King Kong

There’s a moment very early on in King Kong that’s worth noting. Film director Carl Denham (ably played by Jack Black) is showing some safari footage to a group of producers. As the footage plays out, one of the producers wearily asks “how much more of this is there?”, and grimaces when the answer is ‘five more reels’. It’s worth noting because, after an hour of the film has been and gone and the protaganists are still on their boat, yet to discover Skull Island, that’s exactly the question you’ll find yourself asking.

Peter Jackson’s King Kong is not a bad film, it’s just an hour too long, begging to be edited into a lean and tight fantasy adventure. The first hour is devoted to introducing a sea of faces, including a fleeting father figure for Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow and almost the entire crew of the The Venture — Choy, the comedy Asian, Lumpy, the scurrilous cook, Hayes, the stoic black first mate, Jimmy, the baby-faced stowaway with a secret past — none of whom make it to the final third of the film. Jackson sets them up purely to knock them down, and to provide some heavy-handed references to The Heart of Darkness.

Things pick up once the cast finally reach the island. Encountering hostile natives (filmed in a woeful slow-motion style, last seen in Resident Evil: Apocalypse) almost as soon as filming begins, Darrow is swiftly kidnapped and offered up to to the titular ape who spirits her away into the depths of the jungle. It’s one of the fastest-moving sequences in the film, but after this, with Denham, the crew and the writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) mounting a rescue attempt, events slow to a crawl again.

Want to switch to the six-inch lens?

The second hour of the film is given over to a exhausting collection of CGI sequences. There’s a brontosaurus stampede, there’s an attack on the crew by a pack of venatosauruses, there’s Kong fighting not just one but three giant vastatosaurus rexes, there’s Kong attacking the crew by destroying the tree that’s acting as their bridge, there’s, oh, there’s giant insects…giant centipedes..giant worms…giant spiders…giant bats…God, it goes on.

Finally, the film closes as you expect it to, with Kong being taken to New York and put on the stage. He breaks free, trashes the place, and dies atop the Empire State Building, but not before more time is devoted to reminding us that Kong is not really a giant, bloodthirsty ape, already responsible for the deaths of dozens of innocent seamen, but a big old softy and, apparently, also a wannabee figure-skater.

The wide-angle will do just fine.

Peter Jackson’s love of the 1933 original King Kong has been well-documented, and his remake is so packed with references — the original score and script are both re-used in places, and scenes originally cut, such as Kong’s destruction of the bridge tree and the giant insect attack, are replaced — that it’s hard to see where the original film ends and the remake begins.

Jackson’s determination to film an epic, perfect Kong has been undermined by the fact that this is not an epic story. While there was more than enough source material in Lord of the Rings to fill out three films and still leave you wanting more, King Kong is padded out with uninspired and unneccessary characterisation and overlong set pieces. It could have impressed, but only in a much smaller dose.