Reviews

King Kong: Special Edition

4

There's a funny sequence during the post-production diaries on this two-disc set, where an array of Peter Jackson interviews are spliced together so you can see just how often he's told the same anecdote:

"I sobbed when I saw the first film. I was nine years old."

"It's stuck in my head ever since I saw it on TV when I was nine years old."

"I can relate back to when I was a nine-year-old seeing it."

"I saw the original when I was nine, and I cried..."

Ah, the joys of the press junket. No matter how many times you're asked the same question, you're contractually obliged to reply with enthusiasm. Lounge senses this is a bit easier for Jackson. Has a director ever been more in love with his source material? After all, not only did he cry when he first saw Kong on TV, he then tried to remake the whole thing with a Super-8 camera when he was 12. On that occasion, he admits, with mixed results. Several million dollars of Rings receipts later and he gets another crack at it...

The new version, even on the small screen, does two things particularly well: it flushes away the bitter taste left by the shabby 1976 rehash and applies modernised, more rounded meat to the 1933 skeleton.

The former is achieved easily enough - by reversing Dino De Laurentiis' ropier decisions. Set it in contemporary times? Swap the Empire State for another skyscraper? Allude to sex ("There is a girl out there who might be running for her life from some gigantic, turned-on ape")? All, smartly, stripped away.

Jackson's Kong tilts more towards special effects and careful finessing of the original characters. Denham's crazed zeal has a touch of the young Orson Welles. Driscoll is a writer rather than an 'adventurer' - which adds bite to his subsequent conversion to action hero. Ann Darrow, although still a damsel in distress, now has added heart because she's almost hit rock bottom (well, contemplated stripping) and is all too familiar with loved ones leaving. Most tellingly, Kong himself is a far more sympathetic character; more organic and authentic than previous bloke-in-a-suit versions - thanks to Andy Serkis and the technical might of Weta (effects have come a long way in the last 70 years). All of which adds aching - if sentimental - pathos to proceedings. The drawn-out climax is now even more of a tear-jerker. And yet...

If there's a 'but' (and there is), it's that all the enthusiasm, love and technology in the world can't eclipse one crucial fact: it's a remake. A homage, a tribute, an update, a re-imagining - call it what you will. Fact is, it's been done before and you can't bottle lightning twice - at least not with the flash of the original. The times create the phenomenon. It's why Oasis could never 'be' The Beatles or no actress the new Marilyn. For all its stop-motion limitations, the original Kong played out before the Depression-era masses - an audience fearful that poverty was not a slump but a permanent deal. It was the way things were going to be from now on. "But wait," said the makers of Kong. "Your world might be grey and hopeless, but there are places out there that you didn't even know existed. And creatures you could never have imagined. And spectacle you wouldn't have believed possible." It was wide-eyed, exuberant and irrepressible - just the hot ticket for an age desperate for diversion.

It's hard to imagine any film having the same impact, or resonance, in the jaded old noughties. Jackson seems aware of this, which may be why his version tries to signpost some 'big themes' - doomed love, our instinctive reaction to beauty (and turning it into a commodity), art vs commerce... They're all lurking in the mix, but perhaps a tad too muddled or muted to really sing. But the action around them is so impossibly vast and entertaining, it seems churlish to quibble (or to point out that the film is at least 20 minutes too long).


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