible casting of Black, Brody, and Watts.
Three different methods, three different madnessess, three different Kongs. All of them inspiring. All of them making me love the cinematic medium even more.
No doubt, many people will take issue with Kong ‘05’s 3:15 hour running time. “Oh, you could cut out that stuff in the beginning” or “Oh, you could cut that stuff on the boat” or “Oh, you could cut that stuff in the jungle”, or “oh you could cut that scene with Jack in the theater”.
To this I say "phooey"
There’s a place for really long movies. And as long as the length serves some narratively appropriate end. In Kong ’05, all that extra stuff really adds to the world that Jackson and his team are building for the story to play out. The richer the context, the richer the environment, the richer the characters. It could have been even longer.
Anyway – I’m sure I’m leaving out some amazing insights, but I feel it necessary to bring this long winded diatribe to a close.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong. It’s good. Really fucking good. I read somewhere that someone theorized that King Kong could surpass Titanic critically and economically. This wouldn’t surprise me at all. King Kong is a better movie than Titanic pound for pound, and has something in it for everyone.
Kong is a tragic character. And we owe it to him to watch this movie and feel sympathy for him.
Now is the time when I confess to my ulterior delight regarding Jackson’s fame following the success of LOTR and Kong …
A special edition dvd of THE FRIGHTENERS! Which I’m popping into my dvd player right now.