King Kong ★★★★
There were three versions of King Kong before this year’s prequel Skull Island – and I hope you have all seen at least one of them: the black-and-white 1933 original with its pioneering stop-motion animation; the disaster-movie-styled 1976 remake that relocated the climax from the Empire State Building to the just-built World Trade Center; and Lord of the Rings-master Peter Jackson’s digitally ground-breaking 2005 re-imagining. The first and second transfixed me as a boy who collected Aurora’s glow-in-the-dark monster kit models, including one of Kong. The third film, despite all its technological advantages, had a lot of work to do to turn my head. It cost a then-industry-record $207 million to make and lasts for an indulgent three hours. Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack managed to get from New York to Skull Island and back again in an hour and 40 minutes in 1933, and nobody felt short-changed. John Guillermin did the same in two and a quarter hours in 1976.
The question, I suppose, is: does bigger and longer automatically mean better?
Well, having imbued JRR Tolkien’s vast three-part quest with emotional intimacy, Jackson was probably the right choice to do the same to this slab of raw hokum. He and regular co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens cleverly set the action in 1933, underlining a gigantic affection for what is, in the original, a story about film-makers and the exploitation of celebrity, a very modern concept. The pre-war setting also removes inconveniences like mobile phones and computers, which sometimes dog Jurassic Park. Jack Black’s movie mogul, Naomi Watts’s aspiring actress and Adrien Brody’s screenwriter take admirably seriously the respective roles of villain, damsel and hero, and motion-capture maestro Andy Serkis brings the gorilla to detailed life. The supporting cast also boasts Kyle Chandler, Jamie Bell and Colin Hanks, with solid turns by all. The action is melodramatic, the set pieces big – including a revival of the original’s fabled and believed lost giant-spider- attack sequence – and James Newton Howard’s score is fulsome. So, as long as you’re prepared for along haul, you’ll be there until it’s just beauty and the beast.
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