Looking Back…King Kong (2005)

King Kong comes roaring back onto cinema screens this week accompanied by an all star cast in Kong: Skull Island. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at two of the most iconic films in the franchise. We’ve already covered the 1933 original that started it all, now let’s talk about Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, and why it’s one of the best remakes of all time.

Once again, if you somehow don’t know the story of King Kong yet, there will be spoilers.

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One of the biggest things people complain about when it comes to remakes is that they don’t add anything; why remake something if it’s just gonna be the exact same thing? Where’s the creativity? How do we benefit from this interpretation? Well, Peter Jackson apparently felt the same way, and made sure King Kong goes against all of that. I’ve never known a remake to expand and elaborate on so many things before, to the point where I actually don’t know where to begin. So let’s just do this in sections, and start with the character, in particular the characters of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). In the original film, Ann was just a penniless woman from New York, but in this interpretation, she’s a struggling actress with real talent, real passion and a real opportunity in her hands. Jack Driscoll is now an award winning playwright, as opposed to a moody first mate. This adds so much depth to each character, making them far more likable and easier to invest in. What does stay the same is that they fall in love, and what also sadly stays the same is that it never feels real. Keep in mind that in the original film, it literally happens with a few lines of dialogue, and thus isn’t worth caring about, so it’s kind of bad that this film puts so much more effort into it, but ultimately achieves the same result. It has to be said that Brody doesn’t give much of a good performance either, but Watts absolutely shines.

But the best performance in the film, and I’m probably going to get some flack for this, is from Jack Black. Black’s most prominent work up until that point included High Fidelity, School of Rock, and Shark Tale, so it’s strange to think that someone could’ve looked at those performances and thought that he would be right for the role, but God bless them for thinking it because he pulls it off beautifully. There’s a tiny hint of his Jack Black-ness in there, but most of it completely melts away as he transforms into this slimy, greedy, manipulative villain. His line delivery makes him so despicable, far more than the original Carl Denham ever was. It’s one of his best performances to date. The film has a great cast all around, including a young Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis in a dual role and exquisite character actor Kyle Chandler in a hilarious role. This film really knows who pay attention to and who not to; Serkis’ Lumpy and Chandler’s Bruce Baxter don’t get a whole lot of character development, purely because they don’t need it. They’re one note characters who fulfill their purposes within the film, but a lot of time is given to Ann, Carl, Jack, Kong etc. and it’s all necessary. Where this kind of falters is the actual relationships between characters; the dynamic between Carl and Jack is handled very well, with their somewhat friendship transforming into rivalry very nicely, but then the mentor/student relationship with Jimmy and Mr. Hayes is very weak, as well as the aforementioned Ann/Jack romance, and it makes certain moments within the film far less impactful.

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Next, let’s talk about the island; we know that Jackson is a visual filmmaker, so it’s absolutely no surprise that so much time and effort would be dedicated to Skull Island itself. We get a much deeper insight into the natives of the island, with some incredible make up work done, and then the island is thoroughly explored. It feels like such an open world, a daunting trek that very few could survive, which is exactly how it should feel. All the creatures that inhabit are a marvel to look at too; the visual effects are phenomenal, with so many of these weird and scary creatures feeling so real. If you have a fear of insects, then you may want to avoid this for the sheer purpose of keeping your cool. Unfortunately, while there’s a lot to be praised, this exploration of the setting actually causes one of the film’s biggest problems. The extended run time of the film is three hours and 20 minutes, with only 13 minutes shaved off if you want the normal one, and that is just far too long. It may have worked wonders for Lord of the Rings, but it makes King Kong a strenuous watch at times. Half of the middle section is dedicated to the group meeting creature after creature after creature, and eventually it just feels like obstacles as opposed to a real adventure. There’s also some really weird editing in these scenes too, where it goes into a slow mo shaky cam that adds absolutely nothing to the scene. It’s quite distracting, but luckily there aren’t too many moments of it.

And now, let’s talk about the big boy himself…Kong. He is utterly incredible in this film; Andy Serkis is the motion capture king, and in this film he perfectly captures the animal aspects of the character, while also bringing a huge sense of humanity and gravitas to the beast. I know it’s not fair to compare the special effects in this film to the original, but it has to be said that Kong is so much more effective in this film. He’s scary, he’s huge, he’s dominant and he’s a force to be reckoned with. Absolutely no disrespect to the original animators but this was definitely the goal for the character and they finally nailed it here. All of his dinosaur battles are exciting, and the whole climax is exhilarating. Perhaps the best improvement concerning this character thought is the bond between him and Ann; in this film it’s far more two-sided, with Ann having real emotions for this beast and understanding him like the world doesn’t. It makes the whole thing far more engaging, and definitely makes the exhilarating ending a whole lot sadder.

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I have a fair bit of nostalgia towards this film; I was around seven or eight when this film came to DVD, and back then I knew nothing of film history, so to me this was the definitive King Kong. I always had it on (I also didn’t have a sense of time, so I had no idea it was three hours long) and watching it again for the first time in years, so much came back to me. Most iconic of all to me was Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, in her tattered dress and bare feet, being cradled by a gentle giant. Essentially, I felt the same way about it that others who grew up with the original did. It was weird watching it now, with how far I’ve come in loving and understanding film, and still loving it yet knowing about it’s flaws.

As far as I’m concerned, King Kong is absolutely a contender for best remake of all time. That’s not to say it’s better than the original; in fact, I don’t think it’s possible to compare the two. But this film is definitely a fully realised version of what the original laid out. The filmmakers took what they had and saw what was possible with it, in a time when these possibilities could come true, and jumped at the chance. I can’t think of another remake that expands upon it’s source material like this one, that adds to it, takes advantage of today’s resources to improve upon it as much as this does, or even pays homage to the original like this one does.

So whilst it does have issues with it’s length, character development and editing, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is admirably ambitious, and so much of it pays off. Some great performances, incredible visuals effects, a sense of wonder and some exhilarating set pieces. To a lot of people, it’s not the best version of King Kong, but it’s certainly the most complete.

Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now

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