King Kong raises the bar on filmmaking. Review by Violet Kane

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In many ways, it's nothing we haven't seen from Peter Jackson before: gorgeous special effects, character grounded storytelling... But we all figured that Lord of the Rings was a special case, right? It turns out that Peter Jackson has handcrafted the new gold standard in epic filmmaking.

Jackson's King Kong opens in beautifully detailed Depression-era New York City. Vaudeville actress Anne Darrow is so literally starving that she steals an apple from a street vendor rather than take up work at burlesque show. However, when she meets a conniving movie director so bent on making his film that he has stolen his latest reels from the studio, she cannot resist his charm—or his offer to shoot a picture on location from a script penned by her favorite playwright. They narrowly escape the police—called by the studio to retrieve the stolen reels—on a dirty steamship ordinarily used for live capture of exotic animals for zoos and carnivals. The first hour of the movie follows the tension among the characters on the boat: the lies of the filmmaker, the preening of the lead actor, the budding romance between Darrow and her much beloved playwright. This Hollywood escape soon, however, comes to a jarring halt. When they arrive on an uncharted island, they set out to film on the ruins of what seems to be an abandoned civilization, only to be attacked by the multitudes of an earthy native tribe, who nearly seep out of the cracks between the stones. After a seemingly narrow escape, the lithe tribesmen swipe Darrow from off the boat and drag her back for a ritual of fire. She is an offering to the true ruler of the island: King Kong. Kidnapped by the giant primate, Darrow is spirited out into the jungle. Her playwright love and the film crew go back in after her, some intent on her rescue, others more interested in capturing the excitement and oddities of the island on film.

This film is so diverse in its imagery and emotion, that I hardly believed I was watching the same film by the end of it. The mood and characters evolve in ways—which are perhaps not surprising—but that transport the audience both visually and emotionally to the Empire State climax. The characters in this film are not the most wildly complex, but the film ultimately runs on their power. Jackson's direction brings likeability, accessibility and earnestness to a cast of characters that might have been stale standards in someone else's hands. Kong is perhaps the most fascinating character portrayal. Manned by the facial and physical acting of Andy Serkis (who also plays, in his own bodily form, a cock-eyed chef aboard the steamboat) and the loving special effects of Jackson's Weta Workshop, Kong is characterized in gestures and roars with a subtlety that will surprise you. Again, a sympathetic Kong is not a surprising choice, but Jackson's Kong boasts complexity. His devotion to Darrow—part guard dog, part loving husband—is complicated by his animal destructiveness. Kong's moral ambiguity serves ultimately as an ambiguous answer to the question of his human versus animal nature—a thematic arch mirrored in the savage ambitions of the humans who seek to exploit him and his jungle home. Many of the jungle scenes are special effects masterpieces. They are at their best when grounded in character motivation, such as the scene where Kong battles three T-Rex-like creatures to save Darrow. But the "creature feature" in this film is often overdone. Where Jackson previously had Tolkien's text to keep his mythical creature creation to a happy medium, he goes a little wild here in many scenes, sending wave after wave of CGI beasts after our human heroes. The slimy-bugs-in-the-pit scene is perhaps the worst offender of special effects for the sake of special effects, making for a preposterous confrontation. But after this scene, the film gets back on track, and the emotional resonance built up by the preceding two hours mounts toward the infamous conclusion.

While I would have preferred that Jackson spent a little less time on the CGI beast action scenes, I am very grateful that a speculative fiction film director is willing to take the time of character development and scenes that serve emotional, not just physical, drama.

Violet "Violanthe" Kane is the Webmaster and Founder of She is an editor of ARWZ Literary Zine and is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Medieval studies.

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