Radio Drama
Science Faction

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

Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005)
Review by Roy P. Webber

I saw King Kong at midnight Tuesday December 13 (early 14th) at a local premier. I was very hopeful, in a guarded way, that it would be nearly as good as the original 1933 film. It didn't turn out that way at all in my opinion. So here are my thoughts / comments (mainly objections) to the Peter Jackson film...

First, the movie is overlong by way of adding many unnecessary elements to pad it out to its 3-hour running length. The montage of Depression-era New York may set the tone for people who weren't around in the 1930s, but the bleakness could have been covered along with the main storyline of the film. This is easiest to point out but there are many other examples.

As for the casting, I thought it mediocre at best. Jack Black's squinting, leering Carl Denham is nothing like the Robert Armstrong portrayal, coming off pretty much as a cheat and a scoundrel; the 1933 character might cut corners but would never seem to stoop to the level seen here. Adrien Brody as the playwright Jack Driscoll is too effeminate in the role and seems out of character as the "brave sort" wanting to save Ann Darrow most out of all the crew. Naomi Watts is very good as Ann Darrow, as is the black first mate (Evan Parke) on the Venture.

Engelhorn (Thomas Kretschmann) seems too dark and brooding a character, nothing like the kindly though stalwart captain of the original film. Ironically, his demeanor is perfectly in line with the greasy, grimy incarnation of the tramp steamer which he is in charge of, another example of the "grungy" motif this version heartily embraces. The rest of the cast makes little impression though the young lad Jimmy (Jamie Bell) under the wing of the first mate is acceptable. Personally, I thought the depiction of the natives as paleolithic, bloodthirsty mud savages a very unfortunate departure in characterization. I would want Kong to stomp all these ugly natives into oblivion if you ask me!!!

Skull Island and the jungle settings are dissimilar though they do work. But many of the components of this remote land mass are not as effectual as they were in 1933. There is a complete absence of a Dore-esquire feel in the landscape. and the native wall looks more like a leftover set from Return of the King, with the streams of burning material pouring from along the parapet. Kong's roost over the river and ocean isn't as visually impressive either.

Of course, the dinosaurs and other creatures are extremely conspicuous and technically well-executed but unfortunately there is a gross amount of "overkill" compared to the 1933 feature. Instead of one T. rex there are now three, instead of one brontosaurus there is a herd of sauropods, instead of a pteranodon there is a flock of flapping bat creatures, and instead of a few critters in the spider pit there are now hoards of insect-like monstrosities.

Besides the multiplication of animal life here, the staging of these dinosaur sequences is so over-the-top as to border on ridiculous. How do so many survive while running between the stomping feet of those long-necked saurians, and the tyrannosaurs hanging and swinging on the vines is stretching belief to an extreme. One thing that was sorely lacking was an introductory dinosaur sequence as seen in 1933, when the stegosaurus ambles into view and charges, setting the prehistoric and forbidding "feel" of the island. I do like the look and the wonderful expressions of Kong, accepting that the titular ape would have to be modernized and look more than an actual gorilla than before. But it still could have been tweaked slightly to be a little more upright and anthropomorphic to make it truly a "creature of fantasy" instead of a something you could see at a zoo.

After capturing Kong and ending up in New York, the theater sequence was strange in that it recapitulates the native ceremony (with Max Steiner's pulsating score) of over 70 years ago but it is done in an overly gratuitous manner, even accepting that it pays homage to the original.

Kong's escape and rampage is a fast-moving affair until he finds Ann (or she finds him rather). From there things really go south in my view. First is the completely pointless episode on the ice pond in Central Park where Kong and Ann frolic on the slippery surface. Then after he climbs the Empire State Building and the bi-planes appear, Ann Darrow not only has the wits and nerve to scamper to the uppermost platform atop the spire, but she actually stands and tries to wave off the bi-planes!!!! This finale is staged so completely wrong as a "remake" I am frankly at a loss for words! Sure, Ann should shed a tear at the demise of Kong, but the whole scenario is so overwrought it comes off (sadly) very clich´┐Żand formula.

I know many people will like King Kong, and overall it isn't a "bad" movie per se but I think Peter Jackson sold out to the idea of kowtowing to the (often questionable) tastes of a modern audience and making mega profits. From a purist point-of-view, I find this remake, though better than the dreadful 1976 affair, coming up short of the mark in many ways. It is to me much like the 1998 Mighty Joe Young compared to the 1949 picture---a remake really only in name.

I know my perspective is critical to an extreme but I think it is warranted in light of who made this film and the hype about how reasonably "faithful" it was supposed to be to the beloved classic...

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