King Kong

Here is the jaw-dropping, eye-popping, heart-stopping movie epic we've been waiting for all year. Peter Jackson follows up his Lord of the Rings trifecta with a stupendously entertaining redo of the 1933 classic that made him want to make movies. The director may be working off a borrowed dream, but he utilizes every technical advance of the last seventy-two years to reimagine the 100-minute black-and-white original as a three-hour explosion of color and FX miracles. What you see will spin your head six ways from Sunday. I've heard gripes from jolt junkies about the hour it takes for the tall, dark and nontraditionally handsome leading man to make his entrance. Jeez, people, that's what they call building a rooting interest in the characters. Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, the role created by Fay Wray, had me at hello. Struggling to make it as an actress in Depression-era Manhattan (stunningly rendered, by the way), Ann signs on with master showman Carl Denham (Jack Black with just the right mad glint in his eye), hops on a tramp steamer and heads for an uncharted island where she will nearly get killed making her film debut. Carl also tricks Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) on board to write the script. This playwright of the common people is a new character whom the script fails to develop, but Brody radiates a romantic intensity that makes him a natural to fall for Ann. It's the film's second hour — the arrival on Skull Island (a scary marvel of design) — that kicks the action into high gear. As Kong grabs Ann in his giant paw and fights off freakishly huge insects, spiders, stampeding dinosaurs and three T-Rexes, you'll feel like a kid again staring at the big screen, enveloped by the visual wonders. The mischievous wit and touching gravity of the script by Jackson and his gifted partners , Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, kicks in as well. Ann is not just a screamer; she has the smarts to know she needs Kong on her side. So she does her act for him — dancing, juggling, somersaults. He yawns and knocks her down when he's bored, but when she sits with him to watch a sunset, he's a goner. So are we. Watts is absolutely fabulous — funny, sexy and moving. And save a roar for Andy Serkis, whose movements served as a model for Kong, just as they did for Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Watts and Serkis make you believe — not in an erotic fantasy, but in tenderness and longing. In the film's last hour, you'll bawl like a baby when Ann follows Kong to the top of the Empire State Building as he swats away the biplanes out to stop him from sharing one more sunrise with his lady. The breathtaking beauty and terror of these scenes ends in Kong's deadly plunge. I was disappointed that Jackson shied away from Kong bouncing off the sides of the building as he did in the original, painful caroms I still remember feeling in my gut. But aside from a few cheesy effects (Kong sliding on the ice in a park), there's little to bitch about. Jackson, a wizard to rival Gandalf, ends 2005 on a note of pure exhilaration. "I'm quittin' the blues of the world," sings Al Jolson on the soundtrack. You won't find a better way to join him than King Kong.

From The Archives Issue 445: April 11, 1985