I’m glad that I went into the theater expecting King Kong to be absolutely over-the-top. Knowing that the movie is a full three hours long, with an hour each dedicated to build-up, Skull Island, and New York, was also helpful, because, with that knowledge, I was able to sit back and enjoy the spectacular ride that is King Kong unhindered by bad moods, headaches or my short attention span–and hallelujah for that.
The film itself is gorgeous, start to finish. The rhinestones, flashing lights and evening gowns of 1920s New York contrast marvellously with the slick vines, scary natives and giant beasts of Skull Island; the camera pays attention–almost lovingly–to every detail of the scenery, and to the slightest expression on each actor’s face. Watching King Kong is like experiencing a movie as it should be, with intense time spent inside every scene, so that close-ups become profound and meaningful, and the smallest rise of an eyebrow or twitch of a smile carries great weight inside the story–as does the presence of, say, dinosaurs, and great slithering monsters.
Naomi Watts is fantastic as Ann Darrow: she’s funny, sad, and gloriously convincing as she falls in love with a giant gorilla–and, oh, that scream. I’m remarkably grateful for her throaty, slightly hoarse scream (as compared to some of the more shrill, grating possibilities), given its frequent appearances over the full three hours of the movie. Obviously, this is a good old-fashioned damsel-in-distress flick, so if you go in for political-correctness, you won’t find me arguing one way or the other on this one–it was fun. I enjoyed it, whatever sex/race/animal rights issues one might feel like raising. I will note that nearly all the men (with the exception of Jack Black’s character–the scoundrel) were absolute gentlemen, and even the ones who looked least likely to trek off into the wilderness after a lone lost actress hitched up their suspenders, spat out their tobaccy and went–with a smile.
The relentless back-to-back action sequences carry on far longer than seems reasonable, but they are, nonetheless, quite a sight to see. They are filmed almost teasingly, so that every time the viewer anticipates a rest, the scenario gets steadily worse (note: if you’re possessed of a small bladder, short attention span and, ah, sensitive stomach, you might consider taking your bathroom break about when the giant worms start oozing their way out of the swamp).
I heard a rumor that the original King Kong is what inspired Peter Jackson to become a director in the first place, and, after seeing the new version, I believe it. Peter Jackson’s love of film is apparent in this movie–he takes the time to do everything right, and he is not limited by time or by somebody else’s story (unlike The Lord of the Rings, where even eight hours couldn’t cover the material of one book). That is perhaps what struck me most about King Kong: the obvious passion involved in its making, the tender way the story and characters are treated, and the feeling of being very much inside Jackson’s childhood dream. The film feels at once both classic and completely innovative, and that is very rare.