2005 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

The 1933 classic is reborn in a stupendous remake by Peter "Lord of the Rings" Jackson. Naomi Watts shines as the actress bound in an emotional bond with the doomed great ape. But it's action - the non-stop physical wizardry is possibly the best ever committed to celluloid - that really grips. A rare thing - an action movie that breaks the heart, dazzles the eye (with Oscar-winning visual effects) and engages the mind.

Director

  • Peter Jackson

Cast

  • Naomi Watts

  • Adrien Brody

  • Jack Black

  • Jamie Bell

  • Thomas Kretschmann

  • Andy Serkis

  • Kyle Chandler

Review

Most nine-year-olds know what they want to do when they grow up. Fly a plane, be a train driver or - at a push - join the police.

Peter Jackson wanted to remake King Kong.

Now the Lord of the Rings director has had his chance...and he's grabbed it with both hands, twirled it around his head and delivered the most adrenalin-fuelled escapist fantasy you're ever likely to see.

Crammed with more spectacle than the entire Vision Express chain, this version - seventy-odd years after the 1933 original - teems with marauding dinosaurs, vicious flesh-tearing insects and Kong himself, a giant gorilla as vulnerable as he is fearsome.

What sets this apart from the workaday blockbuster is the taut emotional strand - the touching relationship between Naomi Watt's sad wannabe starlet and the persecuted mega-simian - that runs through it like a steel cable.

We first meet out-of-work actress Ann Darrow (Watts) in depression era New York where she's caught the eye of dodgy film director Carl Denham (Black).

He persuades her to appear in his latest movie - a travelogue-come-action picture - set aboard the rusting tramp steamer SS Venture while it chugs to Singapore.

Joining her is Denham, up-and-coming playwright Jack Driscoll (Brody), captain Englehorn (Kretschmann) and feral cabin boy Jimmy (Jamie Bell).

What they don't know is that Denham has possession of an ancient map and persuades Englehorn to reluctantly change course for the mysterious Skull Island, home to a lost race of natives.

Hauled onto rocks by a seemingly supernatural mist, Ann is captured from her cabin by the primeval islanders and offered as a sacrifice to... King Kong.

From here on in Jackson eases up on the dramatic scene-setting and unleashes a CGI tornado of special effects - more than the entire LOTR trilogy - as Driscoll leads the crewmen inland in search of Ann (by this time suffering severe whiplash).

Cower as Kong does battle with a trio of writhing T-Rexes that each make the monsters of Jurassic Park look like something wallowing pitifully at Whipsnade Zoo.

Squirm as cockroaches the size of dustbins swarm over poor Adrien Brody (possibly because they caught his performance in The Village) and a carnivorous maggot gets a taste for chef.

Cackle as lily-livered B-movie star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) comes good and Black's crooked smile hints that this is a film-maker you might be unwise to trust with your holiday snaps.

And fill up as Kong reveals his soft side after an impromptu Chaplinesque vaudeville routine from Ann and - rather than be repellled - she comes to look upon him as her protector.

It would have been all too easy to get the relationship between ape and actress terribly wrong... but - thanks to Watts' understated performance and the motion-capture work of Andy Serkis as Kong - it really works.

In fact, it all works - bar a few, minor CGI gripes - because Jackson is a director with the organisational skills of a field marshall and the unshakeable belief that characters have to be more than cut-outs while the narrative must strike emotional chords.

It's a breath-sappingly stunning achievement that signs off with the iconic scene atop the Empire State Building beautifully re-realised for a new generation of cinema-goers.

You'd be bananas to miss it.