Thursday Night Movie Club
King Kong (2005)
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Release Date: December 14, 2005

Director: Peter Jackson
Naomi Watts
Jack Black
Adrien Brody
Thomas Kretschmann
Colin Hanks
Andy Serkis
Evan Parke
Jamie Bell
Lobo Chan
John Sumner
Craig Hall
Kyle Chandler
Bill Johnson
Mark Hadlow
Geraldine Brophy
Ann Darrow
Carl Denham
Jack Driscoll
Captain Englehorn
Bruce Baxter
King Kong (2005) movie poster
Photo of King KongDirector/Producer Peter Jackson triumphs again. He is the most visually adept director of our time. Jackson really knows how to blend actual and effects photography to make a stunningly beautiful picture. His depictions of depression era New York and Skull Island are visual marvels.

Unlike the failed Dino DeLaurentis version, Jackson is wise enough to update the original movie by Merrian C. Cooper by placing it at the exact time frame of the wonderful original: during the Great Depression of the early 1930s. With Jackson's camera angles atop the Empire State building showing the sprawling metropolis spread out beneath, Kong doesn't look so intimidating. On Skull Island, it is much different.

In Jackson's version, Director Carl Denham is a failure. He can get interesting images, but he has trouble getting to the conclusion. Denham's great character strengths are his belief in his own personal vision and his willingness to sacrifice all to achieve his vision. Of course, it helps that Denham is a world-class con artist. He can convince anyone of anything, writing several bad checks to get the right people on board for his safari. Denham cons scriptwriter Jack Driscoll to stay on board the leaving ship saying, "If you really liked theater, you would have jumped."

In a wonderful send-up of the original, Denham loses his star actress. All the other actresses are committed elsewhere, including "Fay" who is busy working on a Merrian C. Cooper film, a reference to Fay Wray working on the original by Cooper. Jackson knows he is remaking a classic, but he constantly reveres and pays homage to the original. His version isn't better than the original but it is uniquely his. Bless his heart!

Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow in King KongBesides Kong, the heart of this movie is in the character of Ann Darrow, now played by Naomi Watts. Jackson fleshes out Darrow so she is much, much more than a screaming woman. Ann is years ahead of her time. She is determinedly independent. She has an inner strength that won't let her compromise her values. She accepts Denham's offer out of desperation, but she never loses contact with who she is. Ann is stronger than that. It takes the presence of someone much stronger to show her that.

When Kong first takes Ann captive, she is terrified by the monster. Kong is brutal with her. He only thinks of himself. Ann tries to escape but to no avail. Kong isn't that dumb. Ann realizes the brute doesn't know his own strength. Kong will kill her out of simple affection unless she makes a decision. Faced with the possibility of an untimely death, Ann resorts to her vaudeville training to entertain Kong. The brute is eventually tamed, but Kong wants an encore. The exhausted Ann has no more to give. Kong's response is intense rage. The brute within rises to the surface. He strikes out at his surroundings, tearing down trees, throwing stones, everything except harming Ann. Kong realizes first that his relationship with Ann won't work. He makes his decision, he storms off, leaving her alone.

Ann knows a golden opportunity when she sees one. Hearing Jack Driscoll's rescue attempt, he races towards safety. There is no safety on Skull Island. Ann finds herself surrounded by a horde of T-Rex dinosaurs. Ann tries to flee but to no avail. Once again faced with a moment of desperation, Ann makes a decision. She is stuck in the middle between a T-Rex and Kong. Ann knows that Kong will protect her rather than eat her, she hides beneath Kong. Kong reacts appropriately by dispatching the T-Rex. The bonds between Ann and Kong grow stronger.

Meanwhile, Kong is King of his domain. But as he takes Ann to his private lair, the journey shows Ann all of Kong's previous failures at finding the perfect mate His territory is littered with the bones of both humans and apes. Kong wants more out of his life, but he doesn't know what, until fates lends a hand. Both this film and the original end with the line, "Beauty killed the Beast." Thanks to Watts portrayal, that conclusion is more accurate and poignant. The two form a bond, but that bond can only end in disaster.

As Carl Denham, Jack Black is both good and bad as an actor. On the one hand, he is much more conniving, which is good, humorous yet interesting in his manipulations. It is either Black or the scriptwriters who fail to grasp Denham's fierce determination to visualize his dreams on film. I personally see this version of Denham as the film incarnation of Peter Jackson when he was making The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The production company sees him as an idiot but he knows, deep in his heart, that he has found Nirvana!

Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow and KongIn the original, Ann's love interest is a sailor for Captain Englehorn. Here, Jack is a play write. In another homage to the original, Denham shoots a scene of Ann meeting hero, Bruce Baxter. The dialog is right out of the original, but Jackson turns it into a parody of actors not saying their lines as written. Jackson captures homage and his new characters' developments excellently and he does it all in the same scene. Jackson knows how to tell a story, even an old story, and yet make it refreshingly new.

Unfortunately, Jackson has trouble with the relationship between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll. As the aspiring actress and the play write, looking for the perfect lead for his new play, meet, the scene works in a mistaken-identity connection. The scenes on the ship and at Skull Island set up the conflict with Kong. But Ann seems to have more real affection for Kong than for Driscoll. While Kong has previously tried to end the relationship with Ann only to have her come back to him, Ann realizes that their dream world must end. She accepts Driscoll's help but that decision dooms Kong. Love in the wild is different than love in a "civilized" world.Self-centered Denham sees a way to recoup his losses. By capturing Kong, Denham redeems himself in the eyes of his peers. His redemption is short-lived when he brings Kong back to New York City.

The result is disastrous. In the end, you can take the beast out of the jungle, but it is a very bad idea to take the jungle out of the beast.

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