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King Kong (PG-13)
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This is a 2005 big-budget remake of the 1933 movie of the same name. It was directed by Peter Jackson (the first major film after his hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy). It's got tons of amazing CGI and special effects, a decent story, good characters and great acting all around. I first started watching it in 2013, when I got it on a DVD set... the movie itself was split up onto two discs (with a runtime over 3 hours long). However, I didn't get to finish it, because the second disc turned out to be too scratched to play properly. So I didn't get to see the whole movie until 2019, when I got it on a single DVD.

It's set in 1933, during the Great Depression. There's a struggling Vaudevillian actress named Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). When the theater where she worked is shut down, she tries to get an audition for a play by her favorite playwright, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), but it's already been cast. Meanwhile, a film producer/director named Carl Denham (Jack Black) is seeking additional funding from his investors, but they're not happy with his latest work, and decide to cancel the movie he's been working on. So he and his assistant, Preston (Colin Hanks) steal the film reels he'd already shot, and make haste to depart on a steam ship (the Venture) that he'd hired to take him to his planned shooting location. His lead actor, Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), comes along, but the actress who was supposed to be in the film, Maureen McKenzie, quit. So, Denham has to find a last-minute replacement (one who will fit into McKenzie's wardrobe). He spots Darrow, and invites her to join the movie. She isn't interested, until she learns that the screenplay is being written by Jack Driscoll (who for some reason, is friends with Denham).

Denham tells everyone the ship is going to Singapore, but in fact he's recently obtained a map that supposedly shows (more or less) where to find an uncharted island called Skull Island. When they find it, they believe it was home to a long-dead civilization, but it soon turns out the natives are very much alive. (Maybe Denham thought the place looked like no one had lived there in centuries because the natives have roughly the same decorative sense as Reavers.) Anyway, most of those who had gone ashore manage to get back to the ship, but the natives later kidnap Ann and sacrifice her to Kong, a 25-foot-tall CGI gorilla (motion-capture portrayal by Andy Serkis). By then, Jack had fallen in love with Ann, I guess, and insisted on going back to rescue her. So some of the ship's crew as well as the people making the movie start tracking her down. Along the way, they'll run into trouble from dinosaurs and giant insects and whatnot.

Meanwhile, Ann was of course terrified while Kong was running through the jungle, holding her in one hand. But eventually she entertains him with her Vaudevillian routine. Because of course she does. And he then becomes her protector, when other island creatures attack her. Like, you really gotta see Kong fighting off multiple T-Rexes. (At least that's what they looked like to me, but apparently they were actually V-rexes.) Anyway... Jack eventually finds Ann and takes her back to the ship, but Kong pursues them... and falls into a trap laid by Carl and the crew to capture him (using chloroform) and take him back to New York and put on display. Ann is very upset about that, and gets a job elsewhere. (The film Carl was making never got completed.) And I guess I don't want to reveal what happens next, but you probably have a decent idea already, whether you've ever seen any version of "King Kong" or not. (It's pretty hard to not have seen either clips from the end of the original movie or reenactments/parodies of the last scene, scattered throughout decades of pop culture.) I do want to say, though, Carl has an iconic line at the end of the movie (pretty much the same line that ends the original movie), so I knew it was coming. And before he even said it, I just wanted to shout at him, "No, you asshole, it was the fucking airplanes. And if any one person was responsible, it was you, dammit."

Sigh. Anyway... I suppose I should mention a few more characters. The captain of the Venture is named Englehorn. The first mate is Benjamin Hayes, and he's probably my favorite character in the movie. Hayes is a mentor to a younger member of the crew named Jimmy, who is given a bit of backstory... and I really felt like Jimmy should have been more important to the story than he was. I mean, it seemed to me like the writers were setting up some kind of personal arc for him, some kind of destiny or whatever, and then... nothing like that ever happened. Other than them, I think the only other crew member of any importance was Lumpy (who was played by Andy Serkis). There were also some members of Denham's film crew, but they're not really very important. So... what else can I say? There's some decent humor and drama and action in the movie, but the main attraction is the visual effects. I did think all the actors did a really good job, but I do feel like the story would be better served by giving a little more time to fully developing something akin to a real friendship between Ann and Kong. That should be the centerpiece of the story. (And considering how often people like to refer to the story as a "romance," I also feel like it should be made clear that that's not what this is... in my mind, not even symbolically or figuratively.) Honestly, I think this is more like a story about the evils of hunting wild animals to put them on display for humans' entertainment. And, you know, having one character who tries to stop that. But whatever, I'm overthinking it, I guess. (It's not like I want the movie to be "Free Willy," or anything.) Anyway, this is a fun movie.


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