Return of the King

Columbus Alive | December 15, 2005
The 1933 King Kong was the movie that first made a young Peter Jackson want to direct, and for years he's worked on a remake, but he had to become the 800-pound gorilla in the room before he could bring an 8000-pound ape to the big screen.

With the money and clout brought on by his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson has crafted a loving tribute to the original Kong, but he also tries to recreate something of the wonder the first film and its then-groundbreaking effects generated in audiences, a tough nut given our jaded, bombarded consciousness. To the audience's delight and astonishment, Jackson actually pulls it off. Furthermore, he injects the tale and its giant beast with more intelligence and nobility.

The director and co-writer, working again with his writing team of Philippa Boyens and wife Fran Walsh, remains true to the 1933 film in many respects, sticking to the Depression era, the basic storyline, the pivotal action scenes and even some shots and creature movements. Kong's love interest, down-on-her-luck actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), is fleshed out as a dark-spirited vaudeville comedian who's saved from being caught shoplifting by movie producer Carl Denham (Jack Black).

He asks her to join him as his leading lady on a South Seas voyage, not mentioning that his funding is gone, he's stolen the film he's already shot and he's chosen Ann for her resemblance to the leading lady who walked off. Joined on the voyage by writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who's doing the film to supplement his serious work in the theater, Denham hides from everyone the boat's true destination, the uncharted Skull Island.

Much has already been made of the fact that it takes an hour to get to the island and the first appearance by Kong, but most of the film's 180-plus minutes fly by. And once the massive ape meets the comely blonde, the giddy thrills start piling up like stampeding dinosaurs in a narrow canyon.

At this point the film also transcends its adventure movie origins, becoming a truly moving exploration of the relationship that develops between beauty and beast as he becomes her companion and protector. With nearly no dialogue, Watts does extraordinary work in these scenes, matched at every turn by the CGI beast given expression and movement by Andy Serkis (he performed the same duties for Gollum in the Rings films, and somebody should give him some kind of special award for it).

Jackson also re-imagines the role of Carl Denham. In the original he was heroic, and clearly the alter-ego of director and adventurer Merian C. Cooper, but here he's representative of the worst of what separates humans from supposedly less civilized creatures, and surprisingly, Black is a perfect choice to play him. He tones down the comedy but sticks to the source of it, which is just right—a personality built on ignorance, hubris and inappropriate self-certainty.

Jackson could have trimmed a little more in the editing room, an issue that popped up in Return of the King and will hopefully be dealt with before it gets out of hand, but his film is passionate and inspired like Hollywood movies almost never are anymore. That in itself is wondrous.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
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