King Kong [DVD]
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Epic remake of the adventure classic from acclaimed director Peter Jackson. In Depression-era New York, unscrupulous filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is desperate to find a leading lady for his new picture. After a chance encounter, naive actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) takes the role, and travels with Denham and sensitive scriptwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to the mysterious Skull Island, deep in the Indian Ocean. There the filmmakers discover a secret, savage civilisation that time forgot, and that worships a terrifying, gigantic ape called Kong (a motion-capture performance from Andy Serkis). When Ann is captured to be sacrificed to Kong, the ape becomes obsessed with her. Denham uses this obsession to help capture Kong and transport him back to New York, where he hopes he can make a fortune from exhibiting the creature. But after Kong escapes, the ape unleashes his awesome power against the city in an attempt to find Ann, the woman he truly loves, leading to a tragic conclusion atop the Empire State Building.
Movies don't come any bigger than Peter Jackson's King Kong, a three-hour remake of the 1933 classic that marries breathtaking visual prowess with a surprising emotional depth. Expanding on the original story of the blonde beauty and the beast who falls for her, Jackson creates a movie spectacle that matches his Lord of the Rings films and even at times evokes their fantasy world while celebrating the glory of '30s Hollywood. Naomi Watts stars as Ann Darrow, a vaudeville actress down on her luck in Depression-era New York until manic filmmaker Carl Denham (a game but miscast Jack Black) entices her with a lead role. Dazzled by the genius of screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), Ann boards the tramp steamer S.S. Venture, which she--and most of the wary crew--believes is headed for Singapore. Denham, however, is in search of the mythic Skull Island, hoping to capture its wonders on film and make a fortune. What he didn't count on were some scary natives who find that the comely Darrow looks like prime sacrifice material for a mysterious giant creature....
There's no point in rehashing the entire plot, as every movie aficionado is more than familiar with the trajectory of King Kong; the challenge facing Jackson, his screenwriters, and the phenomenal visual-effects team was to breathe new life into an old, familiar story. To that degree, they achieve what could be best called a qualified success. Though they've assembled a crackerjack supporting cast, including Thomas Kretschmann as the Venture's hard-bitten captain and young Jamie Bell as a plucky crewman, the first third of the movie is rather laboured, with too much minute detail given over to sumptuous re-creations of '30s New York and the unexciting initial leg of the Venture's sea voyage. However, once the film finds its way to Skull Island (which bears more than a passing resemblance to LOTR's Mordor), Kong turns into a dazzling movie triumph, by turns terrifying and awe-inspiring. The choreography and execution of the action set pieces--including one involving Kong and a trio of Tyrannosaurus Rexes, as well as another that could be charitably described as a bug-phobic's nightmare--is nothing short of landmark filmmaking, and a certain Mr. Spielberg should watch his back, as Kong trumps most anything that has come before it.
Despite the visual challenges of King Kong, the movie's most difficult hurdle is the budding romance between Ann and her simian soulmate. Happily, this is where Jackson unqualifiedly triumphs, as this unorthodox love story is tenderly and humourously drawn, by turns sympathetic and wondrous. Watts, whose accessibility balances out her almost otherworldly loveliness, works wonders with mere glances, and Andy Serkis, who digitally embodies Kong here much as he did Gollum in the LOTR films, breathes vibrant life into the giant star of the film without ever overplaying any emotions. The final, tragic act of the film, set mostly atop the Empire State Building, is where Kong earns its place in movie history as a work that celebrates both the technical and emotional heights that film can reach. --Mark EnglehartSee all Product description
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Viewed on the small screen, the theatrical cut of Peter Jackson's epic labor of love is a bit more of a problematic experience than it was on the big screen, being at once a mixture of the best and worst of Peter Jackson. His love of and sheer joy in film-making is manifestly obvious right from the delirious opening montage of Depression era New York that gives the background detail a modern audience wouldn't bring into the theatre with them as they did in 1933 with a wonderful visual economy so much of the rest of the film lacks. Unfortunately he then spends a couple of reels detailing the death of Vaudeville and Carl Denham's problems with studio execs. And then a couple of reels on getting under way. And then far too many reels sailing to Skull Island - when Denham promised Ann a long ocean voyage, he wasn't kidding. It's not so much that they're bad scenes (though some are quite weak), more that there's no reason for all of them to be there. Most could have easily been thrown over the side with the rest of the ship's fittings, but instead they tend to bury the more portentous moments under trivia. Indeed, it's interesting to note that a draft of Jackson's aborted attempt to film it in 1998 included none of this section whatever, kicking off with the Venture piercing the fog in search of Skull Island.
But once it literally crashes into Skull Island, the film really takes off - the natives this time really are savage, almost Neolithic, the action scenes well-handled and the pace relentless. Jackson even manages to top several sequences from the original - the Bride of Kong sacrifice, Kong escaping from the Broadway theatre, the Empire State Building finale, here a breathtakingly dizzying piece of filmmaking - as well as throwing in some good additions of his own, such as a truly charming scene on the ice in Central Park or a couple of convincing storm sequences on the perilous shores of Skull Island. There are plenty of fun injokes that don't seem awkwardly forced on the picture either - Denham tries to get Fay Wray for the lead in his picture, but she's making a film for Merian C. Cooper at RKO; the scene they shoot on the boat is one from the 1933 film; Rick Baker, the man inside the suit in 1976, is one of the pilots gunning down Kong; and the interpolation of much of Max Steiner's score offers some nice musical nods even if the "Walla Walla Kong Kong!" lyrics are omitted.
There's more that's good than bad about the film by a long way, but the bad is bad enough to keep this from becoming an all-time classic in its own right
There's some striking miscasting. Much as he looks like Orson Welles in certain shots, Jack Black really isn't up to Carl Denham, a part Oliver Platt or Vincent D'Onfrio could have done in their sleep: too often he looks like he's telling a joke that's fallen flat rather than delivering dramatic dialog, and there's that air of trying too hard that follows him around like a bad smell. Naomi Watts is surprisingly anodyne and not terribly flatteringly photographed (to put it mildly), reminding me why, despite some good work in the past, she often remains so resolutely unmemorable an actress. Kyle Chandler hams it up fairly charmlessly as her nominal leading man, telegraphing the jokes to such a degree that they're more irritating distractions than genuine comic relief. Adrien Brody's unlikely hero fares better despite having nothing much to do in the last act, while the smaller roles fare better, with Thomas Kretschmann's Engelhorn, Evan Parke's Hayes and Jamie Bell's cabin boy all making their mark before being unceremoniously discarded.
But the acting honors easily belong to Andy Serkis' Kong, a triumph not just of CGI (and far more convincing than he appeared in the trailers) but also performance. It's not merely that this Kong is more facially expressive - he's caught the body language perfectly, convincing us that it's a great ape rather than a human being dictating the moves. It makes the same mistake as the 1976 version in having Ann feel empathy with Kong which, while better executed here, lessens the tragedy of Kong - the fact his devotion was unrequited was one of the things that made his last stand so much more touching and pitiful.
Elsewhere, the effects are variable and too often Jackson throws in an FX shot just because he likes the idea - not so much a problem with the beasties but definitely tiresome when we get to yet another CGI shot of the ship at sea. Nor are all of the effects quite state of the art. The problem is the old one with CGI - poor integration of the live action and computer generated footage, both of which all too often seem to be shot at visibly different resolutions (particularly noticeable in the stampede sequence). Yet compared to the two previous remakes, Jackson's genuine love of the material still carries the day and certainly delivers the best of 2005's blockbusters.
Although being too short certainly wasn't one of the problems with the theatrical cut,, surprisingly the extended director's cut really does seem much of an improvement over the theatrical version. The new action scenes - a triceratops attack and an excellent lake sequence with a prehistoric giant fish taking the place of the original's brontosaurus - are superb and the film seems to flow better: even Jack Black's miscasting doesn't seem quite such an obstacle as it did in the previous version. One thing that does become much more apparent is what is missing from the first hour: Kong. Where in the previous versions the shadow and mystery of Kong hung over the voyage from the very beginning, here Kong is not even on the radar until moments before they arrive at the Island. It divorces this section from the film itself, feeling at times more like a 30s programmer or even the padded-out quickly run off sequel to the original, Son of Kong, that spent more time bumming around the Indies than it did on Skull Island. But once it finally reaches its destination it takes off and rarely lets go, with Jackson's love for the original evident in almost every frame. The original Kong is still King, but it's not hard to imagine Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack heartily approving of this remake. Good extras, too.
The theatrical cut and Director's cut are available separately on DVD with plentiful extras unique to each edition, while the Blu-ray release brings both cuts together, but sadly loses nearly all the extras - you just get an audio commentary by Jackson and co-writer Phillippa Boyens, art galleries and picture-in-picture cast and crew interviews. The original Bluray release contained both cuts but dropped almost all of the extras, though the 2017 special edition release tying in with Skull Island added a second disc with all the extras from the various releases.
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