Last night, as I was preparing to head home, my cell phone rang with a recorded message offering me a chance for me and a friend to preview Peter Jackson's "King Kong" on Monday. While I have noticed the various photos, I did not pay as much attention to the movie as I often do. I knew about his blog, production and post-production diaries (and had just been looking at them the day before) - but I was assuming another high-end remake with CGI and Naomi Watts. Boy, was I right - and wrong!
Standing on line for an hour in the cold was a bear - and from my quick assessment, since we were not allowed cell-phones or any electronic devices in the theater, I was one of the last into the theater to make the showing time. From my conversation with the people around me, the screening was one of the first showing for National Board of Review and other press - which allowed a few of the pubvlic to come in.
As the screen showed the Universal logo, and converted to Jackson's stylized title font - the move was incredibly engaging. At three hours, I was concerned I would be bored at some point. But I can happily say - it was an incredible experience.
We open onto Depression-era New York City and meet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) in her vaudeville job - showing a physicality that I never would have expected from her. The visuals are stunning - I was amazed at how well the cinematography was done and the "set design" made me feel like we were in Depression-era New York. The closest I have seen to something this meticulous was the effort Cameron did for Titanic. I challenge people who grew up in that era to tell me they do not have a sense of deja vu. Kudos to the costumers and casting staff as well.
We are then introed to Carl Denham (Jack Black), an entrepreneur and movie producer with a drive and scheming I throughly enjoyed. He has one of the best lines in the movie - "...I am someone you can trust, I am a movie producer" (the NBR and press laughed noticeably). He and his assistant Preston (Colin Hanks) put together the trip for his upcoming movie. There is a terrific homage to the 1938 King Kong with a reference to searching for an actress who was "size 4" - with a throw-away line "think Fay Ray is available? Think she is doing something for RKO..."
The plot you know - and you are waiting for the entire group to get to Skull Island - with tons of literary references and some incredible cinematography for the ship, Skull Island, the jungle - all was incredible. While it takes us almost 90 minutes to finally see Kong, it never felt that way. The pace was exceptional - always engaging - frequently exciting - and even when there were "establishing scenes" (telling the story of a rescued survivor from Skull Island), all felt appropriate. And when Ann finally meets Kong (a CGIed Andy Serkis), it was virtually impossible to see the CGI or to not feel the reality of the "event".
While there was excitement in the first half, it does not compare to life in the jungle - and the pursuit into the heart of darkness that the Wall represents. There are a couple of incredulous moments (watching Naomi in one scene had me wondering, "wha?" - but understood the logic of the moment), it was unbelievably engrossing. Then, after Kong is captured, we find ourself in New York - and at the premiere of Kong at the Alhambra. It is an astounding feat of CGI - and I felt the terror that everyone else feels in the theater. And, with the understood ending does not save you from the emotional impact that Naomi and Kong have - all without words. I was completely moved and impacted by such the intensity of the scenes.
See it. Very simple to say, incredibly hard to do in the coming weeks when the theaters will be backed up around the corner and you will be in packed theaters for the coming Xmas weeks. But, after 3 hours, it is quite worth the effort.
P.S. Oh, and who is that in the gunners seat of one of the planes? Could that be Mr. Jackson himself?
Tags: King Kong Peter Jackson