Starring: Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black and Andy Serkis
Opens: Wednesday, December 14
In Peter Jackson's breathtaking remake of "King Kong," a roaring, three-hour, US$200 million movie featuring stampeding dinosaurs, man-eating centipedes and a giant ape able to leap tall buildings, the most striking scene is also one of the quietest.
An exhausted King Kong sits on the ledge of a cliff over Skull Island, looking out at a rainbow sunset, after fighting off a horde of marauding monsters and carrying cute vaudeville actress Ann Darrow to safety.
Darrow (Naomi Watts), eager to show her gratitude, cheers up Kong with a juggling and dancing routine. The 25-foot-tall silverback gorilla opens one of his gigantic paws, Darrow nestles inside, and from that point on it's nothing but goo-goo eyes between beauty and the beast.
Jackson never loses sight of the story's primal emotional pull, even amid the blizzard of digitally created skyscrapers, jungles and creepy creatures. That's why "King Kong" far surpasses recent high-tech spectacles such as the latest "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" movies, which are so busy showing off their special effects that they forget to tell a coherent or involving story.
The new "King Kong" is far different from the campy 1933 original with Fay Wray and the misguided 1976 version with Jessica Lange, which updated the story from the Depression to contemporary times and switched the climactic scene from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center.
Jackson brings greater detail and complexity to the story about a struggling filmmaker named Carl Denham (Jack Black) who hornswoggles his cast and crew into a voyage to mysterious Skull Island, where they discover a warrior tribe wearing what appear to be scary Halloween masks. The natives share the island not only with Kong but an assortment of dinosaurs and ferocious beasts who try to turn their visitors into a scrumptious buffet.
While Kong comes to Darrow's rescue, others are forced to fend for themselves, including playwright Jack Driscoll (a buff Adrien Brody), who is slumming it as a potboiler screenwriter. Brody and Kong both have a crush on Darrow, creating a cross- species love triangle not mentioned in any of Darwin's writings.
Sliding in Central Park
Kong's thrilling life-or-death battles with the dinosaurs include a marathon match with a T-Rex in which the ape comes across as a combination of Hulk Hogan, Superman and the Terminator. The gory stuff is nicely complemented by tender scenes of Kong and Darrow frolicking on a frozen pond in Central Park and cuddling on top of the Empire State Building as fighter planes try to slay the escaped ape.
Watts is enchanting as the damsel in distress, and Black is adroitly comical as the filmmaker. Brody, who was rail-thin in his Oscar-winning role as "The Pianist," seems miscast as a romantic lead even though he apparently took a crash course in bodybuilding for the role.
Kong's character is a combination of computer graphics and the human expressions of actor Andy Serkis, who was used in a similar fashion as Gollum in Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. Technology and humanity, often at odds in the real world, mesh beautifully here.
"King Kong" opens Wednesday in Taiwan.