|'Giving us the first CGI Kong, Jackson thankfully manages to restore both impact and dignity to what should be any King Kong film’s most treasured asset'|
It’s clear from the outset of 2005’s King Kong that director Peter Jackson is an avid fan of the 1933 original. The stylistic choices for the opening and closing credits alone show an unashamed and potent nostalgic streak running through Jackson’s film. That this is the only Kong film since the giant gorilla first hit our screens that can accurately be deemed a remake of the original film, retaining a great many character names along with the 1930s time period, is not only a loving tribute to Merian C. Cooper’s iconic film, but also opens Jackson’s King Kong up to perhaps closer criticism than any other entry in Kong’s filmography.
Thankfully, there’s a great deal here that Jackson gets right, not least the eponymous ape. Since Willis O’Brien’s awe-inspiring animation in the 1933 film, Skull Island’s most famous inhabitant has been portrayed again and again by second-rate actors in shoddy monkey outfits. Giving us the first CGI Kong, Jackson thankfully manages to restore both impact and dignity to what should be any King Kong film’s most treasured asset - something which many Kong directors seem to have forgotten in the intervening seventy or so years between this film and the original.
Kong impresses visually, and whilst he can't achieve the same screen presence or tangibility as O’Brien’s stop-motion original, the computer-generated character is never distracting and regularly wonderful. Key to the success of the character is the superb motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis (pulling double duty here with a second live-action role as one of the ship’s crew), only a few steps away from his flawless turn as Caesar in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes several years later. Serkis’ body language and mannerisms make this the Kong most believable as an animal; Kong has never felt more like a monstrous gorilla - rather than a monster who looks like a gorilla - than here.
The chemistry between Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) also cannot be understated. Watts wisely never tries to out-damsel the original damsel-in-distress Fay Wray, instead making Darrow a feisty vaudeville performer and developing in Ann a believable mix of fear and sentiment towards Kong. Any time Watts shares the screen with the giant ape is a pleasure to watch, providing some of the film’s most entertaining and emotional scenes.
Remembering the film’s adventure and horror roots, Jackson creates plenty of effective scenes to both scare and excite. Kong’s fight against a trio of tyrannosaurs, which regularly pays tribute to the Kong versus T. Rex fight in the original, is a particular action highlight; a sequence set in a pit of giant insects (yet another tribute to a scene cut from the 1933 film that has never been found) is both skin-crawlingly chilling and satisfyingly tense. The infamous scenes set atop the Empire State Building during the film’s finale are impressively crafted and provide the film’s high point (no pun intended) in terms of action and emotion.
For all 2005’s King Kong does right, however, it does have flaws. Ever since he first ventured to Middle Earth, it seems Jackson has become unable to rein in his films’ running times and King Kong is no exception. At around three hours, this at times just feels too long for the story it tells. Jackson spends a stretch too long getting to Skull Island, and again feels as though he could have cut down the time spent there once he arrives, with only the film’s final act feeling well-paced. Additional stories of the director’s own creation, such as that of the paternal relationship between First Mate Mr. Hayes (Evan Parke) and crewman Jimmy (Jamie Bell), feel too corny and ultimately unnecessary when Jackson drops them from the final act completely in favour of the main story. The romance between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) also never escapes the colossal shadow of Ann’s more developed (and more interesting) relationship with Kong. But whilst Jackson’s film isn’t perfect, it does far more right than it does wrong. The 2005 version of King Kong is both a highly respectful and worthwhile remake of the 1933 film, and without question the most successful attempt at bringing Kong back to the big screen since his debut eighty years ago.