King Kong (2005) (R)

IMDb / Ebert / Lieberman
Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens
Based on the 1933 story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
Directed by Peter Jackson

Just like his Lord of the Rings trilogy, the entertainment of Peter Jackson’s King Kong lasts only for its duration: it does not stick in the mind, leave you pondering, or remain at all as anything more than a few traces. However, while you are in the cinema, it fully occupies your senses and your imagination for three remarkably swift hours. This is a big, big movie, currently the sixth most expensive of all time, but it is money well spent. Compare it with the year’s next most expensive, Revenge of the Sith, and there is no comparison – where Lucas made an uninvolving, not even cool movie, Jackson has produced the purest cinema entertainment for our delectation. And I loved it.

Of the 187 minutes, virtually every single second is completely ridiculous hokum – schmaltzy and totally outside the realms of reality. Practically all of the dialogue is straight out of a 30s or 40s matinee – that is, it exists only to drive the story on, and would never be heard in real life. The characters are quickly drawn and remain consistent throughout, without great development arcs or anything, but that’s fine. What matters most is that Jackson presides over each frame with dutiful care, investing it with all the love he has built up for the original, the big budget film in general, and the personal joy he takes in making these enormous cinema entertainments. He just wants you to enjoy yourself – there are no further pretensions, and that is truly wonderful to find in today’s mainstream cinema.

The star of the show doesn’t appear until nearly halfway through the film, but it is worth the wait, and from then on every scene involving Kong is one to savour. He is an animal, not anthropomorphised to any great extent, which is remarkable in itself in these times of Pixar’s and DreamWorks’ litany of wisecracking flora and fauna. Because he remains a beast, he cuts deeper into my heart than if he had been given more complex facial expressions and verbalisations. He grunts, he beats his chest, he roars, and he is sometimes fascinated and/or delighted. A creature. There were several moments, mostly when he interacts with Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow, when I thought he would slip into human mode, but each passed with a sigh of relief on my part as he resisted. Not once does he grin or grunt knowingly. That would be tantamount to winking at the screen, or spouting a witty one-liner, as it would have the same diminishing effect on the power of the story.

It’s a simple story, too, but a good one – a story that appeals to our deepest sense of adventure, the sort of stuff you want to do when you’re a kid. And when Kong finally stands atop that skyscraper, with Darrow at his side and biplanes flying around him like mosquitoes, it’s exhilarating and a little bit affecting. Jackson’s qualities as a director don’t generally lie in shot composition, but the fall of Kong is visually very well executed. A girl behind me bawled her eyes out, and if you get someone in the audience to cry, surely you’ve done something effective with your filmmaking craft.

So, the dialogue is ridiculous, principal characters come through extraordinary danger hysterically unscathed, and many scenes in the first hour and a half could have been pared down or cut altogether. But come on! A fucking giant gorilla FIGHTS A Tyrannosaurus, ripping its jaw apart with alarming brutality, and it is rendered well enough to be believable! You slap down your cash, you go into the cinema and sit down, and you are entertained for the duration. That’s what Jackson promises, and that’s exactly what you get.

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