King Kong (2005) is the most affectionate remake I’ve ever seen. After the immense success of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, everyone wondered what Oscar winning director Peter Jackson would do next. I don’t think anyone was expecting the third remake of a 1933 classic. As I said in my King Kong (1976) review, the rights were split between two seperate studios. Universal first approached Jackson with a Creature from the Black Lagoon remake in the 90’s, but changed their strategy when they learned King Kong (1933) was his favorite movie of all time. Even as a child Jackson had nothing but sympathy for the big ape. Skull Island is actually referenced in his movie Braindead.
When Godzilla (1998) failed and other ape remakes started to come out, production was halted. Until The Return of the King made Jackson the most bankable director in Hollywood. King Kong (2005) is a rare passionate remake made with nothing but love and respect for the original. All Jackson did was give it the same level of dedication he did with The Lord of the Rings. Detail in every frame, breathtaking special effects, three-dimensional characters, and a lengthy 3 hour & 21 minute runtime. King Kong (2005) was a major obsession for my brother and I growing up. After our mom showed us the original, the three us saw the remake in theaters and fell in love with it. I had a Kong doll, a Skull Island field guide, and my brother was especially obsessed with completing the official tie-in video game…
King Kong (2005) is part homage, part epic. Only Peter Jackson could take an hour and a half film and make it three hours. Even though there are several new additions that could’ve been trimmed down or removed, I can safely say I was never bored. The perfect three-act structure is maintained with each act being roughly an hour long. That means more than an hour until we finally get a glimpse of Kong. In the meantime, an almost excessive amount of time is spent in New York and on a very long boat ride. Unlike the 1976 remake, King Kong (2005) is a period piece set in 1933 like the original. Basic ideas are either elaborated upon or given added depth. Ann Darrow is now a struggling vaudeville actress who falls on hard times during the Great Depression. Naomi Watts looks the part of the classic beautiful blonde woman, but Ann is more than just a pretty face. Her motivation for accepting a movie role is much more understandable.
Carl Denham has the same passionate motivation to complete his picture on Skull Island, but his recklessness gets him blacklisted and nearly arrested. Casting singer/comedian Jack Black as the iconic 1930’s director is one of the most bizzare casting choices of all time. Most of the time I can accept his Orson Welles-esque performance, but other times it feels like he could go full School of Rock any minute. Denham hires Ann with the promise that she’ll meet her favorite playwright. Rather than a strapping first mate action hero, Jack Driscoll is now an average screenwriter forced to stay on the Venture. Adrien Brody is more than capable of playing the charming love interest and the unlikely hero. The Venture is full of mystery and a crew with far more characterization.
Captain Englehorn is now a nonsense hands on German ship captain played by Thomas Kretschmann. Colin Hanks plays Carl’s undervalued personal assistant Preston. Jamie Bell is given an entire subplot as a troublemaking teenager named Jimmy who wants to prove himself. Evan Parke plays his African American mentor Hayes who has World War I training. Andy Serkis does double duty by physically playing the crusty ship’s cook Lumpy. Lord of the Rings composer Howard Shore originally returned before he was replaced by James Newton Howard. The role of strapping action hero is literally filled by Kyle Chandler as famous actor Bruce Baxter. Some of the more sexist dialogue from the original is cleverly worked into the remake as a scene in Denham’s picture. Jack has nothing but respect for Ann as he writes her a play and they fall in love. When they finally reach Skull Island, Englehorn is adamant about turning back.
Denham leads a small crew through what appears to be the ruins of a lost civilization. The always necessary island natives are a no win situation no matter the interpretation. These natives are much more tribal and savage. Their skin is dark brown, but each native is actually portrayed by a variety of non-white ethnicities. They kill crew members before returning to capture Ann. Her sacrifice is grander with a complex bridge extending from their great wall. Kong is at first veiled in shadow, but his first full appearance doesn’t disappoint. Kong is often labeled a monster due to his burly upright appearance. Jackson instead made the creative decision to focus on a Kong that was essentially a massive 25 foot tall silverback gorilla. This Kong is still a little monstrous with black fur, sharp teeth, and many battle scars. My very in-depth Skull Island field guide explains Kong’s origin as a 100 year old Megaprimatus who is the last of his kind.
This is by far the most sympathetic King Kong ever put to film. His relationship with Ann is more than mere infatuation. Ann screams at first, but they come to form a deep mutual understanding. She even surprisingly makes him laugh by performing her vaudeville routine. Kong’s lifelike ape mannerisms are thanks to the always brilliant stop-motion work of Andy Serkis. After Gollum, Serkis was sure to bring just as much dedication to even the most subtle gorilla movements. The CGI is absolutely stunning on Kong, Skull Island, and a 1930’s New York. It’s part of the reason King Kong (2005) was the most expensive movie made at the time. Just as much detail is given to the dinosaurs that inhabit Skull Island. Each with a fictional name like Vastatosaurus rex that separates it a bit from something like Jurassic Park.
The only iffy effect is a herd of stampeding Brontosaurus baxteri that Denham and his crew are somehow able to survive. They’re also chased by raptor-like Venatosaurus saevidicus. Other terrifying creatures like the Piranhadon didn’t make the final cut. What did make the final cut was a scene that was originally intended for the 1933 original. After Kong overturns a log with the crew, they fall into a disturbing pit full of giant insects. The Carnictis worm thing that eats Lumpy is particularly icky. King Kong (2005) doesn’t recreate everything, but the fight between Kong and a T-Rex was an absolute must. The primal fight is increased big time with not one, not two, but three V. Rexes against Kong. It’s a truly exciting match that sees Kong juggle Ann from his hands to his feet in a desperate attempt to fend of the beasts. Each are killed one by one until Kong breaks the last ones jaw just like the original. Concluding with a satisfying chest pound.
Ann willingly stays with Kong and even teaches him the sign for beautiful. She’s still rescued by Jack when Kong is distracted by attacking rat-bats called Terapusmordax. Although I still wouldn’t label him a villain, Denham does begin to make rash decisions when his camera is destroyed. He lures Kong to the wall where the natives are nowhere to be seen. Not that Kong doesn’t kill a few of the attacking crewmembers. When stunned by chloroform, Denham makes his classic declaration to put “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!” on broadway. The New York show has all the familiar beats of Denham making a statement, Kong chained up on stage, and everyone in town coming to see it. Since Ann feels for Kong, she doesn’t take part in the show. A stage number pays homage to the dancing natives, but Kong breaking loose is now caused by another actress playing Ann. Kong rampages through the city with most of his anger focused on Jack. Kong does grab blonde women that look like Ann, but he drops them from a safer distance.
Unlike any other interpretation, Ann walks directly to Kong and they enjoy a moment together before the military arrives. Kong makes his way to an epic climax atop the Empire State Building. The sequence honors the original by having Peter Jackson cameo as an airplane pilot. The fight is both thrilling and emotional. Much like the V. Rex battle, Kong manages to take out three airplanes instead of one. Ann desperately pleading for them to stop and Kong falling to his death makes me cry everytime. In fact, Jackson loves Kong so much that he created an alternate ending where he survives just for the video game. Unfortunately, Kong meets his iconic fate and Denham delivers his final line that “It wasn’t the airplanes, It was Beauty killed the Beast.” Something Fay Wray nearly said before passing away. Although not the same kind of Academy Awards favorite as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Kong (2005) nevertheless won 3 Oscars. Best Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and of course Visual Effects. King Kong (2005) is a larger than life companion piece that appreciates cinematic history.
Remake of: King Kong (1933)