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PCR # 299  (Vol. 6, No. 50)  This edition is for the week of December 12--18, 2005.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"King Kong"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith
Four stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Starring: Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts and Andy Serkis
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Rated: PG 13
Running Time: 3 hours 7 mins

Is there anything Peter Jackson can't do? His "Lord of the Rings" trilogy earned an incredible 30 Academy Award nominations, finishing on a high note with wins for Best Picture and Best Director. With every studio in the world offering him a chance to do what he wanted Jackson decided to pay homage to a film not only regarded as a classic but one that held a special meaning to him personally when, as a nine-year-old boy, he first saw it. That film was "King Kong." And Jackson has honored it with a film that not only stands next to the original but often surpasses it.

It's the 1930s. Maverick filmmaker Carl Denham (Black) is trying to get additional funding for an adventure film. He is very excited because he has secured the writing of famed playwright Jack Driscoll (Brody) for his script. While one of the studio bosses appreciates his maverick approach, the others are more interested in other things. "Will there be boobies," one asks Denham when he makes his pitch. Fearing he will be rejected, Denham decides to just charter a boat and head to an island he has just learned existed. But he needs an actress. He questions his assistant (Colin Hanks) as to who is available, only to learn there is no one. In a great tribute to original "Kong" director Merian Cooper and star Fay Wray, he learns that "Fay isn't available either. She's working with Cooper."

Meanwhile, across town, pretty, blonde Ann Darrow is working at the local vaudeville theatre. While she dreams of appearing in the new Jack Driscoll play she continues to work in the show, often appearing before only a handful of people. In a chance meeting with Denham, she is recruited to star in his film and soon she, Driscoll and Denham are headed out to sea on a ship filled with interesting characters, including Lumpy the Cook (Serkis) and young Jimmy (Jamie Bell), a young boy found as a stowaway years before who now spends his free time reading "Hearts of Darkness." After a cruise in heavy fog the ship lands on Skull Island, a place that time has literally forgotten. While filming on the island, Denham and his crew stumble upon a band of islanders in obvious preparation for something big. Discovered, they are attacked and Ann is kidnapped. And so the adventure begins!

And what an adventure it is. Director Jackson has taken all of the elements that made the original film so memorable and made them even more exciting. Giant ape? Check. Not a stiffly-moving monster, but a graceful creature, whose body bears the scars of the battles fought to be King. Dinosaurs? You bet. Everything from the powerful Tyrannosaurus Rex (how did they catch ANYTHING with those tiny little arms?) to the graceful Brachiosaurus. Throw in giant bugs, hideous bats and a river full of man-eating slugs and you've got one heck of a film. But "Kong" is more then monsters. At its heart, the film is a true love story. In 1933, Ann Darrow was portrayed as just another sacrifice to the great beast. In the 1976 version, Jessica Lange played her as a modern woman, even going so far as to scold Kong's advances by calling him a "chauvinistic pig ape!" But Jackson and, most importantly, Watts, understand. Maybe it's just a case of puppy love, but the big guy is truly smitten and Watts' Ann recognizes that. Whether she's entertaining Kong by juggling, sitting next to him as they look at a sunset or sliding on a frozen pond in Central Park (one of the film's best scenes) Watts shows genuine emotion, a performance made more impressive by the fact that she was pretty much acting against a green screen.

With Brody an Oscar winner and Watts a former nominee, Jackson has cast his film well. Both bring depth to roles that could have easily been played one- dimensionally. I will say that I was very worried when I saw Jack Black was cast in the film. Don't get me wrong, I love Jack Black, but I wasn't sure if he could pull off Carl Denham without making him a cartoon. His Denham is not afraid to risk others' lives for the almighty dollar. In fact, each time a member of his crew is killed, he tells his assistant that he will dedicate the film to their memory, and give the proceeds to their families. Of course, at the rate they disappear there won't be enough to buy anyone anything! The special effects are incredible, with the action flowing so smoothly you begin to forget they ARE special effects. WETA, Jackson's special effects shop in New Zealand, has emerged as the best effects house in film, even better than George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic in my opinion. Extra credit to Andy Serkis, who gives Kong his heart and soul when close-ups of the beast are used. Like his work as Gollum in the "Rings" trilogy, Serkis inhabits Kong and brings him to life. The production work is outstanding all around, with Jackson's recreation of 1930s Manhattan a thing of beauty.

"Why go up river," Jimmy asks, commenting not only on "Hearts of Darkness" but his ship's journey as well. To see a new classic is my answer. On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "King Kong"  Four stars

This week's movie review of "King Kong" is ©2005 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2005, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2005 by Nolan B. Canova.