Release Date:  December 14, 2005
Rating:  PG-13 (frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images)
Genre:  Action Adventure
Run Time:  187 min.
Director:  Peter Jackson
Actors:  Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler

On the heels of his phenomenal success with the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, director Peter Jackson has remade a film classic:  "King Kong." The resulting epic lives up to most expectations, and will further endear Jackson to fans of fantasy, action, and spectacle.

Why “most” but not all expectations? Because the bar has been raised too high by the film’s marketing machine, which promised a tearjerker with the potential to conquer the all-time box-office record set by James Cameron’s "Titanic."

While any such prediction of that type of box-office success is likely to look foolish in retrospect, "King Kong" does deliver plenty of thrills. However, as a promised emotional tour-de-force, it falls short. Better no such promises had been made, so that the film could be enjoyed for what it is – a stunning triumph of computer-generated creatures who threaten and, in Kong’s case, sometimes protect their human counterparts.

"King Kong" tells the story of filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) and vaudeville performer Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), both facing career crises. When the desperate Denham, realizes that his financial backers are about to pull the plug on his ill thought-out next film, he latches on to the newly out-of-work Darrow, who fits the bill for his female lead in an upcoming project to be filmed on a far-away island. Darrow signs on with Denham, who deceives his screenwriter, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) into doing his bidding.

The crew is soon shipwrecked on Skull Island – Denham’s intended destination. At this point, the film turns genuinely horrifying, as the island natives quickly turn on the intruding crew and capture Ann, whom they intend to sacrifice to Kong (Andy Serkis, aided by computer-generated wizardry). These scenes are the stuff of nightmares and are not appropriate for younger children. They display a ritualistic savagery that will remain with viewers just as much, if not more so, than the scenes of King Kong, who soon appears to claim Ann.

The film’s second act is a wonder, as the shipwrecked crew, in search of Ann, encounter an array of dinosaurs, gigantic bugs, and other creatures. Jackson ups the ante with each set-piece sequence, delivering thrills equal to the best scenes from Steven Spielberg’s "Jurassic Park." The second hour of "Kong" is simply breathtaking.

But the film can’t sustain its momentum once the crew brings Kong to New York. The finale, with Kong rampaging through the city and climbing the Empire State Building, includes some lovely moments, but the best efforts of Watts and Serkis to show a deep bond between woman and beast come too late, as the film approaches, then passes the 3-hour mark. Viewer fatigue will, by then, have claimed a sizable chunk of the audience. However, those unfamiliar with the earlier versions of "Kong" may be more caught up in the story.

This is not to diminish what Jackson, the actors, and the technical team have accomplished. The film is, at times, tremendously exciting, but the extended length of the film saps its conclusion of some of the hoped-for emotional impact. By the time Kong is atop the Empire State Building, the film’s best moments are far behind it. The finale still has impact, but despite the hype and computer-aided emoting of the giant beast in Jackson’s film, the original "King Kong" (1933) remains the most moving of the three film versions (a 1976 version is best remembered for introducing Jessica Lange and for an early Jeff Bridges performance – and not much else). For all of the technical prowess on display in Jackson’s film, the original, running a relatively lean 100 minutes, remains a model of efficient storytelling, with at least as much emotional resonance as Jackson’s bloated, but still effective, remake.

AUDIENCE:  Teens and older.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; various profanities.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Some smoking and drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  A man suggests Ann should take a job in an adults-only club, but Ann won’t lower herself to that level.
  • Violence:  Multiple grisly deaths of men and animals; skulls and skeletons are strewn across Skull Island; menacing creatures on Skull Island attack the film crew; plenty of gunfire, used in self-defense against the creatures on Skull Island; fighter planes attack Kong.
  • Crime:  Ann is caught stealing an apple; Carl steals equipment and money for his film.
  • Ritual/Religion: The natives of Skull Island go into a lengthy frenzy as they prepare to sacrifice Ann to Kong.