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King Kong in New York

King Kong
cast: Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, and Andy Serkis

director: Peter Jackson

187 minutes (12) 2005
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 1 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
1933: at the height of the Depression, vaudeville actress Ann Darrow is out of work and starving when maverick director Carl Denham plucks her from the street. He wants her to appear in his new movie, filming on location in Indonesia - but he hasn't told her that the studio's trying to shut him down, or that Skull Island has some very peculiar inhabitants, considerably the friendliest of which is a 25-foot gorilla. Dragged back to 'civilisation' to be exhibited as a circus freak, Kong runs amok in New York, but Ann's bond with him remains, and in the end, lured him to his death...

Film fans generally agree that remaking classics is a bad idea, but studios keep remaking them and we keep watching them. What we're all waiting for, of course, is that rarity, a classic reinvention, like Peter Jackson's take on his favourite film of all time. Jackson's King Kong amplifies and expands the original, bringing greater emotional depth and a disturbingly plausible two-way relationship between actress and ape, two innocents in a rough, exploitative world. Much has been made of the fact that our heroes take an hour of screen time to even reach the island, but Jackson uses this time well, developing the characters and establishing a mood of foreboding. This pays off handsomely when the action returns to New York, and the characters must deal with the repercussions of their betrayal of Kong and of each other.

The performances are superb, with Naomi Watts' Ann a particular triumph - passionate, vulnerable, and hugely convincing in her scenes with her giant co-star. Jack Black, as Denham, is a lovable monster driven by ambition, and only Adrien Brody, as the playwright bullied into writing the movie, feels superfluous. As a rival for Ann's affections, he's never going to match up to Kong, and seems to know it.

Yes, the film has flaws: the central section consists of a parade of monstrous beasties terrorising our heroes, which quickly becomes repetitive, and it feels odd to spend so much time on detailed characterisation of the ship's maverick crew only for them to vanish before the final hour. However, the passion that's poured into this project shines through, and the tragic beauty of the film's closing sequence is unmatched. This is a superb piece of filmmaking, and if you aren't damp-eyed and sniffling by the end credits, then you should properly have your tear ducts looked at.

The DVD extras, as you would expect from Jackson, are a real treat. There's an accessible piece on life in 1930s' New York, and how events of the time are alluded to in the movie, and a convincing mock documentary on the discovery, and eventual destruction, of Skull Island, and the biology of its flora and fauna. Apart from a couple of Kong-associated commercials, the other extras are the production diaries that appeared online during the making of the film. Covering every subject from lighting to miniature making to music, these informative and often funny snippets are fascinating for anyone with an interest in film, and essential for anyone contemplating a career in moviemaking. This two-disc DVD release offers an exceptional package of extras for an exceptional film.

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