I grew up with conservative, micromanaging helicopter parents, and as a result was prohibited from taking full advantage of my local video stores’ horror movie aisles until college. As such, the name Peter Jackson meant little to me in the late 90s, since Bad Taste and Dead Alive were in the strictly verboten bucket. I did read Lord of the Rings (it was a chore, I wasn’t allowed to play Magic: The Gathering until I finished them all), and later took part working tech crew in a stage production of The Hobbit. I was positively smitten with the girl who played Bilbo, and, one fine winter day in 2001, the pair of us ditched class and went to see the brand new Lord of the Rings theatrical film instead (we didn’t wind up getting in trouble. Do well in school, kids, because administrators let merit scholars get away with crap like going on morning dates rather than attending discrete math). I was all about the Balrog scene (’cause, y’know, giant monster), and still riding that high when the credits rolled. Upon seeing the name Peter Jackson, I remembered a rumor from years before: “Oh, hey, that’s the guy who was gonna remake King Kong at some point!” Four years later, he finally did.
That introduction was overly-long, self-indulgent, and somewhat thematically incoherent, and I did such intentionally, in honor of this film. Now let’s, as Tripod are keen to sing, “get to the f-ing monkey“.
I’m snarky, but Jackson’s film was a long time coming, starting in the mid 90s (when he initially agreed to it in order to prevent anyone else from tainting the Kong name), through several delays due to Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla saturating the market, then its greenlighting due to Jackson’s limitless clout following the release of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. A lot of awesome stuff resulted from Jackson’s unbridled enthusiasm for this King Kong project:
- Weta did a fantastic period-accurate reconstruction of the original’s famously lost spider-pit sequence.
- The concept book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island lays out the ecosystem in meticulous detail.
- The original King Kong, Son of Kong, and Mighty Joe Young got snazzy DVD releases.
- There was a video-game tie-in with an amusing alternate ending.
- Jackson published elaborate production diaries for the film, likely the most comprehensive of any bonus feature ever.
- And naturally, a staggering toy line.
That’s just the official stuff, not taking into account mockbusters and cash-ins. There was a lot of material, and of course, the film itself had a lot of content as well; pretty much every element of the original that wasn’t in the 1976 film is present (I still remember the Daily Show episode where Jon Stewart was interviewing Adrien Brody about it. Stewart said something like “This is insane, it’s King Kong, but also dinosaurs” and Brody had to give him a lecture). All of the 30’s setting elements are handled impeccably, and while Jackson’s original idea was to have Fay Wray deliver the final line, I appreciate that Denham does, just like in the original. The thing is, it has every element that the original does… plus some….and then some.
King Kong ’33 runs for 100 minutes, while the 2005 version runs for 201 minutes, and even during my initial screening of it, I had to say: it’s cool that they rendered this fight with the V-rex with modern effects, but honestly I wish there was a version that only has the shots from the original, and not all this vine-bound acrobatics. While it’s neat that the extended director’s cut exists, I wonder if there could be a shorter, just the basics-cut; we could have gone without Kong slipping around on ice, without the stampede, without the spider pit (gasp!), without Jimmy trying to spook us by reading Heart of Darkness. Thank god there won’t be any other call-outs to that book agai-
Despite any complaints about the bloat of the movie, I do thoroughly enjoy it. The effects are tremendous, and Serkis’s Kong is an inspired incarnation. The cast is entertaining, particularly the unexpected choice of Jack Black as Denham, not to mention Thomas Kretschmann’s badass Englehorn, and future Godzilla King of the Monsters star Kyle Chandler as new character Bruce Baxter. Plus, having now seen Dead Alive, I’ve got to chuckle at the rat monkey (that movie had its own whole Kong homage, btw)! There’s a lot to love in the movie, on top of there being a lot of movie in general. It’s nice that this way, Jackson was able to do everything he imagined with the remake… and if The Hobbit is any indication, who knows, maybe some day we’ll get a 542 minute trilogy based on Son of Kong!