King Kong

One of the best movies of the year.

Is Peter "Lord-of-the-Rings" Jackson's King Kong too long? Yes, by a half hour at least. Are its special effects the best in the history of cinema? Yes, by most standards. Is it one of the best films of the year? Yes, by any standard.

Jackson has humanized Kong and Ann Darrow way beyond the original, changing their relationship to a love you might feel for the best pet you have ever had, the pet who, as in my children's case, saved them more than once from danger. The unusual intelligence Naomi Watts gives to the role, which reveals an understanding of the beast's gentle, loving side and Andy Sirkis's proud-eyed, almost regal Kong bring a humanity to their roles that could be reserved only for gods. That they are both outsiders cements the bond, which is far from the original's Freudean, Darwinian implications.

The sub-textual commentary on, for instance, racism, sexism, and media exploitation is marvelously woven into an old-fashioned adventure story. The three hours is comfortable because the story is inherently interesting: adventurers on a quest to an unknown island of dinosaurs and savages, bringing back a 25 foot gorilla and the oddest love affair in cinema history.

The evocation of depression-era America, with an opening montage of Hoovervilles and starving families, is breathtakingly realistic as is the feel and look of New York in 1933. Although Jackson wastes too much time with the island creatures, he makes you want to see more of an era most of us never knew in the greatest town on earth.

I cannot ignore the fact that a crew member is reading one of my favorite stories of natural savagery and the modern version in its colonial trappings, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Jackson's literate allusion reminds us of hero Marlow's assessment of Manifest Destiny: "To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe."

Believable--Yes-- as is the haunting Kong face, with eyes expressing ineffable longing for loving connection, taking the evolution debate to an artistic high road and special effects to hitherto unseen excellence .

The last line expresses the essential irony of living and loving amidst good and evil: "It was beauty killed the beast."