Peter Jackson’s love for the 1933 original “King Kong” shines through this, his loving 2005 remake.
Jackson saw the film as a child, where it brought him to tears and inspired him to be a filmmaker, and this remake feels like the result of the film stewing in his brain for decades. It’s full of narrative tweakings, reimaginings, recontextualisations, expansions…basically, the film filtered through all the life Jackson lived between his childhood and his turn to a hugely successful, acclaimed director.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film is how, by keeping true to the original film’s 1930s setting, it becomes a period piece where the original film was contemporary. This recontextualisation sets the stage for the entire extensive new approach to the narrative. Nothing is just assumed in this film, everything is thought out, explained, developed.
Nearly the entire first hour of the film is pre-Skull Island, set before all the fantastical elements, basically just a 1930s melodrama. Like the lengthy Shire scenes in Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring” adaptation, this grounds the film, clarifies its world and stakes, and gives the characters enough depth that their later action antics don’t feel flighty and lifeless. It’s dynamics, New York being the quiet to Skull Island’s loudness. It also enhances the mythic quality of the King Kong story by grounding the dismal reality of the Depression so hard.
The greatest flaw of the film is the pacing. Even the theatrical, non-extended cut of the film is overlong, indulgent, poorly-paced, and tiring. The lengthy first act is no problem, in fact I think it’s vital to Jackson’s specific vision, but the second act is overstuffed with repetitive action sequences. The V-Rex fight and bugpit sequences are brilliant, but most others are too indulgent. When I first saw this film I was eleven and had quite the opposite opinion, loving act two but finding act one overstuffed, but my nostalgic appreciation of some of the needless action scenes on the island doesn’t cloud the fact that they weary me out now.
Carl Denham being a filmmaker isn’t just a plot point in this film. Indeed, art and performance play a central role. Jack Driscoll is changed into a writer, Ann’s career plays a pivotal role (how she forms the relationship with Kong), and Carl’s hubris and greed in his filming efforts make a more pointed statement about dehumanisation. Not only does man dehumanise nature in the film, but each other as well, with Carl’s vain proclamations about donating money to the increasingly large amount of deceased crewmembers shifting between comic and disturbing. “It was beauty killed the beast” states Carl at the end of the film, but man’s beastly nature killed plenty of beauty and wonder in the film too. It’s no coincidence the film explicitly references “Heart of Darkness” in multiple scenes!
An imperfect film, but one filled with much heart, energy, and spirit, as well as some fine filmmaking. I give it four reels of film, and a shattered jar of chloroform.