By MICHAEL SCAGNOLI
“King Kong” (PG-13, 185 minutes) I feel it’s important to note two things before I go any further into what is likely the most-anticipated movie of the year.
First, I’ve never been a huge fan of the story of King Kong. It is, fans will tell you, first and foremost — a love story. Yet, it never held much emotional resonance for me. Second, I should make it clear that in my mind, director Peter Jackson can do no wrong from this point forward in his career. Having created with the “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy what I believe will come to be seen as the seminal films of the early 21st century, the guy is going to be OK in my book even if he starts directing sequels to “Gigli.” Knowing that, I guess I shouldn’t have been so skeptical going into Jackson’s updated take on “King Kong,” especially considering that the story is one he holds so dear.
You either have or will hear this many times over the coming weeks: “King Kong” is one of the best movies of the year, and it only further helps to confirm Peter Jackson’s position as the finest director of major event movies working today. What separates his event pictures from others, you ask? Story, dialogue, and emotion rule the day, opening a gateway to enjoyment of the action sequences and special effects wizardry that Jackson and his WETA Workshop designers have mastered.
Like the original, this Kong is set in 1933, depression-era New York City at its onset and ending, while in the middle we’re transported to mysterious Skull Island. The film’s opening sequence is a signal that we’re entering rarefied territory. Jackson’s camera takes us on a tour of the greatest city in the world, all its classic grandeur intact, though tainted by the dark and dreary realities of the era. To put it lightly, New York looks spectacular, as does each and every location in the film. The visuals are simply jaw-dropping.
Carl Denham (Jack Black), a rogue filmmaker with visions of grandeur has come into possession of a map leading to a mysterious island, where he intends to shoot his next picture. He has the beginning of an excellent script by respected playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and an idea of how it could end. What he lacks is the support and financial backing of the studio, and a lead actress. The first he never finds, the second walks into his life by coincidence, and soon finds her life changed.
The lovely Ann Darow (Naomi Watts) is drawn to Denham’s movie offer mostly because she longs to meet Jack, whose plays she knows by heart. There’s enough excitement in the promise of a meeting with the writer to get her onboard the rickety ship Denham has chartered for Skull Island. Little does she know how much stepping on board the ship will alter the course for her and so many others.
At three hours in length, King Kong plays in three distinct parts. Part one, which I’ve just described, is all lead-up and back story. Part three finds beast and our main characters back in New York, culminating in the famous scenes of Kong and Ann atop the Empire State Building. Every portion of these parts is well-made, well-acted, and thoroughly exciting, via either build-up, pulse-pounding action, emotionality or a combination of all three. But it’s part two — that middle section of the film set on Skull Island — where Jackson’s “King Kong” uses every technological advancement in the book to become that which the original film could only have dreamed of being.
Kong himself is a feat to behold; thanks to the motion-capture techniques Jackson pioneered with Gollum in the Rings movies, and the physical acting talents of Andy Serkis, this ape comes alive in a way that draws you nearer to the story. I’ve had trouble with the earlier Kong films, and monster movies like them, because the centerpiece figures don’t seem real. From the moment you first see this version of Kong, you believe in him.
The next hour of the movie will make you believe in Peter Jackson, if you don’t already. And you should. Much respect to Steven Spielberg, but King Kong’s dinosaur-fueled chases and fight sequences make Jurassic Park appear to be child’s play. As Kong and Ann form their bond of love and admiration amidst a struggle to stay alive and beat the elements, only one word can describe the experience for a moviegoer: Exciting. Though it employs every new, futuristic visual-effects trick known to man, “King Kong” ultimately plays like a classic Hollywood adventure. You’ll find laughs, moments of sentimentality that ring true, and sequences of genuine excitement that will leave you wanting for more.
“King Kong” is an awesome movie experience, period. Like me, you may never consider the big ape or his story to be your favorites. But when you’re watching something made with such passion, which holds so much excitement, that fact matters very little. A-
By MICHAEL SCAGNOLI
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