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Movie Review: King Kong

By Mike Everleth ⋅ December 31, 2005

King Kong

The most impressive thing about King Kong is, of course, the giant gorilla himself. Much is being made about Andy Serkis‘s physical performance, who acted out the part via motion-capture technology. It is a phenomenal achievement, much more so than his previous role as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies in that as Kong he genuinely climbs, swings from vines, charges and just generally acts like a real gorilla would. It’s unbelievably convincing.

What I found even more impressive, however, is how much genuine personality Kong exhibits in the film. I don’t know how much of this feat is due to the motion-capture of Serkis’s facial expressions or if it’s just the amazing animation work of nameless CGI artists, but Kong has a very real, genuine personality. And it’s more than simple looks of happiness, anger, love, surprise or other emotions, but the gorilla is probably the most well developed character in the entire film.

On the one hand, I’m thrilled for director Peter Jackson and all the success he’s had in his career the past few years. I’ve been a big fan of his from way back, particularly the gonzo zombie gross-out fest Dead Alive and what I feel is still his best film, Heavenly Creatures. Since those days, his films have gotten phenomenally bigger, but I genuinely miss those smaller, scrappier movies. In spite of all the groundbreaking CGI work of Kong and the Lord of the Rings saga, I think Jackson’s older work was filled with much more imagination and heart.

Kong is an amazing achievement on both a visual level and as a work of pure entertainment. I really enjoyed the film. But I didn’t feel passionately invested in it due mainly to some painfully cringe-worthy dialogue and a complete lack of character development among the human cast. When he was working with a limited budget, it seems that Jackson was much more invested in creating fascinating characters, especially the teenage killers of Heavenly Creatures, the film that launched Kate Winslet’s career. I don’t even think the Lord of the Rings films held up over the two sequels. What gripped me about The Fellowship of the Ring was little Frodo the hobbit’s evolution during his journey. Frodo almost turns into a secondary character in the later films — and they suffer for it.

Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow does a very good job of bonding with a giant CGI special effect, but Ann’s journey through the film is mostly just a going through the motions of what the plot compels her to do. The male leads, Adrien Brody and Jack Black, are largely perfunctory, too. But truly awkard is the crew of the ship sailing towards Skull Island. Most of them are almost parodies of characters you would find in a film like this and they kept reminding me of Val Kilmer’s war buddies in the Zucker brothers’ comedy Top Secret! And I really could have done without the whole ridiculous Jimmy and Mr. Hayes subplot.

I am encouraged, though, because I see for his next film, Peter is going to be directing the film adaptation of Alice Sebold’s novel The Lovely Bones. I haven’t read that book, but the story sounds small and in the vein of Heavenly Creatures. I’m glad he’s decided to return somewhat to his roots it seems and is not directing the CGI heavy Halo, which he is producing.

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