King Kong (2005)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-6; L-1 ; S/N-5 . Running time: 3 hours 7 min.

Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.
1 Peter 3:3-4

Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves
Genesis 11:4

The greedy person stirs up strife,
but whoever trusts in the LORD will be enriched.
Proverbs 28:25

King Kong

I wondered why Peter Jackson would want to follow up his magnificent adaptation of the Tolkien Lord of the Rings Trilogy with this pulp fiction story until I read the publicity materials that accompanied King Kong. When he saw the original version as a boy, it inspired him to want to become a filmmaker. And what a filmmaker he did become, as this film shows so well! It proved to be far better than I had anticipated, adding heart and soul to the rather silly (if you stop and think about it—the original King Kong, that is) Beauty and the Beast story. Beautifully melding CGI and human actors, the film offers several scenes of emotional pull that very few action/thriller films ever manage to achieve.

Unlike the somewhat campy 1976 version, which tried to update the story by setting it amidst the current oil crisis and replacing the Empire State Building with the Trade Towers, Jackson wisely stayed with the 1930s period, thus managing to retain some of it’s “gee whiz” viewpoint. And above all, his decision to again use Andy Serkis as the model to build Kong around (remember that this nimble actor played Gollum/Smeagol), and to cast talented actress Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, rather than just a pretty face, lifts the remake to a higher level even than the original. I know, most critics write that nothing can match the original, but consider this as mostly nostalgic eyewash—I doubt that many of them very recently have watched the original, so filled with the racism and other clunky clichés of the time.

The first act gives us an intriguing look at the Age of the Depression, as we hear Al Jolsen singing “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” while people camp out in shanties in Central Park, and our heroine Ann and her co-Vaudevillian troupe, having been locked out of the theater when it went bankrupt, considering the humiliation of either working at burlesque or starving, and choosing the latter. Fortunately for her, documentary filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is in deep trouble with his backers and has just lost the star actress in the new film he had hoped to produce by hook or by crook (largely the latter). He convinces Ann to join his project, and he kidnaps aboard a tramp steamer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a busy Broadway playwright who had obligingly produced the first 15 pages of a movie script. Armed with a map that purports to show the position of an island with a rich treasure, Carl plans to make his film there and also find the treasure. He has tricked Jack into coming so that the hapless playwright write can complete the script. Of course, as we expect in such films, Jack and Ann are attracted to each other.

Also aboard is Capt. Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), the skipper who often reluctantly goes along with Jack’s desires. First mate Hayes (Evan Parke) is a kindly African-American who has taken under his wing the orphaned Jimmy (Jamie Bell), who longs to be the kind of hero he is reading about in the Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. He might not wish for adventure so much if he had known what lies in store for them all. Also aboard is actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), who will play the hero opposite Ann, plus an assortment of others, most of whom will not make it to the end of the story.

For some the leisurely pace of the first hour will be hard to sit through, though it serves well to build up the characters and prepare us for the breath-taking, almost non-stop action sequences to come. The ship is almost lost in the midst of a storm that threatens to dash it against the rocks and crags of Skull Island’s shore. And then, when the next day they land and go ashore, there quickly follows the confrontation with the natives, and their kidnapping of Ann and offering her to the mysterious beast who lives on the other side of the huge timber wall that they have built, splitting the island in two.

When Kong arrives and seizes Ann, who is tied to two posts, she emits the customary screams of the about to be ravaged maiden, but when the huge gorilla wards off various creatures as frightening as he, she realizes that he is protecting her. To distract his mind she does what she has been trained to do, launching into her vaudeville act, complete with juggling, dancing, and taking pratfalls. This amuses the big fellow, especially the pratfalls, which he even enters into by pushing her or snatching away her makeshift cane. There are a series of horrific fights between Kong and some of the flesh-eating dinosaurs, in one instance fought from vines that barely prevent the heavy combatants from falling further into a deep crevice. In the meantime, a group headed by Jack has set out to rescue Ann from what they presume is a hostile monster intent on doing her harm. Along the way they face far more terrifying perils than even Ann does, and Jimmy gets more than he bargained for in his quest to prove his manhood.

This is not a film for children, with its raging dinosaurs, giant flesh-sucking leeches, and myriads of bats and other loathsomely hostile creatures. Some of the action scenes are allowed to go on too long, most notably the brontosaurus stampede (which is not entirely believable). For youth and adults, however, Mr. Jackson has served up an exciting film that viewers will want to revisit many times. Especially touching is a scene, repeated later in New York, in which Kong sits atop a cliff watching a splendid sunrise. Ann, realizing now that there is a soul capable of appreciating such beauty beneath her protector’s fiercely craggy brow, sits beside him, stroking one of his huge fingers. By the time this is repeated in New York, Kong has broken away from Carl’s lurid display of Kong in a Broadway Theater, and fled to the top of the Empire State Building. Just before his pursuers find and close in on him, he and Ann again contemplate the glory of the rising sun. If you do not have a lump in your throat by this time, you shouldn’t be going to the movies.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) Which character do you like the most? The least? Why?

2) What do you think of the director’s decision to set the film back in the 1930s, rather than to “update it,” as in the 1976 version?

3) What “inner beauty” (See 1 Peter 3:3-4) do you see in both Kong and Ann? How is the inability of others to see this in Kong part of the story’s tragedy? What TV commercials and magazines place extreme emphasis upon outward beauty? How is this worship of the exterior even reflected in news broadcasts?

4) How is Carl an embodiment of Genesis 11:4 and Proverbs 28:25? What does his greed result in?

5) What is young Jimmy’s greatest desire? What book is he reading? How does Conrad’s book relate to his life? What “Heart of Darkness” has the greedy Carl led his troupe into?

6) Note the departure from the previous two films: does Ann participate in Carl’s exploitive Broadway show? Where is she when Kong breaks lose?

7) As the airplanes attack Kong, where do our sympathies lie? How is this a reversal of the usual—aren’t these our pilots, the heroes of so many war films, then and now?

8) How is Ann closer to the inclusivity exhibited by Jesus, as compared to society’s “us” versus” them/it”? Beyond its thrill factor, what does the film offer in regard to our attitude toward or relationship with those who are different, even “beastly”?

King Kong Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-6; L-1 ; S/N-5 . Running time: 3 hours 7 min.

3Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; 4rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves Genesis 11:4

The greedy person stirs up strife, but whoever trusts in the LORD will be enriched.

Proverbs 28:25

I wondered why Peter Jackson would want to follow up his magnificent adaptation of the Tolkien Lord of the Rings Trilogy with this pulp fiction story until I read the publicity materials that accompanied King Kong. When he saw the original version as a boy, it inspired him to want to become a filmmaker. And what a filmmaker he did become, as this film shows so well! It proved to be far better than I had anticipated, adding heart and soul to the rather silly (if you stop and think about it—the original King Kong, that is) Beauty and the Beast story. Beautifully melding CGI and human actors, the film offers several scenes of emotional pull that very few action/thriller films ever manage to achieve.

Unlike the somewhat campy 1976 version, which tried to update the story by setting it amidst the current oil crisis and replacing the Empire State Building with the Trade Towers, Jackson wisely stayed with the 1930s period, thus managing to retain some of it’s “gee whiz” viewpoint. And above all, his decision to again use Andy Serkis as the model to build Kong around (remember that this nimble actor played Gollum/Smeagol), and to cast talented actress Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, rather than just a pretty face, lifts the remake to a higher level even than the original. I know, most critics write that nothing can match the original, but consider this as mostly nostalgic eyewash—I doubt that many of them very recently have watched the original, so filled with the racism and other clunky clichés of the time.

The first act gives us an intriguing look at the Age of the Depression, as we hear Al Jolsen singing “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World,” while people camp out in shanties in Central Park, and our heroine Ann and her co-Vaudevillian troupe, having been locked out of the theater when it went bankrupt, considering the humiliation of either working at burlesque or starving, and choosing the latter. Fortunately for her, documentary filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is in deep trouble with his backers and has just lost the star actress in the new film he had hoped to produce by hook or by crook (largely the latter). He convinces Ann to join his project, and he kidnaps aboard a tramp steamer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), a busy Broadway playwright who had obligingly produced the first 15 pages of a movie script. Armed with a map that purports to show the position of an island with a rich treasure, Carl plans to make his film there and also find the treasure. He has tricked Jack into coming so that the hapless playwright write can complete the script. Of course, as we expect in such films, Jack and Ann are attracted to each other.

Also aboard is Capt. Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann), the skipper who often reluctantly goes along with Jack’s desires. First mate Hayes (Evan Parke) is a kindly African-American who has taken under his wing the orphaned Jimmy (Jamie Bell), who longs to be the kind of hero he is reading about in the Conrad novel Heart of Darkness. He might not wish for adventure so much if he had known what lies in store for them all. Also aboard is actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), who will play the hero opposite Ann, plus an assortment of others, most of whom will not make it to the end of the story.

For some the leisurely pace of the first hour will be hard to sit through, though it serves well to build up the characters and prepare us for the breath-taking, almost non-stop action sequences to come. The ship is almost lost in the midst of a storm that threatens to dash it against the rocks and crags of Skull Island’s shore. And then, when the next day they land and go ashore, there quickly follows the confrontation with the natives, and their kidnapping of Ann and offering her to the mysterious beast who lives on the other side of the huge timber wall that they have built, splitting the island in two.

When Kong arrives and seizes Ann, who is tied to two posts, she emits the customary screams of the about to be ravaged maiden, but when the huge gorilla wards off various creatures as frightening as he, she realizes that he is protecting her. To distract his mind she does what she has been trained to do, launching into her vaudeville act, complete with juggling, dancing, and taking pratfalls. This amuses the big fellow, especially the pratfalls, which he even enters into by pushing her or snatching away her makeshift cane. There are a series of horrific fights between Kong and some of the flesh-eating dinosaurs, in one instance fought from vines that barely prevent the heavy combatants from falling further into a deep crevice. In the meantime, a group headed by Jack has set out to rescue Ann from what they presume is a hostile monster intent on doing her harm. Along the way they face far more terrifying perils than even Ann does, and Jimmy gets more than he bargained for in his quest to prove his manhood.

This is not a film for children, with its raging dinosaurs, giant flesh-sucking leeches, and myriads of bats and other loathsomely hostile creatures. Some of the action scenes are allowed to go on too long, most notably the brontosaurus stampede (which is not entirely believable). For youth and adults, however, Mr. Jackson has served up an exciting film that viewers will want to revisit many times. Especially touching is a scene, repeated later in New York, in which Kong sits atop a cliff watching a splendid sunrise. Ann, realizing now that there is a soul capable of appreciating such beauty beneath her protector’s fiercely craggy brow, sits beside him, stroking one of his huge fingers. By the time this is repeated in New York, Kong has broken away from Carl’s lurid display of Kong in a Broadway Theater, and fled to the top of the Empire State Building. Just before his pursuers find and close in on him, he and Ann again contemplate the glory of the rising sun. If you do not have a lump in your throat by this time, you shouldn’t be going to the movies.

For Reflection/Discussion

1) Which character do you like the most? The least? Why?

2) What do you think of the director’s decision to set the film back in the 1930s, rather than to “update it,” as in the 1976 version?

3) What “inner beauty” (See 1 Peter 3:3-4) do you see in both Kong and Ann? How is the inability of others to see this in Kong part of the story’s tragedy? What TV commercials and magazines place extreme emphasis upon outward beauty? How is this worship of the exterior even reflected in news broadcasts?

4) How is Carl an embodiment of Genesis 11:4 and Proverbs 28:25? What does his greed result in?

5) What is young Jimmy’s greatest desire? What book is he reading? How does Conrad’s book relate to his life? What “Heart of Darkness” has the greedy Carl led his troupe into?

6) Note the departure from the previous two films: does Ann participate in Carl’s exploitive Broadway show? Where is she when Kong breaks lose?

7) As the airplanes attack Kong, where do our sympathies lie? How is this a reversal of the usual—aren’t these our pilots, the heroes of so many war films, then and now?

8) How is Ann closer to the inclusivity exhibited by Jesus, as compared to society’s “us” versus” them/it”? Beyond its thrill factor, what does the film offer in regard to our attitude toward or relationship with those who are different, even “beastly”?