Directed by Peter Jackson
187 minutes (PG-13 rating)
by Kevin Miller
Let me address the obvious criticism first:
Was this movie an over the top, overly long, self-indulgent
piece of filmmaking?
You bet it was. And thank God for that. After all, this is
a story about a 25-foot gorilla that winds up on top of the
Empire State Building batting planes out of the air. This
is no time for restraint.
doubters will complain that some scenes, such as when Kong
fights three dinosaurs while
falling through a web of vines, go on for too long. But
that only shows lack of appreciation for the sheer breadth
and industry required to create such moments. As for me,
about midway through the cavalcade of brontosaurs and humans,
I wanted to stand up and cheer. King Kong is the blockbuster
of all blockbusters. It’s the reason why megaplexes
exist. It’s Hollywood at its best. It’s all
systems go. It’s $207 million well spent. And I loved
made me love this film even more was the depth of insight
and emotion Jackson managed to extract
from his source material.
Like Jackson, I’ve been a huge fan of King Kong ever
since I was a kid. I even stayed home from a family camping
one summer so I could catch the 1976 remake on TV. Despite
my fascination, I never really thought of Kong as anything
but a cool, effects-driven monster flick. However, in Jackson’s
hands, King Kong becomes a powerful parable about our schizophrenic
relationship with the environment, a dire warning that we
ignore at our peril.
The parable begins when filmmaker Carl Denham—played
with delightful panache by Jack Black—speaks boldly
and eloquently of his desire to “view the beast unshackled” in
the wilderness, something only a few brave souls like him
are willing to do. But after a brief, firsthand taste of
Kong and Skull Island’s other monstrous, unshackled
inhabitants, Denham’s romantic ideals are quickly scuttled
by the drive to survive, subdue, and, perhaps, to profit.
Meanwhile, Anne Darrow, the woman offered
up to Kong by the terrifying natives of Skull Island, begins
the strangest case of Stockholm syndrome you’ve ever
seen. And who can blame her? The blustering, bellowing ape
is irresistible. A triumph of animation and characterization,
to see Kong is to love him. Whether he’s ripping dinosaurs
in two, beating his chest in triumph or taking time out to
enjoy the sunset, Kong is truly a king among beasts. Despite
his ferocity, Darrow is uniquely able to appreciate him as
Sadly, Denham and his companions are not
similarly gifted. Rather than respond to Kong with the
awe and respect he deserves,
they seek only to subdue him, to tame him, to kill him if
they must. That they are able to bring him down at all is
truly a triumph of Man over Nature. But for some reason,
this accomplishment evokes little urge to celebrate. “We’re
millionaires, boys,” says Denham as he stands over
Kong’s unconscious form. Perhaps, but at what cost?
Nothing less than the wonder and awe that drew Denham to
Kong in the first place.
Listless and lifeless, when Kong is put on display in New
York, he is nothing but a grim shadow of his former self.
The fire that drove him previously has all but died. Tragically,
when that fire is reignited, we know it can only lead to
his doom. After all, New York is no place for an artifact
of unbridled nature like Kong. And it is only a matter
of time before Kong meets his fate atop the pinnacle of
humankind’s triumph over the very essence of what
As I see it, Darrow and Denham signify two sides of our
split personality regarding the environment. On the one
hand, we love and appreciate nature in all its beauty and
power. But few of us can leave it at that. The drive to
subdue and exploit is irresistible. While we tend to celebrate
our ability to do so, this film seems to question whether
or not we’ve gone too far. King Kong is a call to
repentance, a call to return to a sense of wonder and awe.
It is also a warning that if we continue our attempts to
shackle nature, as Denham attempted to do, sooner or later
it will come back to bite us.
With such a strong environmentalist message
embedded throughout the film, I was a little confused as
to why Jackson retained
the original film’s final line about how it “’twas
beauty that killed the beast.” Clearly, it wasn’t
beauty but greed that was responsible for Kong’s death.
Or, in another character’s words, it was Denham’s “unfailing
ability to destroy the things he loves.” Perhaps this
was simply a case of sentiment trumping theme. The real question,
though, is where our unfailing ability to destroy comes from.
Why this love/hate relationship with our environment? Why
are beauty and wonder so often overcome by fear and greed?
Such questions recall another classic tale
of Man and Nature—the
story of man’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden. God’s
final curse, uttered just before Adam and Eve are banished
from the Garden (Genesis 3:14–19), illustrates that
their disobedience has ruptured their relationships on three
levels: God and Man, man and woman, and Man and Nature. Where
there once was harmony, trust, and love, there now exist
conflict, distrust, and hatred. Where Man formerly could
relax and enjoy the bounty of Nature, he must now toil for
Not a pretty picture. But the story doesn’t end there.
If it took an act of disobedience to rupture these relationships,
it follows that an act of obedience may make them right again.
So perhaps our inner “Carl Denham” doesn’t
have to win the day. All we need do is unleash our inner “Anne
@ 2005 Kevin Miller.