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At once maddening and gloriously free and honorous of a mythical Hollywood past that may or may not have roots in reality, Peter Jackson’s virtuoso remake of the 1933 classic “King Kong” offers everything for a movie-lover to love (and everything for a curmudgeon to hate).

Call me amiss, but I must cop to having never seen any of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films. (I find cast-of-thousands spectaculars distasteful.) But with “King Kong,” it seems, Jackson has found a way to keep his megalithic special-effects machine working full time whilst paying close attention to a simple plotline (albeit one written for him almost 80 years ago). The resultant film is everything one would expect from a $207 million budget.

The good news is that the story remains intact. The bad news is that the FX, skillful as they are, remain obtrusive, overwhelming and ultimately distracting. Then again, in a movie about star entertainment attraction — an oversized ape — unobtrusive FX would probably be deemed a failure as well.

In this case, Jackson, remaking a movie he says shaped his childhood and his desire to become a filmmaker, has found about as perfect a balance as any modern director could hope to reach. The hard thing to get around is that Jackson’s glittering Manhattan of the 1930s is envisioned (and then filmed) through 21st century eyes. The result is a curious bl/files/storyimages/of nostalgia and high technology, which, while never less than satisfying, remains always a bit unnatural and disorienting.

The plot should be well known to most readers. Maverick impresario/filmmaker Carl Denham manages to wrangle together a cast and crew to finish filming a movie on uncharted Skull Island and comes away with much more than expected. In addition to dinosaurs and massive insect populations, there is an enormous simian worshipped by the locals. The 25-foot-tall ape is captured and dragged back to Manhattan, eventually falling in love with Denham’s leading lady Ann Darrow, and his infatuation leads to his downfall.

As Denham, Jack Black is masterfully cast, his essential obnoxiousness and egomania working here in his favor. Adrien Brody as writer Jack Driscoll seems to be slumming, while Naomi Watts in the Fay Wray role gives her all and turns in a performance that goes a long way toward humanizing the CGI-animated gorilla and imbuing him with a sympathetic aspect.

It becomes obvious that Kong is not trying to abduct Ann, he is trying to protect her from the barbarous humans they are beset with on all sides.

What Jackson has over the makers of the original film, Merian Cooper and animator Willis O’Brien (let’s not mention the Jeff Bridges-Jessica Lange version here), comes via two powerful weapons: a cast that is superior in every way to the original cast; and a most sophisticated sense of how to integrate high-tech visuals into an ostensibly old-fashioned story.

And by the time he is finished, Jackson has made it look like the endeavor was effortless. The director demonstrates an ease and a mastery that is rare, associated most recently with Spielberg and Sinatra. Three hours plus may be a bit long for a meditation on the exploitative nature of showbiz, but this version of “Kong” does it with considerable style.

BY PAUL KOPASZ
[email protected]

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