King Kong

5 stars


2nd March 2006

We've become somewhat accustomed to having jolly fat bearded men bring us incredible gifts come Christmas time. Yes, Peter Jackson has become synonymous with fantastic festive films, and although his Hobbit-like rolls of flab have all but disappeared, a few vital things remain; his ability to create 3-hour plus epics of unimaginable creativity and scope, and an uncanny ability to squeeze every last ounce of pure entertainment out of even the most sacrilegious of source materials. A clear labour of love, Jackson's King Kong is without a doubt one of the year's best pictures and frankly, it makes his Lord of the Rings trilogy about as appealing as sitting through an overlong school nativity play.

It's the same old story - man hunts giant ape, woman falls for said beast, man shoots primate off huge landmark - but Jackson's retelling of the story really fleshes out the original, allowing characters more time to breathe, naturally replacing the creaky old stop-motion animation with bleeding edge CGI in the process. Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is more than just a shrieking Barbie Doll, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is now more of a pen-chewing thinker, while Kong is quite simply as close to real as computer imagery has ever been (thanks in no small part to the motion-capture of Gollum template Andy Serkis). Jackson's titular ape is at once fiercely terrifying - see him shake Darrow around like a plaything and tremble! - and completely and totally lovable, for all intents and purpose, a lovelorn stranger trapped in the body of giant monkey. So yeah, it's that old chestnut again.

While Jackson hasn't veered to far off course in regards to the original's storyline - Carl Denham (Jack Black) still sails his unwitting cast and crew to the mythical Skull Island to shoot his defining movie - he has used the tools available to explore the yarn in a lot more depth. 190 minutes of depth, in actual fact. If you thought that King Kong was just about a massive fucking monkey then you've got several surprises in store; namely an island full of fucking massive dinosaurs, hundreds of fucking massive creepy-crawlies and our primate protagonist scaling (and un-scaling) the most fucking massive building in the world. Everything about King Kong is just so huge, it's not hard to see where Jackson splodged the $200m budget - the action scenes are perfectly paced, switching effortlessly between shockingly brutal fight sequences and seat-dampening suspense. Peter Jackson may claim King Kong is really a love story at heart (in the same way that Titanic was 'a love story set against the backdrop of a disaster' - yeah, right) but when you've got dinosaurs getting kicked in the face and phallic primordial bog worms feasting on peoples' heads, it's easy to disagree. The set-pieces are consistently excellent and near faultless in their execution, from the Venture hitting the high seas, through the stunning V-Rex fight, right up to the climactic and memorable finale in New York.

Although it must be hard to emote while performing under the shadow of a 25ft fictional ape, all the main players cope adequately with the task at hand and play their parts as well as could be expected. Watts, finally satisfied she's on the A-list after a decade of hard graft, is typically brilliant here, combining effortless charm with the kind of hardened resilience we've seen from her so many times before (21 Grams, The Ring etc.). Her relationship with Kong is obviously pivotal, because although it's thankfully not a sexual one (there's definitely no smoking of monkey pole), the few tender exchanges the couple share are enough to make you believe that, in this world at least, beauty and the beast isn't an entirely implausible partnership. Brody, largely anonymous since his Oscar win in 2002, is convincing as playwright Jack Driscoll but often looks at odds when called upon to play the action hero, and his relationship with Ann (established in only a few short scenes on the Ventura) just isn't enough to compare with her other love rival. The casting of Jack Black in the role of Carl Denham caused internet nerds to collectively type 'raised eyebrow' emoticons, but he brings an impish, almost devilish quality to the man who (briefly) tamed the beast. It's certainly his most accomplished role to date and will go a long way in ensuring his career will continue long after we've all become bored of his relentless gurning.

Jacksons's films do well to stay clear of the summer blockbuster melee, and with good reason. Like the Rings trilogy before it, King Kong has a real heart beating beneath its exterior, a driving force that separates it from the soulless gawpers of the June/July rush. After a necessary slow start, Kong picks up the pace at the hour mark and doesn't slow down until its tragic, maudlin climax - it's a relentless combination of thrills, spills and gorillas. Do not take this praise lightly - King Kong represents everything that's fun about going to the cinema, and may well prove to be the pinnacle of Jackson's already esteemed career. It contains more knuckle-chewing excitement and packs more of an emotional punch than the rest of the year's pictures combined - lovingly recreated, beautifully realised and expertly directed, King Kong deserves to make a billion dollars.

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