2005Director: Peter Jackson
Cast: Andy Serkis, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black
ing Kong is one of the vital stories of the medium of film, so inexplicably resonant that it seems to have stumbled upon some wormhole, leading us to the very heart of tragedy. The ape himself is as iconic an outsider as Chaplin’s tramp, or Eastwood’s man with no name—the ultimate impossible dreamer.
Peter Jackson’s rendition of the story—a boyhood dream—is, by turns, awful, brilliant, and heartbreaking. The first hour is interminably dull—a deep trough redeemed only by the soaring altitude of the later sections. In fact, the island section is so exciting, my eyes were almost incinerated. The relentless chase scenes are more vigorous, violent, frightening, and hair-raising than any I have ever seen. The slow, unadventurous opening dissolves at the sight of the mighty Kong, who is enticingly introduced in glimpses, racing through the jungle like a force of nature. The ape is obviously the energy and purpose behind the film and possibly the most captivating star of cinema itself. He’s like some big, hairy Charles Foster Kane, drawn toward his own destruction. The detail in the film is startling. Jackson seems to have put every possible emphasis on the beast’s breathing and the effort has not gone to waste: the creaking rib cage and inflating lungs are incredibly expressive, each sigh and growl reverberates through the mighty frame of Kong, speaking louder than words. There is a genuine sense of awe when humans are confronted by the sight of the incredible ape—something lacking from earlier versions of this film and other beast movies like Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla and Ang Lee’s The Hulk. Rather, like The Day After Tomorrow, the devastating, destructive pleasure of this dangerous and elemental powerhouse is both palpable and thrilling. The island section sees Jackson return to the breakneck pace of his most underrated and engaging film The Frighteners—a refreshing hiatus from the poorly drawn expositional scenes that swamp the Rings trilogy.
Apart from the trudging opening hour of the film, the other major problem with the film is its music. Jackson famously scrapped the original score in favour of one of the dullest and most populist soundtracks in recent memory—it’s the same choral pap he used in the Rings trilogy, which peps up for some string bashing in the important scenes. For a reported perfectionist, who damn near achieves that high form in other areas of his work, this element of the film is just unavoidably disappointing.
Carl Denham, the megalomaniacal film director, is presented as a modern Iago, envious of the ape’s poise and power in the face of his own incompetence, interested only in bringing down that which he admires. Jack Black tries hard in the role, yet, despite the film’s girth, never finds the space he needs to inject real humour into the action. In fact, the dialogue is completely inconsequential. Like the early Spielberg films, King Kong would be just as effective and enjoyable as a silent film. As in The Lord of the Rings, the writing (dialogue, character development, pacing, structure) is largely without credit and totally uneconomical. There are at least six characters who have practically no purpose in the larger scheme. This in itself is a challenge to the way we have come to appreciate ‘good storytelling’. The film has the biggest character in all of cinema and those of lesser stature inevitably suffer. But so what? It all works, in the end, as the tragedy of Kong’s story will destroy any possible subplots Jackson might attempt to build. The sufferings and twisted motivations of the film’s other characters have no affect on the raging beast’s destiny. As Denham says, “It’s beauty that killed the beast,” from the moment he set his big sad eyes on Anne, he is destroyed: almost aware of the impossibility of his own existence, the mighty Kong, incapable of logic, endears himself to us with his brutal, naked emotional honesty. So foolishly in love is he that he cherishes his death in her company and the extinction of the great dream he represents. The iconic finale is amazing, truly one of the most surreally terrifying and intense cinematic experiences imaginable. Kong grasps for the gunners stinging him with bullets, unable to understand the malicious ways of his enemy.
Jackson doesn’t really add anything to the film in terms of narrative intrigue. He does his part with an arresting array of eye-splitting, spine-crunching scenes. He doesn’t obscure the legacy and that’s the important thing. He cherishes it. Kong is king and Jackson knows it. His film is a sure-fire gift to cinema, the elaborate wrapping is fine, if a little excessive, but, in the end, when we tear away the pretty paper, we’re there, and—wow—it’s King Kong, man! It’s great. Kong is great: both indestructible and vulnerable—the beast and the film itself.