Quick, name three Peter Jackson films not based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. I’m guessing most of you can’t. Although Bad Taste — which is arguably an underrated classic — does have a small cult following, probably Jackson’s most well-known movie without hobbits is his remake of King Kong. Although there was talk of The Hobbit being directed by none other then Jackson by the time this particular film went into production, he made it clear in interviews that he wanted other projects for a while. You can’t blame him. Did he really want to be remembered only for fantasy movies? So he decided to remake the popular monster movie, King Kong.
The 1933 film may not have been a masterpiece, but it was a landmark horror film and scored points on the fact that the antagonist was not, in fact, a bad guy. This version? I really can’t say Jackson did a very good job with it. There are worse monster movies, but I really don’t enjoy this one.
Jackson tries to improve on the original by adding more depth. Although he is foreign, he seems to have America in the Great Depression done cold. City design, clothing, accents, personality, even the mood of the characters are as they probably should be. As an example of mood, it’s made clear that the job market is pretty tight, making people desperate. And Carl Denham is even more of a con man. The realization of this was a gradual thing in the original. Because most who saw this film also saw the original, Denham is presented as a mediocre but deviously clever businessman who gets a film on an island that he shouldn’t through a web of lies. His reaction to the possibility of being sued? “Get in line.”
I found my first problem with the movie on the back cover of the DVD case. It pegs King Kong at three hours and eight minutes. The Lord of the Rings was one thing. It had a long list of characters, tremendous character conflict, and of course, the fact that it was a series of novels before a series of movies meant that there would be a lot of material to adapt. A movie about a monster starting a doomed romance and wrecking havoc is a different beast, if you’ll pardon the expression. To spend time, walking and talking scenes are dragged out, as are Kong’s battles with dinosaurs and humans.
Even a director as brilliant as Spielberg would have had trouble keeping this interesting for three hours. So we have a lot of dullness and pointlessness, particularly when it comes to walking in the jungle. But I also think Transformers shouldn’t have gone well over two hours, so what do I know?
The only way it would’ve worked is if the dialogue had been great. Despite the attention to detail that I alluded to earlier, few lines are particularly memorable. The romance between the Ann and Kong (not one-sided this time) is done reasonably well, but it’s not the best I’ve ever seen. The scenes that show the passion between the beauty and beast are handled well, except that to say this relationship moves fast would be an understatement. For a pairing that is very unlikely, that’s a big problem.
King Kong does have a nice look. This Kong is a very well-done monster (plus, he actually looks like a gorilla). Action is also great, what with the monsters moving in ways that the 1933 movie could never have managed. The closing battle with military airplanes is definitely the highlight of the film.
But that’s small favors in a movie this long. I tried to like it, and do quite like the original, but this version is just a whole bunch of filler leading to some admittedly great monster fights. Style over substance indeed.
Overall: 4 out of 10