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Volume #1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

The Thunder Child: Movie Reviews
Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005)
Review by Caroline Miniscule

Broadly speaking, there are two groups of people who will see Peter Jackson's King Kong. Those who have seen the original version made in 1933 and want to see how Jackson's version compares; and those who have not seen the original, don't care about the original, and just want to see a good movie.

This review is written for the latter group. Any movie, whether it is a remake of a classic, a sequel, or an 'original' (or at least, as original as Hollywood can be), should be judged on its own merits as a stand-alone film. I will therefore not use the phrase 'unlike the original' in this review, no matter how many times use of it could be made.

I give King Kong a rating of 6 out of 10. I liked the beginning segment in New York, I liked the ending segment in New York (yes I was a bit teary-eyed at the end), and I disliked practically all of the events on Skull Island. I actually found them...boring..and was prepared to walk out except that I did want to see the end, with Kong swatting a biplane atop the Empire State Building, as we'd been shown in the trailer.

Setting the Scene
King Kong begins in Depression era New York. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is an aspiring actress, currently working in a music hall with her mentor, an aged vaudevillian named Manny. None of the performers have been paid for two weeks, and when the music hall closes its doors permanently Manny decides to return to Chicago, leaving Ann behind. Lines are uttered...prophetic lines, for anyone who knows the least things about the way movies work: " "Whenever you reach for something you care about, fate comes along and snatches it away."

Meanwhile, Carl Denham (Jack Black), director and movie producer, sits and squirms while his backers watch the 'rushes' of his latest film. They're not pleased. Denham wants more money - he's chartered a boat and he's going to shoot his film on location. He has a map. One of his backers criticizes him and Denham launches into an empassioned speech about the integrity of this point one rather likes Denham. He's dedicated to his craft.

Denham leaves the room, but eavesdrops, and learns that the backers are not only going to pull the plug on his film, but also confiscate all the footage and sell it to other studios to use as 'stock.' Denham, accompanied by his devoted sidekick Preston, flees with the reels. Denham orders Preston to get all the camera equipment, film and filmcrew, and actors, aboard the ship (the Venture) and they'll sail regardless of the backers. Preston informs him that their lead actress has left the film. Denham will get another one - one slender enough to fit in the original actress' costume.

Ann Darrow, who hasn't eaten for a while, tries to steal an apple, is caught by the vendor, and 'rescued' by Carl Denham, who had seen her reflection staring into the glass front of a Strip-Tease club. He's struck by her, followed her, and witnessed the apple incident. Ann agrees to come on the trip. Again, at this point we can like Carl Denham. And we like Ann (but then, we always will like Ann, I think.)

Denham has one more 'stunt' to pull. Renowned playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) comes onto the ship to give Denham the script for the movie.'s only the beginning. Driscoll didn't have time to finish it, and now he's going ashore. But Denham, intent on getting his film made, delays Driscoll long enough for the Venture to get up stem and get well away from the dock, so that he's trapped on board.

All well and good. Excellent. We the audience know and likes Ann Darrow, we think we know and like Carl Denham, and we know all we need to know about Jack Driscoll.

L to R, Jack Black as Denham, Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow
, Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll, Kyle Chandler as Bruce Baxter

Long day's journey into boredom
Then the movie bogs down, and stays bogged down - during what is supposed to be the most exciting part of the movie: the part with the dinosaurs! - until the survivors get off Skull Island about an hour or so later.

Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) is the lead actor in Denham's film, a man who can't pass a mirror without looking into it. He plays heroes on screen but is not a hero in real life. Hayes (Evan Parke) is the black first mate of the Venture. He's an educated and well-spoken man, who'd served in the Army, and who has taken under his wing Jimmy (Jamie Bell), a young runaway who came from a horrible environment that, Hayes tells Driscoll, he refuses to talk about. Lumpy, the cook (Andy Serkis) is the stereotype of all service cooks everywhere, serving inedible meals with great pride.

So, while we learn a little of the back story of Hayes and Jimmy, Englehorn takes the Venture on a little journey. We the audience know Denham has a map, but apparently he never shows this map to Englehorn. "There's nothing out there," Englehorn tells Denham when Denham tells him in which direction to head..and Denham doesn't really contradict him. The map does not come into play.

It's only after Englehorn changes course, to head toward Rangoon in order to turn the fugitive Denham over to the authorities, that they encounter a fog, and steam right into it. Despite Engelhorn's best efforts the Venture runs aground, and the crew busy themselves looking to her damage. Time must go by, until high tide, because then the crew is busy trying to lighten the ship so that they can float off the rock. It is only a few minutes later that a crewmember points out that all of the movie people - from cast to scriptwriter to cameramen - are in a boat and heading for shore. Englehorn informs Hayes that he intends to leave them there.

[Perhaps a scene between Denham and Englehorn is missing here, in which Englehorn refuses Denham permission to go ashore. Certainly when the Venture is refloated the fog has dissipated and visibility is crystal clear].

What's wrong with this scene? There is no way that passengers on a ship can get into the ship's boat and lower it to the surface of the ocean without the assistance of the crew or the knowledge of the captain, and that's what supposedly happened here. Equally, would a man in real life (as opposed to a movie) take his entire crew ashore without telling the ship's captain, so that, in their ignorance of the missing passengers, the ship would simply steam off without them?

The film people find what is either a deserted city or a religious complex, probably a religious complex because everywhere they look there are skeletons, dozens of them, impaled on stakes driven into the ground. Then they see a small black child, who holds her arm out at them. Carl Denham approaches, tries to give her chocolate, she reacts in a 'feral' manner and runs off. Denham goes after her and sees old women hovering in the doorways, looking frightened. (So is this a religious complex, or a deserted city, and why are these women even there?)

Abruptly, one of the film crew gets a spear through his chest, and then it seems as if the entire aboriginal population of the island attacks, with no preliminaries. Another member of the crew, Mike, has his head thrust down onto a rock, and bashed in. (Yes, this must be a religious complex). Mercifully, Jackson doesn't show us the actual moment when club met skull.

It's Denham's turn to have his head smashed, but shots ring out. Englehorn and his crew have come to the rescue. The aborigines flee, and everyone else returns to the Venture.

Night falls, Ann Darrow is abducted by one of the natives, and offered up as a sacrifice to 'Kong.' She is tied by her arms to stakes on a platform which is cantilevered down on the other side of a vast wall. Fires are lit, illuminating the scene, and the natives start dancing around hysterically. Deep in the jungle, something moves. Before the crew from the Venture can rescue her, a giant gorilla, Kong, grabs up Ann Darrow and retreats with her into the jungle.

The crew of the Venture, well armed, have taken control of the city/religious complex. (The natives are never seen again.) A rescue party is formed to go into the jungle after Ann. Jack goes along, indeed he's usually at the head, but for some reason he doesn't bother to carry a rifle. Denham and his camera crew come along - and none of them seem to be carrying rifles, either. (Preston does not go along.) Actor Bruce Baxter comes along (reluctantly, one assumes, although one also assumes a scene between him and Denham is missing here) - but at least he's carrying a weapon.

Hayes leads the band, cook Lumpy and Choy (Lobo Chan) also come along, with a few other nameless sailors. Hayes orders Jimmy not to come - but of course the young lad does anyway.

While Ann and Kong get to know each other, the rescue party from the Venture proceeds into the jungle. They get deeper into the jungle, constantly harassed by no-see-ums that are big enough to be seen, but nothing like what will come later.

Then comes one of the silliest scenes in the movie. The rescue party come across their first dinosaurs - a whole herd of brontosaurus (or apatosaurus if you want to be technical). After a few minutes...raptors attack, and the herd of brontosaurus stampede - directly at our rescue party. Apparently our rescue party cannot just squeeze to one side or the other of the convenient canyon down which the brontosaurus run. No, they must perforce run straight ahead, directly in the path of and eventually beside the feet of the huge saurians, who, obviously, step on some of them. This viewer was reminded of the stampede scene in the Jurassic Park follow-up, The Lost World. If you're not going to copy the original in this instance, why copy that? Why not come up with something original?

Meanwhile, Ann is having her problems as well, and is constantly being rescued by Kong. The penultimate trick is for Kong to fight not one, not two, but three T-rex. (There's such a thing as predator/prey ratios. There might be a covey of raptors on the island who hunt together, but three t-rexes would not be in such close proximity.) Anyway, in homage to Willis O'Brien who created the original effects for King Kong, the t-rexes have three fingers on their tiny arms (the real T-rex had only two), and Kong dispatches the final one by ripping its mouth open, much like Kong did in the original movie. This Kong also plays with that mouth for a couple of seconds afterwards, like the original Kong did.

Prior to this, the survivors of the brontosaurus stampede had regrouped. Carl Denham's character is either changing or being exposed - each time one of his crewmembers dies he tells another one - "I'm going to finish the film for 'so-and-so,' and send the profits to his wife and family." He-man hero Bruce Baxter decides to return to the ship: "I've lost my motivation," and apparently a couple of other sailors return with him. Those who remain press on. They start to cross a fallen log over a deep chasm, Kong arrives, Hayes is killed rather quickly, and Kong upturns the log so that the remaining sailors, as well as Jack and Carl, are plunged down into the chasm, or, as it might be called, the spider pit. (Although, the main occupants of this 'pit' would seem to be gigantic centipedes).

The scene in this pit would be very disturbing for any children under the age of 14, I would judge, and not to pleasant for a lot of people over that age. Lumpy, whom we've grown rather fond of, meets a horrible death, swallowed alive, head first, by a maggots.

Meanwhile, Driscoll is covered with the gigantic centipedes. Jimmy grabs up a tommy gun and fires at Driscoll point-blank. The centipedes are blasted off him by the fire, while Driscoll remains standing. One of the centipedes is on his face. "Don't move," Jimmy says. "I'm not moving," Driscoll replies calmly, before Jimmy shoots the thing. Yet even as these creatures find themselves blasted away, more arrive from their hidey holes.

Their doom is certain...but not so. Once again unexpected shots ring out. Bruce Baxter's white-clad body swings through the chasm on a vine, while he blasts away with his tommy-gun. At least he doesn't give a Tarzan yell. Turns out when Baxter returned to the city he persuaded Englehorn to mount a rescue expedition for the rescue expedition.

The surviving sailors and Denham climb up vines onto one side of the chasm - meanwhile Driscoll has climbed up a vine onto the other side of the chasm, intending to continue his pursuit of Kong and Ann. Across the chasm, the Denham and Driscoll exchange extremely banal dialog, then Driscoll goes off to rescue Ann, and Denham turns away to follow the Venture crew, calling Driscoll, beneath his breath but quite sincerely, a 'sucker.'

Driscoll rescues Ann from Kong (he's still not carrying a rifle, by the way), and they flee for the wall and the city on the other side. Kong gives chase. The crew of the Venture have laid a trap for Kong on the other side of the wall. They are professional animal trappers, after all. Preston cuts the rope which lowers the drawbridge over which Ann and Driscoll run into the city. In a very telling, slow-motion scene, Ann Darrow walks right past Carl Denham, who pays no attention to her. All he wants is Kong.

Picking up steam From this point on, the film improves once more. The ridiculous (not foolish, as it might be in real life, but simply ridiculous) behavior of the crewmembers, and the banal dialog between Hayes and Jimmy and Denham and Driscoll are now over. The movie cuts immediately back to New York and starts to build towards its tragic climax.

The scene with Ann and Kong on the top of the Empire State Building is simply a tearjerker, as Kong attempts to fight off the buzzing biplanes and Ann Darrow attempts to save him, to no avail.

In the DVD release of a movie, the director usually restores scenes that he didn't want edited from the original release. According to an interview with Jackson in the January issue of Starlog, he does indeed have more footage to include in such a release. But that would be a mistake. King Kong needs no more footage, and if it would lose some of the extraneous material it has now, Kong would once more be King.

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