King Kong is a glorious spectacle that offers something for everybody and even more amazingly, does all of it right. There are edge-of-your seat action sequences that are pure rushes of adrenaline; there are emotion-filled quiet moments that make you smile; there are clever lines that deliver hearty chuckles; there are shots that make you form a lump in your throat; and there are creepy scenes that gross you out very effectively. All of these come together in a film that turns a monster movie into a near-epic. Forget the lapses in logic and just sit back, relax and be amazed!
Though I haven't seen either of the two previous versions, the outline of the story was pretty familiar to me. Anne(Naomi Watts) is part of a film crew that sails to a hitherto undiscovered island to get some new locations for their film. Anne is captured by the tribals living there and offered as a sacrifice to a giant gorilla that lives there. The ape takes her but eventually turns protector, saving her from other dangers in the forest. The film crew, now without a movie to return with, see a bigger prize in the giant ape. So they capture it and take it back to New York, where it becomes a spectacle on Broadway.
Its actually quite a while(more than an hour) before we get our first glimpse of what we've come to see. It takes that long for the cast to get together and sail to Skull Island. But this allows us to get to know the characters so that there is a twinge of sadness when even a minor character dies. And even this prologue is not all character development. It features a terrific shipwreck and a genuinely scary encounter with the locals.
King Kong takes special effects to a whole new level. I've read in several places that the big ape was created solely using CGI but I still don't believe it! Every wrinkle on his face is detailed with incredible clarity and his eyes mirror so many emotions. And smaller movements like the casual way he flips Anne onto his shoulder or his languid grace as he leaps from ledge to ledge almost make us believe he is real.Truly an incredible creation that makes other recent CGI-only creatures like Gollum, Doby and Jar-Jar Binks pale in comparison.
Ofcourse the special effects are used in the aid of the spectacular visuals in many other sequences. Sequences like the fight with the T-Rexs, the retreat of the hunters as they are beaten back by Kong and the subsequent fight with the bugs, and the ape's angry rampage down a New York street are breathtaking. If I were to point out a couple of places where Peter Jackson went over-the-top, they would be the dinosaurs chasing the film crew and falling over each other(a little too ambitious) and the climax(a little too long).
But the movie also has heart and that makes it more than just a special effects extravaganza. The near-humanness of Kong makes us feel for him. We laugh when he treats Anne like a toy and we feel real sympathy when we see him helpless in shackles. The relationship between Kong and Anne is developed very naturally and is marked by some real sweet scenes. Even the mentor-student relationship between a couple of the supporting characters touches a chord.
The human actors are dwarfed, both literally and figuratively, by the gorilla but it is to their credit that some still manage to make a mark. Naomi Watts looks very beautiful and credit goes to her, the cinematographer and the casting director for making her look every inch the movie star of a previous era. She has to use just her eyes to reflect all her changing attitudes towards King Kong and she does so superbly. Jack Black is way less wacky than he usually is but it is an inspired casting decision. The little zaniness that peeks out at times makes his almost-suicidal devotion to his craft very believable. In retrospect, he is the real villain of the piece but there are times when we admire rather than loathe him. Adrian Brody is genuine but pretty flat. His chemistry with Naomi seems rather weak, especially when compared to the chemistry between Naomi and a special effects creation who she never saw during the shooting!
Long Live The King Kong!