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New Zealand 2005
Directed by
Peter Jackson
188 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

King Kong (2005)

The first half of Peter Jackson’s version of the King Kong story is an entertaining affair that lavishly reproduces the look of Depression era adventure yarns in fine retro style and peppers the dialogue with knowing references to the original classic Merian C. Cooper version of 1933 to which Jackson adheres quite closely. Unfortunately once we arrive at Skull Island and King Kong himself appears Jackson’s love of CGI and rubbery creatures overtakes him and interest wanes as the director bludgeons us in Spielberg-fashion with unnecessarily long computer-generated action sequences of men and beasts fighting to the death.

Once back in New York and the final chapter of Kong’s story takes place with his tawdry public exhibition and iconic Empire State Building demise the film returns to the human drama but by then we are too numb to do other but wish that it all over quickly.

In what is rather questionable casting Jack Black plays desperate independent movie-maker Carl Denham who convinces Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) to be his leading lady in a film set in the Far East. They board a tramp steamer with a small film crew and, unwillingly, screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody),  Denham’s real agenda is to find Skull Island where he thinks he will be able to capture exotic footage of a lost world. The find the island but Ann is captured by the natives and offered as a sacrifice to Kong who, Beauty and The Beast like, falls for Ann who comes to see him as more than a monster (her responsiveness is closer to the John Guillermin’s best-forgotten 1976 remake than the Cooper version).  This vulnerability is Kong’s undoing, he is captured by the stupidm greedy white men who turn him into a freak show and thus effectively lead him to his death.

Watts does a typically fine job in what was no doubt a difficult role and she really brings home the pathos of Kong’s tragic destruction at the hands of man (Andy Serkis should also get some credit for his motion-capture work as the giant ape). Black is always Black and that is at times distracting whilst Brody as usual mopes around.

Kong has come along way since the clay figure of the original film and  the ape-suited 1976 version but although the film looked good in 2005 already some of the CGI looks very stilted, particularly the close-up interactions between Kong and Ann. Even so it’s hard to imagine anyone trying to top Jackson’s exhaustive and exhausting version for a very long time.

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