Fifteen years ago, Peter Jackson followed up his Lord of the Rings trilogy with a passion project that had been on his mind since the late 80s: a three hour (three and a half if you watched the extended edition) long King Kong movie. At the time it was a polarizing entry; moviegoers weren’t super happy about the film but critics seemed to like it. Over the years, however, King Kong has grown a reputation for being everything wrong with Jackson’s work: too long, overstuffed and filled to the brim with VFX. Does that statement still hold water, or has the movie actually aged well?
Let’s start off with the good: the cast. Everybody (yes, Jack Black included) bring their A game here. Naomi Watts is incredible as Ann Darrow, perfectly encapsulating the feeling of young hope and desire with the dread of maybe being forced to do something in order to eat. Adrien Brody is also phenomenal, but the real standouts are Jamie Bell and Evan Parker as Jimmy and Hayes. Their relationship, despite not being not the main focal point, is still interesting and downright gut wrenching at times.
Everyone from the main cast to the supporting cast does a great job, but who really shines is Andy Serkis as the Kong. This was his second motion capture character post-Gollum (and the first time playing an ape) and Serkis gives easily the best performance, depicting Kong’s animalistic rage while subtly conveying a wide array of emotion. He never says a single word, but you know exactly how the character feels.
Since this is a Peter Jackson movie, you have to expect the visuals to be good….and they still hold up after 15 years. Yes, there are shots that look weird and fake, but those are few and far between. What I’ve noticed about Jackson’s WETA company over the years is that their VFX work is virtually unparalleled. Kong looks great, as he really looks and feels like a 50-foot tall Gorilla, as do the dinosaurs, bugs, water and even New York City- all worthy of the film’s Oscar win. The scene at the bottom of the cliff with all the bug monsters is still incredible to watch.
And then there’s the music. James Newton Howard’s score is nothing short of beautiful and, no joke, it’s probably the second best thing about this movie — the first being the dinosaur fight. Each place and situation has its own unique score that fits so well. Though, knowing now that Howard Shore (the composer for LOTR) had an entire score made and then scrapped, really makes me wonder what we could have had.
However, I have to put aside my fanboy urges and address King Kong’s biggest problem: its length. If directors were chefs, then a Peter Jackson entrée is ten rotisserie chickens, five pounds of mashed potatoes, a liter of gravy, seven medium rare steaks, four gallons of cider, a pound of creamed corn, fifteen chocolate lava cakes, fourteen sundaes, and a roasted wild boar for the final course. All this, and they don’t even give you a break between courses to talk with your dinner guests. What I’m trying to say is that Jackson gives you so much with each movie he makes. I have no problem with this, as I’m always hungry, but other moviegoers would have just preferred something simple, and that’s what’s wrong here.
I don’t think Jackson knew what to cut out of King Kong, but it didn’t need to be three and a half hours long. There are a lot of needlessly uncomfortable scenes like the army sergeant giving his boys a pep talk before they’re crushed by a giant ape, Ann mistaking a sound guy for Jack for two minutes, or Kyle Chandler looking at himself in the mirror with a comb-mustache. These might make for good moments on paper, but they don’t belong in a King Kong movie. If you’re curious as to how long it takes for Kong to reach the Empire State Building, the theatrical edition takes 2 hours and 45 minutes, while the extended edition is almost three hours. I might love long movies, but that is too long to get to the high points of freaking King Kong.
My dad said that he loves Peter Jackson as much as I do, but he hates the fact that he felt the urge to check his watch multiple times throughout this movie. He even addressed something profound about the remake:“what’s the takeaway here? What’s the point of this King Kong when it’s already been made to death?” And he has a point. This is a 90-minute story stuck in a three and a half hour movie. Narratively it’s unchanged from the 1930’s film but, with the exception of the visual effects and extended runtime, there’s nothing new added to the King Kong mythos.
Ultimately this is a very straightforward remake. If you know the bare minimum about King Kong, then you’ll know exactly what will happen in this movie. There are surprises, but nothing that you haven’t already seen.
Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars
King Kong is not a bad film and can be great at times. If you have the time, you should watch it. There’s great acting, great action, awesome music, and, despite the length issue, the story is well told. Even the characters feel unique in their own right and make you semi-invested in their story. Even Lumpy, a background character with little screentime has an arc that is very well told.
Unfortunately, if you hate long movies, this simply won’t be for you. There’s just too much needless filler and you will get bored if this is not your thing. Still, if you love Peter Jackson, give King Kong a watch. It’s definitely more unique than other action movies these days.