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"King Kong"

Directed by Peter Jackson.
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson.
Starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black, and Adrien Brody.
Release Year:  2005
Review Date:  12/14/05


"The Lord of the Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson announced, soon after winning the Oscar for Best Picture with his third "LOTR" flick "The Return of the King", that he would next work on the remake of "King Kong."  I remember at the time thinking

Jeez, that's about the worst fucking idea ever

but I backed up, because clearly, the man has figured out something in making the "LOTR" trilogy that might make "King Kong" worth watching.  Then, I saw the trailer for "King Kong" this past summer, and I said it again,

Jeez, that's about the worst fucking idea ever

but I had to admit, the preview wasn't as bad as I thought the idea was...and, I kept reminding myself that this was Peter Jackson, Suddenly Legendary Filmmaker.  Then, they released the second version of the "King Kong" trailer, and then, it hit me:

Jeez, this might actually be pretty good after all

because that second trailer--the one that starts out with no sound and just a shot of the big ape looking at that hot tamale Naomi Watts--had the look of movie gold.

With that in mind, I came into "King Kong" anxious to see it, not loathing the experience.  And, in most areas, Ape Man delivers.  Watts stars as Annie, a struggling vaudeville actress that is in need of steady work fast, since she's out of cash and damn near out of options.  Enter famous filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), who just had his leading lady back out of his new film, a love story/adventure that will be set on the high seas and Singapore...IF he can land a new actress, oh, right now.  He meets Annie and immediately tries to lure her into working on the film, which is still being written by stage writer/producer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and the threesome set sail on a dodgy steamer to get to the Far East...which is really Denham's attempt to find a lost island that will serve as the backdrop for his film.  Unfortunately, when that island is found...well, let's just say that King Kong lives there, because he freakin' does.

The biggest problem that I had with "King Kong" is certainly its length; at 190 minutes, you are talking about a long time to watch the remake of a film that you probably have seen before or certainly know the ending of before entering the theater.  This movie is so long that we don't even get to the island where Kong Man lives until Hour 2.  That's a long time to wait to meet Kong, and the film can only fill so much of that time with assorted throwaway subplots and characters that are destined to meet their fate before giving us what we came to see.

That being said, at least Jackson makes the Kong entrance and the adventure on Skull Island quite cool.  Special effects once again rule the day here, as Andy Serkis (the man that played Gollum in the "LOTR" films) gives Kong life as the actor that was used to mimic the ape's movements.  Jackson does a great job of incorporating Kong's emotions into the required Kong battles between Kong and man, Kong and bat, Kong and T-Rex and Kong and large insects.  The atmosphere on the island is spooky; the various baddies look like they were leftovers from the trilogy but that isn't a bad thing; the action is so-so but it is fairly continuous, which helps pacing immensely during a way-too-long motion picture.  And, strangely, the quasi-romance between Annie and Kong isn't completely ridiculous, as I remember it being in the original film; here, I don't think we pretend that Annie is really loving this creature so much as thankful for his protective nature (at least, in her case).  I mean, shit, Kong kills hundreds of people, dozens of beasts, and destroys millions of dollars' worth of otherwise good real estate.  But, Annie seems more caught up in being hurt that others don't see that he has a good side, rather than loving Kong's playful nature with the ladies.

Maybe this doesn't make sense to you, but when you see it hopefully you'll get what I mean.  The bottom line is that Annie/Kong is either going to make you laugh out loud at how silly it is or make you soak up Watts' performance for how good it is, and I choose the latter.  The performances in general are okay with this movie, not great like they were in the trilogy; this is because both of the other two main roles are a tad silly and, in Black's case, just played by the wrong actor.  Black actually plays his role well, but he turns out to be too recognizable as a comedic lead to make this part work.  Both of the male stars brought co-stars from their other works (Black brought Colin Hanks from "Orange County"; Brody snatched up German actor Thomas Kretschmann from their work in "The Pianist" to play the steamer captain), so their roles here are not in vain...but, one other minor problem I had here was in the casting, which outside of Watts just isn't as strong as I thought it would be given Jackson's new stature in the world.

Otherwise, I thought "King Kong" was great.  It's a very slow starter, but the final two hours are great entertainment, mixing true adventure with a little sprinkle of drama, romance and horror.  The look of the film is great, Kong is great, we get some bodybags and some laughs, too.  The best part of the experience?  The trailers in front of the film.  As the first big event film of the season for adults, you should have teasers for "The Da Vinci Code", "M:I-3", "Miami Vice" (the Michael Mann update is worth the price of admission by itself) and the upcoming thriller "Inside Man", with a whopper of a cast--Denzel, Clive, and Jodie.

Hey, at least you'll get your money's worth for sitting in the theater for more than three hours!

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09