Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a marvelous achievement that carries astonishing clarity and vision within every frame. 2005 was a year that saw cinematic masterpieces such as Capote and Munich, but King Kong successfully embodies and often elevates to a new level the elements of storytelling, action, and visual effects that made cinema emerge as the 20th-century’s premier art form.
King Kong seizes on the story provided by the 1933 original and expands upon it in the way some great films bring novels to a vibrant life no one could have imagined the material was capable of. Taking place during the Great Depression, we meet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a struggling actress and performer. She has a good heart, but her life has been little more than a series of crippling disappointments. In a seemingly divine stroke of luck, movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) approaches Ann on the street, offering her the chance to star in one of his films. Unbeknownst to her, Denham’s plans are to travel the Pacific in search of a mysterious island, misleading both film and ship crews to get there.
The voyage to Skull Island receives most of the first hour of screen time, but never does it become tedious. Jackson’s characters are likeable and clear, the dialogue never attempting to be clever or flashy, but a perfect component to lay out the action ahead. Already a good film, the film rushes forward at breakneck pace upon reaching Skull Island, never missing a step or skipping a beat. Skull Island may be the most malevolent location ever put to film, replete with vile monsters that could each serve as their own horror series.
When King Kong (Andy Serkis) finally arrives, he occupies the screen with a dazzling sense of power and flawless movement. Serkis, who did the fabulous movements of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, works with special effects to bring the giant ape to life in way that outshines that of most human actors.
Outwardly vicious and intimidating, Kong grows attached to Ann. She performs her vaudeville act for Kong, an enthusiastic audience who may not have ever received kind attention from another being. We realize the two have formed a connection that goes deeper than words. Both are outcasts in their societies, living solitary existences defined primarily by their physical traits. Kong protects Ann from the appalling creatures on Skull Island, and after the humans capture the great beast, Ann tries to protect him. Perhaps the film’s most insightful scene occurs when Kong and Ann slide across a frozen pond, their gentle delight capturing their understanding better than dialogue could hope to.
The knockout action sequences come furiously during the latter two thirds of the film, utilizing state of the art effects and imagination for all they are worth. During one breathtaking sequence, Kong battles three Tyrannosaurus rex while holding Ann in alternating hands, while in another terrifying sequence, the film crew comes under assault from thousands of disgusting insects. Each sequence would likely be the highlight of the average film, but when Kong runs amok in New York City, the exhilarating payoff never falls short of awe-inspiring.
Peter Jackson has come a long way. Originally known as the director of cult horror schlock such as Dead Alive, he shot to worldwide fame as the driving force behind the superb Lord of the Rings films. With King Kong, he proves himself to be an artist with phenomenal potential to add his name to the lexicon of great filmmakers.
When Kong brings Ann to the top of the Empire State building, he looks longingly at her, his deepest sadness being that their time together has run out, and I tearfully felt the same way. Roger Ebert often states, “No bad film is short enough, while no good film is long enough.” These words rang true throughout my psyche as this exciting, wonderful, deeply sad, and beautiful film came to a close.