'King Kong' Review: It Was Beauty That Killed The Beast
As part of Monster Movie Month, I was picked King Kong, a film I hadn't seen since it was released in theaters about a decade ago but always resonated deeply with me. While there have been some close calls since its release, King Kong was the first film that I can recall having brought me to the brink of tears by the end, and I was excited to revisit it with a slightly different perspective.
Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings follow-up is incredibly ambitious and spectacular to look at. The film follows down on her luck actress, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who is recruited by the overly ambitious film producer, Carl Denham (played by a slightly mad Jack Black) to embark on an exotic film shoot on an uncharted island. Ann signs on once she realizes Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who is her favorite writer, is penning the film. They embark to the mysterious Skull Island, hoping to add some authenticity to their film. Ann is "sacrificed" to Kong by the island locals, and the crew embarks to save her and capture Kong. The supporting cast is rounded out by Andy Serkis (who not only does the motion capture for Kong in his proto Caesar role, but also plays the ship's cook), Kyle Chandler, Jamie Bell, Colin Hanks, and Thomas Kretschmann.
The film is split into three distinct parts: the expedition, the Skull Island adventure, and the climactic New York escape, and it almost feels like three separate episodes. The meat of the film takes place on Skull Island, which gives off a distinct Jurrasic Park-esque vibe. Prehistoric creatures with a taste for killing litter the landscape and our heroes barely make it out alive. The effects in the film are heavily CGI, and although the green screen effect is present pretty heavily, for the most part the effects looks pretty good, even 10 years after the release. Kong is rendered beautifully and is the true soul of the movie. We're given a love story between Ann and Jack, and while I enjoyed both of the actors' performances, it felt somewhat rushed to give one of the main cast extra incentive to guarantee her rescue from Kong.
Kong himself is portrayed as a monster by the humans, but is the most tragic character in the film. King Kong's underlying theme deals with the internal vs. external aspect of being a monster. Carl Denham deludes himself into thinking what he's doing by capturing Kong is somehow a benefit to the world, and at the cost of many lives and his own potential freedom, he pursues his goals relentlessly. Every bump in the road he sees as a new opportunity to be unearthed, which makes him an interesting character but indirectly makes him the cause of all the suffering in the film. Kong lives wild on the island, overpowering all the creatures that live there, but he generally wants to remain left to his own devices. Ann provides a new dimension for Kong, and the quiet moments of their relationship provide the most beautiful moments in the film. Is Kong a monster for behaving as any animal would, given his surroundings? When he's with Ann, we see that all he truly wants is to embrace the quiet and be free. A scene where he reconnects with Ann in New York in Central Park stands out as one of the silently beautiful moments in the film that is abruptly interrupted by the presences of man. Speaking of quiet, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the sound design in the film. The score fits the action well, and there were a notable amount of scenes that heavily diluted the music and let the environment provide the sound, especially on Skull Island, and those scenes had a natural and visceral feel to them that played out to the film's strengths.
As most of you are aware, King Kong doesn't end on a high note, and the Empire State Building sequence features some impressive CGI, as well as one of the most heartbreaking sequences in film for me, personally. Every time I watch it, part of me hopes that perhaps this time Kong will escape, but it always ends the same way. Kong may have been the physically imposing beast that we fear, but the human's actions made them the actual monsters in the film. Beautifully tragic, King Kong remains one of the most affecting films I have ever seen.
Final Say: Watch It