Tuesday, January 10, 2006

King Kong (2005)

I'm a big fan of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy (despite my many complaints about it). I've seen both The Frighteners and Heavenly Creatures (the former being great fun and the latter being quite sublime), so there was no doubt in my mind that Peter Jackson is, indeed, a superb film maker. I knew Kong was going to be a fine film. I was blown away.

The film, quite simply, broke my heart. I've only seen parts of the original, 1933 version (terrible of me, I know), but eververyone knows the story of Kong - it was beauty killed the beast, and all that. Any prior knowledge I had of the story did nothing to prepare me for the ride that Peter Jackson provides with this film.

The opening of the story in New York City is an interesting and poignant story in itself - that of poverty-stricken, out-of-work actress Ann Darrow and of wannabe auteur Carl Denham. Peter Jackson gives us lots of time to get to know the characters before he even mentions the star of the show, let alone shows him. Some might find all these sequences boring - I, for one, didn't. Knowing these characters inside out made the non-stop action that followed all the better, for truly feeling for the people involved. Even the minor crew members - Lumpy the cook, played by Andy Serkis, was a particular stand out for me - evoke great emotion during their journey.

Things really get going once they get aboard the ship, the SS Venture. Here we watch as Ann and Jack tenderly (and inevitably) fall in love. It's not over-done, which I was concerned it might be, and was all the better for it. The mystery surrounding Skull Island is expertly built, with the crew at loggerheads with Denham, who has tricked them into believeing they were headed for Singapore.

So far, so story-laden. Once they reach the island, things take a sudden turn. Jackson provides us with non-stop action at break-neck speed - without it ever getting boring. This of course brings us to Kong himself. A wise choice was made by Jackson in keeping Kong as a silver-backed gorilla, not humanised in any way. The same goes for Kong's expressions and emotions. Though all the emotions we see Kong go through are familiar to us, they are all in that more primal and wild state. Andy Serkis deserves the highest possible praise (shame on you, Academy) for his performance as Kong. He captures the humanity in Kong without ever anthropomorphising him.

A highlight of the film's many action sequences is a sequence between Kong and three T-Rexes. It's long and at times it's quite ridiculous, but that never makes it bad or boring - it's pulled off with such a talent and imagination that you don't care that Kong would've died in the fight, leave alone poor Ann.

Once off the island things take an emotional turn. There are few scenes I've seen in film that are sadder than Kong, chained and defeated, thrust in front of an audience. When the action reaches the Empire State building everything reaches it's emotional climax - the audience feels just like Ann who watches, helpless, as Kong is shot down. Despite the people he's killed and injured, you don't want this creature to die, because he doesn't deserve to. Thankfully, the unlikely couple get a sweet moment of happiness before this - playing on the ice.

There's no denying that a lot of people will find Kong a boring film, but frankly anyone going to see Kong for 'the big monkey' deserve to be bored. This is an intelligent and intensely emotional film, yet full of action and eye candy. The performances are great all round - Naomi Watts shines as Ann, Adrien Brody is suitably heroic and Jack Black is impressive as the complex Carl. It's also nice to see Jamie Bell again, even if his accent was a bit dodgy at times!

The music was wonderful, but on a personal note I would very much like to hear what Howard Shore had intended as the score for the film. In all honesty the score by James Newton Howard was very much similar to Shore's work on the LotR - the quiet choir-and-strings for the more emotional moments and the fully-blown orchestral pieces for the action. It makes me wonder what exactly it was the Peter Jackson decided was wrong with Shore's ideas.

This is the kind of film people say aren't made any more - epic, emotional and romantic. It's a shame not more films are made like this.


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