I admit that I wasn’t that excited to see King Kong in the first place. Sure, it’s the blockbuster event of the year, it’s directed by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson, it has magnificent special effects and a terrific cast, but there was just something about the idea of remaking King Kong (1933) that didn’t do anything for me. It comes back to that old question of, “Why would you want to remake this?” It’s been done before.
True, the original version is in black and white, rather clunky – with its dated stop-motion effects – and as a result looks rather silly, but those were the things that made it memorable.
As Barry Ronge introduced the film at its screening I began to warm to the idea of a remake. The history of Kong and Peter Jackson’s passion to remake it since his early childhood years was laid out before the audience. Ronge also spoke about Oscar possibilities and great approval garnered around the world from other premiere screenings of the film. Maybe my preconceived ideas had been wrong?
Unfortunately, King Kong is not the masterpiece that everyone is claiming it is. Sure, it’s a generally well-executed and well-crafted piece of cinema but I found the film to be somewhat soulless and… well, boring at times. “What? How can an over-sized Gorilla, smashing up New York City be boring?” I know that sounds unlikely, but King Kong suffers from a touch of the Pearl Harbor syndrome. This usually occurs when the screen is saturated with special effects and action sequences for a continuous 45 minutes or longer and audience members’ minds begin to wander. Remember the never-ending bombing sequence in the above-mentioned movie?
The connections between characters also let this film down. The relationship between Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and Kong (Andy Serkis) is developed too late in the film. Jackson humanises the large ape early on but instead of sticking with it and giving us a more defined ‘partnership’ between him and his ‘Barbie doll’, the action kicks in and the relationship isn’t touched on again until the final 20 minutes. This is when Jackson gets things right; I got sucked in emotionally – unfortunately, it happens too late.
The characters are also extremely plain and one-dimensional. Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is the hero, Ann Darrow is the victim; what you see is what you get. I appreciate that Jackson may have wanted archetypal characters, but it doesn’t work for me. If they had just been given another layer or two, things could have been more interesting. The opportunity to develop the most twisted love triangle in the history of cinema – between ape, man and woman – is present in this film. This is hinted at, but Brody’s character comes across as being so flaky and uninterested that I was hoping Kong would bite his head off. I wanted to see some more emotion from the man, but his character is too reserved and as a result Kong won my heart as well as Miss Darrow’s.
In all the reviews I’ve read the special effects have been hyped beyond belief. Granted, it’s a Peter Jackson film and they are good – in parts – but hype or no hype the effects are flawed and extremely clumsy in other areas. Kong is done superbly, courtesy of Serkis (the same guy who played Gollum) and a computer graphics team, but the world he inhabits is flimsy and not very believable at certain points. A badly keyed background here, a ridiculous stampede scene – where characters look like they’re running on one spot – there, another shot of a dinosaur that is just a bit too out of focus… The transition between what’s real and what’s generated is jarring at times.
The lack of balance between character development and action/CGI is what tipped King Kong into the negative for me. I really wanted to like this film but enough wasn’t done throughout its three hour running time to convert me. It has some fantastic sequences (wrestling dinosaurs, Empire State building), Kong is beautifully realised and Naomi Watts is on top form but these highs don’t do enough to distract from the lows: A slow, draggy opening hour (where nothing much happens), overly long action sequences (that get boring) and a running time that could have been halved. Was Jackson’s ego bigger than Kong? Possibly. King Kong will be, and clearly is, a hit with reviewers and cinemagoers alike. For this reviewer, however, it just wasn’t ‘that good’.