Folks, as the years settle over me like the cool embrace of wet cement, it becomes harder and harder for a movie to have any sort of emotional impact on me...well other than being pissed off at wasting $16 bucks on another piece of Hollywood drivel. That is why I was so impressed with Peter Jackson's latest epic, King Kong. Now don't get me wrong here. I don't imagine Mr. Jackson will be making any acceptance speaches to the Academy this year, but this film was something very rare, and very precious...a work of art. I could go on about how great the casting was, or what a good job the actors all did, but that's not what impressed me most. What got to me was that every frame of the movie positively efervesced with love. Peter Jackson has been trying to make this movie for most of his life. Seeing the original Kong as a boy is what inspired him to go into film making. And his devotion to the source material is everywhere.
It is quite evident that one thing Jackson took from his experience with the Lord of the Rings movies is the use of a more relaxed pace. King Kong runs at just over 3 hours, but it rarely feels like it. Jackson takes the time to explore relationships, and areas of the story that we never saw in the original. We spend much more time in New York and on the ship than before, and the rescue mission on Skull Island easily takes up a third of the film. In the original the natives seemed like extras from a Tarzan movie, whereas now they are terrifying, with filed teeth and bloodthirsty ways. The dinosaurs in the jungle are every bit as scary as the beasties in Jurassic Park, although the apatasaur stampede got a bit silly. The bug scene was a little over the top as well. But over all the sense of danger and terror were much greater.
And then there is the big guy himself. Kong. Andy Serkis, who was the body double for Gollum in LOTR, once again dons the leotard and reflective spheres to make Kong's movements more realistic. And it's obvious he did his homework vis-a-vis mountain gorrilas. This Kong moves and acts like a giant gorrila should. And I find it ironic that the director who uses computer generated images to their fullest capacity is not a well known space opera creator, but Peter Jackson. With very few exceptions Kong was real. From his one snaggle tooth, to the fur on his back, you never doubt that this is what a 25' tall gorrila would look like. And the facial expressions of Kong are truly breathtaking. Naomi Watts, who plays Anne Darrow, pulls off the emoting at nothing with real grace and feeling, and it is the relationship between Anne and Kong that raises this film out of the realm of special effects extravaganza, and into the rarified air of art. I won't attempt to describe it, and sometimes it teeters precariously on the edge of the cheese precipice, but it never quite crosses the line.
Is this a masterpiece of movie making? Maybe not. Is this a magnificent, moving story of love at its purest? Absolutely. Kong, like all the best monsters, is not so much monsterous as misunderstood and abused, and when he finally slips off the top of the Empire State Building, one cannot help but feel like a great injustice has been done. Bravo, Mr. Jackson. Merian C. Cooper and Willis O'Brien would be proud of this movie.