Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Directed by Peter Jackson
Score composed by James Newton Howard
Soundtrack released by Decca Records
Written by Jon Minners
King Kong was a monster movie that I enjoyed watching when I was a kid. This giant gorilla kidnaps a girl, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building and swats at planes until he is knocked off his perch, freeing the woman and bringing safety back to New York City. King Kong was a monster; the kind of creature that seemed perfectly suited for the silliness of the old Godzilla movies; they even fought one another in a film. A laughable remake did nothing to change that view of the monster that has been parodied in commercials, television shows, music videos and video games. For some reason, you think of King Kong as a classic movie due to its age, its special effects for its time and its intriguing story, but for the most part, King Kong was not a film to be taken seriously…until now, that is.
Last week, three-time Academy Award winning director Peter Jackson, fresh off his stint as the mastermind behind the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, saw the underlying message of the original King Kong film, saw the meaning behind the story, and released his cinematic vision of the film he fell in love with as a child to audiences nationwide, creating an epic hit that has saved the movie industry. A monster has brought people back into the theaters and gave people a reason to leave the comfort of their homes and the DVD players that have taken over the film industry. This is not the King Kong I remember…not by a long shot.
The screenplay by Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens is based on the original story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace, which became the classic 1933 RKO Radio Pictures film directed by Cooper and Ernest B. Schoesdack. Set during the Depression in New York, Ann Darrow, beautifully played by the stunning Naomi Watts, is a vaudeville actress who finds herself out of a job and without enough money to bring food on the table. Trying to make ends meet, Darrow even considers the notion of a career in stripping, but her luck changes when she runs into Carl Denham, a smarmy movie producer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Played with precision by the normally over-the-top Jack Black, who tones his antics down to come across as the perfect antagonist in the film, Denham decides to make a name for himself by filming a movie on an uncharted island and using Darrow as the lead in a story created by Jack Driscoll, played dully by Academy Award winner Adrian Brody. Driscoll is a New York playwright, who becomes the unlikely hero in the movie, only to become sort of a villain in his own right in the minds of movie-goers everywhere.
The real hero in this film is King Kong. Kong is just a creature who lives on Skull Island, an unheard of island that contains a number of prehistoric creatures seemingly coming right out of Jurassic Park, only depicted more brilliantly by Jackson. Kong has a cult group of followers, savages, as some might call them, who worship the beast and decide to reward Kong with a sacrifice in the form of Darrow. Killing several of the production crew, the island natives eventually capture Darrow and perform a ritual that leads Kong to them. And that’s where the story really begins.
Kong takes Darrow on an adventure through the island complete with its perfect; equally beautiful and haunting landscape, fighting dinosaurs and protecting the woman he has claimed as his prize. The more the film progresses, the more you realize that Kong is the island’s protector, possibly saving the natives from harm performed by the dinosaurs seen in the movie and probably the most valiant hero of any star in the film. Enamored by Darrow, Kong is misunderstood, a native of Skull Island who is forced into an unknown setting, only fighting those that look to take away from his happiness. Kong is not really a monster at all. Jackson creates a version of Kong that humanizes the ape and makes him very relatable as a character. When his feelings are hurt, you see the hurt in the eyes, in his movements and in his actions. When he is happy, you see the subtle smile in his face; hear the laughter in his grunts. And when he tries to show Darrow his love, you just know it is there. Kong’s eyes tell it all and so do his actions. He opens his paw to allow Darrow to sit in his grasp. He reaches out his paw for one last touch when fear makes him realize he may lose her forever. When there is so much anger around him, Kong takes Darrow ice skating and makes a fool of himself to bring a smile to her face. Kong is just like every one of us longing to be in love and to be loved.
Helping to bring that across is Jackson, complete with his beautiful scenery, including a totally realistic New York Depression era setting. James Newton Howard does his part with the music, retelling every action sequence, every emotional outburst, every romantic moment in just a stroke of a violin or a beat of the drum. Straight from his rousing outing in Batman Begins, which he co-composed with the legendary Hans Zimmer, Howard creates a sweeping score that helps to convey the underlying romance that is going on between the guns being fired, between the humans being eaten by prehistoric beasts and between all the chaos swirling around the characters in the film. The soundtrack is an epic retelling of the film complete with heartwarming and action packed music, sometimes interchangeable, as Kong fights to protect himself and Darrow while also lovingly glancing at her in between every swat of his paw. Howard gets it down perfectly. If you didn’t see it in the film, you certainly felt it in the movie.
King Kong is a tale of love. It forces the viewer to look past the outwardly appearance of others and into the hearts of even the most feared of people or creatures and see that beneath it all beats a heart of pure gold just looking for what everyone wants in life. You will laugh, you will be at the edge of your seats, biting your nails, you will marvel at all the creatures, you will most certainly shed a tear, but most importantly, King Kong will simply make you feel again. This is a masterpiece of a movie worth seeing more than once, worth owning when it comes out on DVD. A historic film from long ago, thanks to Peter Jackson, King Kong has finally earned the right to be called a classic.