Too much monkey business
Remake stays true to story, but with extra fat
About halfway through the Lord of the Rings trilogy it was apparent that director Peter Jackson was becoming a glutton to his seemingly unlimited resources, and taut narrative began to take a backseat to swooping shots of expansive vistas.
And while his homage to the original 1933 King Kong is in most ways an impressive accomplishment, it unfortunately lacks a sense of wonder; unless one counts looking at your watch and wondering how much longer Jackson is gonna take to reach the Empire State Building.
There’s a brilliant adventure yarn in here buried in pounds of fat. I felt like someone at an All-U-Can-Eat-Buffet with management holding a gun to my head. There were points when I was so overwhelmed that I felt the need to purge. Gah.
At about 100 minutes, the original was a rollicking roller coaster that moved from one exciting moment to the next. The story was simple: a film crew leaves New York in a steamboat for an uncharted island, where they find a tribe of aboriginals who offer virgin sacrifice to a giant ape. The tribe gets hold of the actress on the steamboat and offers her up. The ape apparently digs blondes and stays his hand until the crew catches up after dodging dinosaurs and shanghais him back to the Big Apple, where he gets loose and makes a mess of things.
And while Jackson for the most part stays true to the film’s narrative, he also feels compelled to add to it … and add … and add …
Almost an hour just to reach Skull Island? I grew up loving the original, but even I’m not that much of a fanboy. Unfortunately, Jackson feels compelled to try to top everything. Kong goes paw to claw with an allosarus in the original? Hell, let’s throw him up against two—no, three T-rexs in this one … and let’s have one of ’em go bunji jumping!
By the time Kong reached the Empire State Building I was hoping the Army would just kill him and get it over with, already. Screw the biplanes. Although I’ll cop that when the big guy finally slipped away I was pretty much verklempt.
All of the actors—but one—gave exemplary performances. I especially enjoyed how the Driscoll character was broken down into not two, but three different riffs (and merged into the Englehorn character, with a Das Boot tweak).
The one who dragged this down was Jack Black. While my early suspicions that he’d come across like Nathan Lane trying to play it straight didn’t pan out, they still came uncomfortably close. There’s no way in hell a bunch of hardcases would follow this guy through thick-n-thin … they’d just kick the shit out of him and saunter back to the boat.
But as I said, there is a wonderful movie buried in here somewhere. Jackson recreates a ‘30s New York that is a pleasure to behold—and when the film stays true to the source material, it really moves. And occasionally Jackson delivers moments that take on an iconic stature of their own, such as the introduction of the inevitable biplanes. Too bad you have to sit through two movies to get there.