Year Released: 2005
Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis
(PG-13, 187 min.)
"He thought it happier to be dead, To die for Beauty, than live for bread." Ralph Waldo Emerson
Hollywood doing what it does best: great spectacle, a simple love story, and state of the art special effects all wrapped up in a glittering package of heart in your mouth thrills. And the remake actually improves upon the original.
The 2005 King Kong is essentially true to the 1933 original, but the characters have greater dimension, it literally drips in atmosphere, and Skull Island itself more than lives up to its name. Since we already know what is on the menu, Jackson tweaks our appetites with anticipation, first taking us behind the stage with Carl Denham, a thoroughly charming and unscrupulous rogue played to perfection by Jack Black.
Here Jackson establishes frenetic pace as we follow a desperate Denham steal his own film footage – his backers have lost faith and are about to sell it off -- find a blond actress who will fit into the costume of his no longer available leading lady, and persuade her to set foot upon a hastily arranged sea cruise to “Singapore.” And he also has to time the cast off perfectly – too late for his now captive playwright to disembark and none too soon to fend off his creditors who are about to come aboard.
Once out to sea we take a breath a get to know the cast and crew – the inscrutable Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) who seems every bit as weathered and unsavory as the grisly ship he commands, his first mate who recounts a tale of horror told him by a sailor picked up from the sea in these very same waters, the strutting leading man who decorates his cabin walls with his own movie posters, and the sensitive playwright, Jack Driscoll, who types away in the only quarters available, bamboo cages reserved for the live animals captures that are Captain Englehorn’s bread and butter.
In the calm before the non-stop storm that follows, we lose all sense of time and place as the instruments give out and the ship is enveloped in fog. Before the crew sees the infamous Skull Island and can steam away from its perils, they are washed up along its rocky coast, and the intrepid film crew has taken off to explore the island.
Certainly Skull Island is a director’s finest hour, what with phantom ships whose rotting frames line its banks, the exotic if not entirely friendly native welcoming party, as well as the indigenous creatures all ready made for blockbuster footage. If only they can stay alive long enough to finish the filming.
And then there is Kong to be reckoned with. Not a king who rests on his laurels, the great ape is mighty warrior driven to prevail over other behemoths – a small cadre of a particularly persistent Tyrannosaurus Rex, a swarm of bothersome blood sucking bats, and a rather nasty assortment of night creatures on the prowl for fresh flesh. None of these can defeat him, but a wisp of a woman dances into his heart to enthrall him forever.
That woman, of course, is the winsome blond, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). We have first seen her in a down at the heels Manhattan trying valiantly to earn her bread and butter in a sadly attended Vaudeville theatre. As she sash shays across the stage in a perky tribute to Charlie Chaplin, she establishes herself as a plucky heroine rather than Fay Wray’s passive sex object and thus elevates the later love story between her and Kong to a platonic plane.
Like all love stories, the relationship starts off a bit rocky. Ann has been captured by the natives, a rather loathsome lot who are glad to have an outsider play the role of sacrificial offering this time. They deck her out in their best finery, a simply captivating necklace enhanced by shrunken skulls and sharp tooth like appendages. Kong dutifully takes the parcel and seems about to cast it down into a pit that proves he is not into setup dates.
Littering the ground at his feet is a tidy pile of discarded skulls, each bony head sporting a necklace exactly like the one Ann is wearing. She quickly finds a better use for hers and begins to jab Kong with it. This one is a bit more fun, he must think, so he takes her to his outlook on high where the great ape snarls and beats his chest to let her know who is boss. Like a cat playing with a mouse, he flicks his fingers at her and finds her consequential pratfalls quite amusing. The ever- resourceful Ann takes that as a cue.
Like Scheherazade, who saved her neck throughout 1001 Arabian nights by entertaining her Blue Beard Sultan, Ann decides to distract the Beast. She does what she knows best -- her song and dance routine, with a little juggling thrown in. Perhaps because we know it is doomed on so many levels – I mean even Oprah or Dr. Phil would throw up their hands here – the relationship between Kong and Ann is ever more poignant and touching.
Kong is every bit the brutal beast who crushes skulls and hurls humans to their ignoble deaths without a thought, but Ann awakens something in him – not our idea of romantic love, but a poet’s sense of anguish and awe, an awakening to terrible beauty. He touches his heart atop the Empire State building as the planes swarm down upon him, not at the beauty of Ann, but that of the splendid city below him drenched in the waning sun. Once touched, the awesome Kong can no longer be a part of his world nor of ours.
Pluck is what you’d call it. It enamors Kong as well as the audience to Ann Darrow. She performs her heart out on the Vaudeville stage, even if there is only a handful in the audience. When the theatre closes down without paying the actors their past due wages, she doesn’t despair, but vows to take her hungry uncle out to eat. “I know a great place that serves the most delicious soup and bread,” she quips as they head off to the infamous soup lines of the Depression.
It is this same resolve that gets her past the slight irregularities of Skull Island -- giant apes and spear wielding natives, swooping bats and man-eating worms. What obstacle cannot be starred down and coaxed to laugh with a song and dance; what lemon cannot be made into lemonade?
The next time you find yourself down in luck or spirits, think of Ann’s pluck and treat yourself to a little dose of comforting soup to lift your heart.
Beef and Barley Soup
- 2 pounds lean ground beef
- 2 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil
- 2 cups diced carrots
- 2 cups diced onion
- 2 cups diced celery
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups cooked barley
- 8 cups beef broth
- 2 (14 to16-ounce) cans Italian-style stewed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- Balsamic vinegar (optional)
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook ground beef on medium-high heat until browned, breaking up with a spatula or fork as it cooks. Remove beef from pan and set aside.
- Add oil to pan; add carrots, onion, celery and garlic; cook until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Return beef and all remaining ingredients, except parsley and optional vinegar. Bring to boil on high heat; reduce heat to a simmer, cover. Simmer 20 minutes.
- Stir in parsley and taste. Adjust seasoning, adding more salt or pepper if needed, or a splash of balsamic vinegar if soup needs a little more zip.
Makes 8 servings.
Recipe Source: cooksrecipes.com