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King Kong (2005)

From IMDb: “In 1933 New York, an overly ambitious movie producer coerces his cast and hired ship crew to travel to mysterious Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, a giant ape who is immediately smitten with leading lady Ann Darrow.”

I have a confession to make about this movie – I loved it right up until the point that they – the crew of The Venture – returned to New York City with the beast, King Kong. In fact, much of the entire movie was literally a perfect period adventure movie right up until then.

After that? It was just too much to sit through for more than 200 minutes.

The entire premise was extraordinary a remake of an already incredible film with new special effects and an all-star cast. A failing filmmaker Carl Denham (played brilliantly by Jack Black) comes up with the idea of making a pseudo-documentary at a mysterious location found on an obscure island that ‘time forgot’ an unexplored region of the world with its location kept on an enigmatic map. Our industrious scoundrel filmmaker Shanghai’s a few other characters for this project including Naomi Watts as “Ann Darrow,” the irresistible love interest to Adrian Brody’s “Jack Driscoll,” the hopeless romantic playwright.

After The Venture sails away from New York harbor, the suspense begins to build; when the crew start to uncover the destination of The Venture, the rest of the film troop and other members of the team become concerned because of the terror on the boat’s captain and crew concerns over the nature of their destination. We’re told that there’s a reason why boats don’t wander too far off the traditional trade routes in this region; most ships that wander too far away disappear. Ships that do return share stories of horrors beyond the imagination.

Skull Island turns out to be right out of every sailor’s depiction of hell. It’s surrounded by sharp outcroppings and thick fog while some mysterious force makes the compass impossible to use. Having risked sinking or running aground, the film crew leaves The Venture behind via rowboats and once they reach shore all the tension pays off.

What’s waiting for them at Skull Island is everything they said it was, and more. There are monsters and creatures more horrific and graphic than anyone (except the demented souls who created this film) could ever imagine. Off the top of my head, there are the giant parasite leeches that gobble men’s limbs and heads whole, crab-like spiders with the heads and abdomens that rival that of a man’s with legs that stretch out for almost a yard. Then there are the dinosaurs that rival those from Jurassic Park; what would dinosaurs look like today if they never died? How would they evolve? What would they look like?

Well, now we know.

This island seems totally inhospitable to human beings, but there are locals there who have survived and even thrived, …but their hospitality leaves a lot to be desired. These savages are exactly the kind of people you would expect to survive such a climate.

Surviving the entire island is an adventure worthy of an entire movie. The entire movie should have been getting to the island, making our discovery on the island and getting the footage needed, then trying to get off. It could have worked as a standalone film.

But what about the title character, King Kong? Did we forget about him?

The fact of the matter is until the beast gets to the city, Kong seems like a bit of an afterthought. When Kong actually shows up at the end of the film eventually feels like it’s too much, too late. We in the audience have already had our fill of adventure for the night and we’re a bit exhausted by the time the story returns to New York City.

This version of 1930’s New York City is a dream to look at, it’s the perfect idealized version we’ve always wanted to visit and might even want to live. Thanks to special effects and set design It’s simply beautiful with the traditional theaters, the art deco buildings, and other gothic settings. It’s almost a crime when we leave for Skull Island, and it’s almost a crime when we see it destroyed by Kong.

But isn’t that what we came to see? Didn’t we come to see King Kong go “ape-sh!t” on New York City? We get what we came for, Kong does go on a rampage and we see every aspect of the police and the National Guard throws everything at him. It takes us a while but we finally get there to the action.

We also go to the full range of emotion with Kong, his frustration of searching for Ann Darrow as he trashes Broadway and Times Square, his joyful reunion with her when they’re playing in Central Park, and his absolute panic as he races up The Empire State Building to meet his fate.

For folks who don’t know the story of King Kong and this is your first time seeing it (or the 1930’s original), you can’t help but wonder if the beast can escape and return home. For the rest of us, there’s the inevitability of what’s going to happen and it drags on a bit too long.

Just like everything else Peter Jackson has done with The Lord Of The Rings series, the action scenes in this movie are incredible and full of incredible detail and the realism draws the audience in like we’re really there. Not once do I ever feel over-stimulated like I did at the end of The Phantom Menace, there’s just enough realism and detail to keep me pulled in. The craftsmanship is never a problem with any of his films.

If there is any flaw in this movie and you haven’t figured it out yet – it’s obviously its length. There were too many times I was self-aware of myself, realizing that I was watching this movie and I needed some kind of break. Snack break, pee break, stretch break… or just a break from this movie altogether. It’s captivating but just not enough to hold my interest from beginning to end.