King Kong: Peter Jackson’s Epic 2005 Remake

Naomi Watts and Kong in King Kong. Courtesy of Universal.

Peter Jackson draws on the original 1933 classic in his 2005 remake of King Kong and the film is every bit the epic that one would expect.

The 1933 classic is iconic for its pioneering use of stop-motion technology. It would also go onto inspire Peter Jackson to go into special effects. Lo and behold, the Oscar-winning filmmaker would tackle a remake after finishing up The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. After all, the filmmaker knew he was going to make a remake when he was 12 years old. The road got bumpy throughout the years but in 1995, Universal Pictures gave Jackson an opportunity to remake the film. As with any filmmaker, he said no at first before coming around to it. King Kong was in the public domain at this point. Anyway, the plan to film in 1997 is what would become a roadblock due to other remakes coming out. Production was delayed and Jackson focused on the Middle-earth trilogy. Things would resume in 2003.

Jackson’s films contain the same or similar set pieces but with modern technology allowing the filmmaker to do so much more. Instead of stop-motion technology, Andy Serkis utilizes motion performance capture to depict the giant gorilla. I’ll touch on the visual effects in a moment but I cannot say enough good things about them. Despite the modern technology, this is a period film through and through. Jackson goes as far as paying homage to the vaudeville performances of the era.

Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a struggling vaudeville performer, is hired by Carl Denham (Jack Black) for his new movie. She’s all set to decline before learning that Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is the screenwriter. Denham is filming on SS Venture, which is captained Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann). What Denham doesn’t mention is that they’re really going to Skull Island, not Singapore. It’s a recipe for disaster but not even a warrant for Carl’s arrest is going to stop them. Before you know it, the crew finds itself on Skull Island. This goes as anyone would expect–the natives take Ann as an offering to Kong and they both flee into the jungle.

As we all know, crew members would perish on Skull Island before Carl decides to bring Kong back to New York. It’s one of the worst ideas ever in the history of ideas. And yet, Peter Jackson and company pay homage to the iconic classic as they remake the New York sequences utilizing 21st century technology. Again, the visual effects are just astonishing!

This was my first rewatch since seeing the epic film in theaters when it was released. Upon its release, I felt that they could have cut out a half hour but that it would probably win an Oscar for Best Visual Effects. Lo and behold, they won Oscars for Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and yes, Visual Effects. It’s only other nomination was for Art Direction, which we now refer to as Production Design. The thing with Peter Jackson movies is that there is a lot of care and attention that goes into the technical categories. King Kong missed out on a Best Picture nomination in an era before the category expansion. I do not know if the film would get a Best Picture nomination under with the expanded field. It just might.

But back to the film’s visual effects, you cannot say enough good things about them. When a filmmaker of Peter Jackson’s caliber is directing a film, you know that the visual effects are going to be top-notch. There are a few scenes that draw back to the very iconic scenes that inspired them. Hell, the work that went into building CGI New York is just astounding! The first sequence in question is the fight between Kong and the three T. Rexes. The second sequence is the climactic ending with the Empire State Building. Of course, both scenes go above and beyond what we see in the 1933 classic. It helps that animators had the ability to work off of the pre-viz animatics in designing the sequence for the big screen.

There’s a world where Fay Wray recites the legendary line at the end of the film. Unfortunately, she passed away prior to production. As a result, it went to Jack Black’s Carl Denham, much like in the original film. It’s one of many homages to the original film as it contains no shortage of easter eggs throughout the three-hour run time. If you’re watching the extended edition, it runs thirteen minutes longer.

When Kong wrecks havoc in Times Square, a Universal Pictures banner is visible in the background. The film’s original design copied the Columbia Pictures ad but they changed it for the release. Earlier, Denham is looking for an actress before meeting Ann and suggests Fay. Denham’s assistant, Preston, points out that Fay Wray is busy making a film with RKO. At this point, we get a cue from Max Steiner’s legendary score. However, she was working on another RKO film directed by Merian C. Cooper at the time in 1932. The New York stage scene draws from the original and appears to be the same, even with the orchestra performing from Steiner’s score. The Ultimate Edition features a nearly 10-minute bonus featurette on the film’s homages.

Recreating the Eighth Wonder: The Making of King Kong is a documentary that offers a substantial amount of insight into the film. For instance, Peter Jackson took Naomi Watts up to the 86th and 102nd observatories and even went up into the cone of the Empire State Building. There were a number of years where the 102nd observatory had been closed but it more or less looks like it did in 1933. Regardless, their 2004 tour would inspire the interior design in the film. Watts and Jackson also met Fay Wray in early March.

DIRECTOR: Peter Jackson
SCREENWRITERS: Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson
CAST: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Lobo Chan, Kyle Chandler, and Andy Serkis

Universal released King Kong in theaters on December 14, 2005. Grade: 4.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.