U.S. Release Date: December 14, 2005
Distributor: Universal
Director: Peter Jackson
Writer: Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh
Producer: Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh
Composer: James Newton Howard
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler
Running Time: 3 hours and 7 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images)

Bombast Kills the Beast
by Scott Holleran

It took director Peter Jackson with a multi-million dollar budget to remake King Kong as an epic, and what a monstrosity he has made. Sparing no expense, to paraphrase the huckster in Jurassic Park, Jackson takes nearly three hours to render a big dose of pretentious glop.

The latest Kong remake is a debacle from every angle. Opening in a zoo, Jackson depicts Depression-era New York City through flashes of pretty girls doing Vaudeville for a bite to eat and people in poverty—like old postcards in frantic, perpetual motion. The Mad Hatter pace pauses for a hokey hookup between a big-eyed blonde (Naomi Watts) and a bug-eyed movie producer (Jack Black). She's hungry and desperate, and he's looking for an actress in his expensive movie, which has lost its backing.

Meanwhile, King Kong has already lost its bearings, and, while it's clear that everyone's heading to an island to make a movie, it's equally clear that it's not going to work. The remake copies the original's basic plot: a boat trip with the ringmaster, the starlet and the hero (Adrien Brody's screenwriter, improbably) sailing to an exotic place where they'll find dinosaurs and a gigantic ape. Jackson adds chloroform, a shady captain and a kid named Jimmy. Ship's ahoy and breathlessly pleading for attention.

On board, Watts and Brody lock lips, Black's greedy producer schemes and several shipmates—notably Kyle Chandler as a vain movie star—establish a marginal sense of order. Fog sets in and, suddenly, the ship's being tossed about in a violent storm. Welcome to Skull Island—where the second act is a doozy.

Encountering strange, mystical rocks, Black's cast and crew—not the brightest bunch—follow him blindly to land, where snarling super-savages attack, vault themselves onto the ship, kidnap Watts and offer her as a sacrifice for an enlarged silverback gorilla, which bounds into the proceedings noisily and with obvious benefit of computers. Kong grabs the girl, she screams, and so begins the most ridiculous action since Godzilla took Manhattan.

It's hard to say where King Kong goes completely bananas—it's between the polite dialog while running in a dinosaur stampede and Watts doing her stage routine for Kong—but the island scenes are excruciatingly long and poorly conceived. Brody's writer risks his life after a brief spell with Watts, who's doing something like the can-can to keep Kong entertained, while the big lug's recovering from a bout with not one—not two—but three Tyrannosaurus Rexes, at the same time. Jackson shows no restraint, piling on spiders, lizards and bats, while Kong apparently is the only species to go it alone.

Kong's computer-generated expressions look realistic, if gorillas were half-human, and the effects allow Jackson to tout primitivism over civilization and, using Watts, who plays the pretty lady slipping on a banana peel, to make fun of people. Kong—presented as superior to man—is captured for show and tell and profit.

Back in New York and starring in Black's circus show, King Kong unfurls its lame message. Knocking wealthy New Yorkers—only the rich pay to see Kong in this version—and the military in the grand finale, Jackson has the Watts character choose to go down with the ape, though not before she gets a terrific view from the Empire State Building. This extravaganza is moviemaking at its lowest: small ideas amplified and anthropomorphized with a big budget.

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