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Movie Review: "King Kong"

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As a member of the Directors Guild of America I sometimes get a chance to screen movies before their general release. Such was the occasion Sunday night, so I took my favorite 10-year-old (who had been DYING to see this movie) to see the latest remake of the 1933 classic "King Kong".

It's three hours and seven minutes long -- but don't let that scare you away, because this film is filled with wonders. And they're not all about the special effects, either, although those are terrific; perhaps the best I've ever seen.

In fact, at a certain point you'll sit there and say to yourself, "Enough CGI monsters for a while", because after all, this movie is above all a love story.

That's right, a love story, of the oddest kind, between the eponymous ape and the latest "Damsel in Distress", Ann Darrow, played wonderfully by Naomi Watts. If you saw Watts in Mulholland Dr., this is a very different role for her -- and she plays it to the hilt, at one point taking the vaudeville abilities we see her performing in the 1933 New York at the beginning of the film, and using them to -- well, to paraphrase Shakespeare, charm the savage beast.

The story takes a long time to be exposited, as we see a good long time of setup in New York -- which is just as much a CGI triumph as the monsters; Peter Jackson has created an entire world that both looks real and fairy-tale.

We are introduced to two-bit movie producer Carl Denham, played sort of incongrously by Jack Black -- I mean, seriously. You saw him in "School of Rock" and "Shallow Hal", right? It's a stretch of a role. He's not bad in it, but I wonder if someone else (Tom Hanks? His son Colin is in the film) would have done it more justice.

Anyway, Denham's film crew, one step ahead of the law, arranges the dangerous sea voyage to Skull Island, where we meet any sort of weird human beings, and monsters who range from dinosaurs (there's a stampede scene which is absolutely fabulous), to bugs, to bats, to sucking things that I can't even begin to describe...

... and Kong. If you have seen either of the previous two films, you know that Kong helps rescue Ann from other monsters, and while the men on the crew are escaping them, they try to kill or capture Kong, not knowing that they have charmed each other.

That sets up the return to New York, and the exhibiting of Kong as a theatrical stunt, upon which he escapes and begins smashing Manhattan to bits. It's left to Ann to try to save him and he to save her, and there's a scene the two play on a frozen pond in Central Park that struck me as one of the tenderest scenes I've ever seen in a movie.

The CGI is fantastic -- you've probably read about how actor Andy Serkis, who also plays a live-action role in the film as a member of the ship's crew, was hooked up with sensors, and his motions translated into Kong's -- much as Tom Hanks' were in last year's "The Polar Express", only here, not with cartoon animation, but with animation so realisting you swear you're watching reality. It's that good.

So is the movie -- the story meanders round and round, but you'll not have trouble following it. Ann's human love interest, played in a sweet way by Oscar winner Adrien Brody, is done well, and there are sneaky little homages to the 1933 film that you'll enjoy even if you just know it a little bit.

About taking a 10-year-old -- there are scenes of fairly intense action involving the monsters, and some cartoonish violence, but as long as the 10-year-old involved gets this (mine does), he or she will enjoy the movie, as long as he or she can sit still for three hours!

One nitpick -- the climactic scenes are set in a wintry New York, covered with snow and ice. Yet Ann Darrow spends an evening (and a spectacular sunrise scene) outdoors in nothing more than that white sleeveless dress that Fay Wray (who died, incidentally, only a little over a year ago, at 97 years of age) made famous -- without any outward signs of being cold.

Maybe Kong kept her warm.

Anyway, that is, as I said, a nitpick. Peter Jackson and his crew are going to get tons of Oscar nominations and win several for this masterpiece. Many classic films, particularly films as famous as the original "King Kong", either don't need to be remade or the remake (such as the 1976 remake) doesn't do it justice.

This time, they've done it right. A triumph. Don't miss it.

AYRating: * * * *