Yes. Believe the hype. It is that good. Peter Jackson's post-Lord of the Rings effort is spectacular in every sense of the word. Normally, I am troubled by the need for Hollywood to remake every great, and not so great, film. But, Jackson gets a pass for a number of reasons. First, Jackson credits King Kong for inspiring his desire to direct (Thank you, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack). Second, the original King Kong is not a great film, rather it is an important film. Consequently, with the technology available to today's filmmakers, I am certain Cooper and Schoedsack would heartily endorse a remake made with the best intentions.
Kong is Jackson's love letter to cinema and its ability to detail the exotic and the spectacular, yet capture the intimate. The familiar story follows a dedicated filmmaker, Carl Denham (an ironic and appropriately edgy Jack Black), and his reluctant crew to Skull Island to capture the great adventure story. The shooting schedule is thrown asunder when King Kong shows up on set and demands time with the leading lady. What follows is equal parts B-movie adventure and classic Hollywood love story. Naturally, the special effects are stunning, and suprisingly seamless (a couple parts stand-out as clearly acted in front of a blue screen). However, what drives the story is the tender relationship between Kong and Ann Darrow (the classy Naomi Watts). In the hands of a lesser director, the "love scenes" would be artificial and hookey (and we would be continually reminded that Darrow is falling in love with an Ape). Jackson does not insult the audience; he realizes that love develops organically and is demonstrated through subtle and innocent moments--we become transfixed with the grace of Kong and Darrow's human, and humane, relationship. It is truly a tragic love story.
All films about filmmaking possess varying degrees of self-reflexivity, but I was shocked by the level of this film's self-awareness. I wonder how much Jackson was in Carl Denham, a crazed director hellbent on getting the perfect shot. In one sequence, the on-screen screenwriter (Adrien Brody) remarks that Denham "always destroys what he most loves." Is this evidence of Jackson's existential struggle over remaking this influential masterpiece? There are many more narrative choices that suggest Jackson may have a somewhat tortured relationship with this production.
Kong is undoubtly the star of the show. Which, for me, begets the following question: is Kong an actor, a character that deserves the accolades reserved for the more human actors? With all due respect to the fine acting in both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Gollum and Kong are the most compelling characters in their respective films. But Kong, like Gollum, is not a pure CGI effect; rather, he is "played" by Andy Serkis. So, how do we evaluate these performances? In the age where the real and hyperreal are collapsing, do we neglect the artistic contributions of an actor who is the "skeleton" for these CGI characters? Are such performances judged the same as actors in costumes? I believe there is a difference because the techology used to create Kong and Gollum "records" facial expressions and other non-verbals, characteristics used to define great acting that are not available to those in costume. Will we ever see such performances receiving acting award nominations?
I have said enough. Obviously, there is a great deal more to speak about (the race question is unavoidable when it comes to Kong), but that shall be reserved for the comment section. Go see the movie. There is a great deal of talent on both sides of the camera.