Friends of mine will often ask me how I feel about remakes of movies. Theyâ€™re actually surprised when I say that I honestly donâ€™t mind when movies are remade. Broadway does remakes all the time. Except they call them revivals and theyâ€™re usually greeted with open arms and much love. They expose a whole new generation of theatergoers to the experience of seeing classic musicals performed live on stage. So why not do new versions of classic movies? Either people will go see it or they wonâ€™t. And if the writers, producers, actors and crew treat the source material with respect and stay true to the spirit of the original, that will be apparent to those fans of the original and even though they love the original to death, they will embrace the remake for what it is.
What I do object to however are lousy remakes that do a disservice to the original film or remakes of movies that actually donâ€™t need to be remade. The classic 1933 â€œKing Kongâ€ is a perfect example of a movie that was done a disservice when it was remade in 1976. It took Jessica Langeâ€™s career five years to recover from that bomb (she wouldnâ€™t get a decent break until she co-starred with Jack Nicholson in â€œThe Postman Always Rings Twiceâ€) and poor Jeff Bridges fared even worse. The next five movies in a row he did flopped miserably (including Michael Ciminoâ€™s horribly underrated â€œHeavenâ€™s Gateâ€) and he really didnâ€™t bounce back until 1982â€™s â€œTronâ€ As for the director of 1976â€™s â€œKing Kongâ€â€¦well, you tell meâ€¦when was the last time you went to a movie that was directed by John Guillermin?
However, when it was announced that Peter Jackson was going to direct a new version of â€œKing Kongâ€ just about everybody who is a fan of the original sat back and sighed in relief. After all, Peter Jackson had proved with his majestic â€œLord Of The Ringsâ€ trilogy that he was one of us. He was a fantasy/science fiction/comic book/pulp adventure geek living The Dream. He not only spoke our language but he was fluent in the dollarspeak of The Suits and the dullalects of The Mundanes. He put the worlds we dreamed of on screen in a rich detail that had never before been seen in movies. Like Ray Harryhausen, George Lucas, George Romero, and Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson had proven he was able to employ the medium of film in such a way that he created an entire universe on screen and for the running time of his films, he transported us to a completely other reality and made us believe it existed.
Peter Jacksonâ€™s KING KONG is one of the most amazing movies Iâ€™ve ever seen in my life and if you can possibly see it on HD DVD on a big screen television as I did (I watched it at my brother-in-lawâ€™s house on his 60-inch HDTV) trust meâ€¦youâ€™re going to see a picture quality that actually is better than the quality of the movie you saw in theatres. At least I think so. We watched â€œVan Helsingâ€ before we watched KING KONG and even though I think â€œVan Helsingâ€ is a pretty lousy movie, in HD it looks so damn good I found that I didnâ€™t even mind watching a lousy movie. But I digress.
Itâ€™s 1933 and the country is in the grip of The Great Depression. But even though breadlines are plentiful and work is scarce, people still crave their entertainment. Either through vaudeville or the movies. Which is what brings together struggling actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and maverick director Carl Denham (Jack Black) Denham needs an actress quick for his new movie which heâ€™s shooting on location. Annâ€™s not too sure as Denham is sorta reluctant to specify where theyâ€™re going but he promises riches, adventures and a chance for Ann to work with the writer Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) who she idolizes.
It isnâ€™t until Ann and Jack are aboard the tramp steamer Venture, captained by Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschemann) and crewed by a rag-tag gang of sailor/mercenaries that everybody realizes theyâ€™ve been conned by Denham into this expedition to an island that may not exist. Denham insists he has a map. And the map does lead them to an island. And what an island it is. A time-lost island on which a towering stone wall is decorated by skeletons and guarded by a vicious, savage tribe that worships a god they callâ€¦KONG. Ann is kidnapped by these savages and offered up as a sacrifice to Kong who is a 25-foot gorilla. He takes Ann into the jungle where he is pursued by Jack, a camera-toting Denham, square â€“jawed leading man and movie idol Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and the sailors of the Venture, determined to save her from her fate worse than death. I give them guys credit. What they go through on Skull Island would have had Indiana Jones pissing in his pants. Not only do they have to deal with Kong but also Skull Island which is a Lost World That Time Forgot of prehistoric creatures that shouldnâ€™t exist. There are Tyrannosaurus Rexes, Brontosaurus, insects that can eat a can of Raid for dinner and have your head for dessert. Leeches the size of Buicks. Vampire bats big enough to bring down fighter jets. And thatâ€™s just the beginning.
Our hardy band of adventurers manage to survive the islandâ€™s many dangers rescue Ann and are barely able to subdue and capture Kong. They take him back to New York where Carl Denham puts him on exhibition in a Times Square theatre. You know the rest of the story.
KING KONG is really a superior example of what can be done with such fantastic material when itâ€™s treated with respect for itâ€™s own reality. Peter Jackson had the good sense to set the movie in period (1933 was the actual year the original â€œKing Kongâ€ was made) since itâ€™s a lot easier to believe that there could be a Skull Island in 1933 rather than in 1976. The 1930â€™s was such a rich period of high adventure that when you see hard-bitten guys stalking through a dinosaur infested jungle with cigars in their clenched teeth, flasks of whiskey in the hip pockets and toting Chicago Typewriters (aka Thompson sub-machine guns), you just buy it with no reservation.
The performances are stellar. Iâ€™ve never been much of a Jack Black fan (I still donâ€™t see what the fuss over â€œSchool Of Rockâ€ was all about) but I really enjoyed him in this movie. He has nowhere near the energy of the original Carl Denham, (the late great Robert Armstrong) but he has a strange look in his eye that I think develops into full-blown madness during the movieâ€™s most frightening scene where Denham, Jack Driscoll and several crewmen are at the bottom of a deep crevice and have to desperately battle for their lives against giant insects. The choice of Jack Black and Adrian Brody as the movieâ€™s leading men is a good one since both of them look likeâ€¦.well, like regular guys. Theyâ€™re not impossibly handsome or pretty (Iâ€™m looking at you, Orlando Bloom) and that goes a long way with me to lending realism to their characters. As Ann Darrow, Naomi Watts has to carry a lot of the movie on her shoulders since she interacts with Kong more than any other character in the movie and she pulls it off superbly. Thereâ€™s a terrific scene where she goes into her vaudeville act to amuse Kong and amazingly, the big ape enjoys the show. And for me the most spectacular action sequence in the movie is the ultimate giant monster smack down where Kong proves exactly why heâ€™s King when he takes on not one, not two, but three Tyrannosaurus Rexes in a truly epic showdown of colossal proportions.
Chances are most of you reading this have already seen KING KONG so I donâ€™t have to sell you on it. But if by chance you havenâ€™t yet seen it, by all means put this one on your Netflix list or make a note to rent this weekend. KING KONG is a rare animal: a remake that is more than worthy to stand shoulder to shoulder with the original. Itâ€™s totally everything that I love about the movies. Enjoy.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 DLFerguson
King Kong Movie Review
Copyright © 2010 DLFerguson
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