We went by the theater early and saw no line, so we went off to dinner. When we got back the line had formed. A guy went up and down the line as it lengthened warning folks to get rid of any cell phones with cameras as they would not be allowed in. Gene was without his Treo and felt naked, but we complied. They frisked purses and gave us all a going over with the wand (ahhh, should I rephrase that?), plus had staff with night goggles checking out the audience for surreptitious filming. Very serious.
From the very first frames, Jackson cues us that this is loving tribute to the original, from the art deco credits to the loving evocation of 1930s New York (as reconstructed in New Zealand). Yet he gives the film an edge of modern sensibilities in reconfiguring the characters and the arc of the story. Over all that may be the biggest problem, the uncomfortable mismatch between 1930s sensibilities and those of the 21st century, especially when it comes to problematic things like racial portrayals and what you might call moments of "movie magic," i.e. things that happen because they need to do so. However, that's really a quibble for post-viewing discussion over drinks with friends (and in large part due to Jackson's faithfulness to the original story). And occasionally he lingers just a little too long on the faces of Watts and Kong; the film could be cut without major sacrifice, but --
In short, it was a fantastic ride and I loved it.
Naomi Watts is luminously filmed and made up so she glows like a vintage Hollywood star. She brings a surprising new sensibility to the role (including her comic work) that makes her more appealing to modern temperaments without discarding the traditional feel of the part. Jack Black is reined in somewhat from his bombast, although he is supposed to be a bit of a hustler and manages to make the director who will get his film done at any cost both sympathetic and eventually, suspect (one can't help seeing a little self-criticism from Jackson). While the on-board fate of the writer played by Brody may be a little too on the nose, he does admirable work in making us believe his role, as does the more comic turn by the "hero" Kyle Chandler. Terrific supporting cast including Andy Serkis, Thomas Kreschmann as the captain and Evan Parke as Hayes. A good number of in-jokes (most horror related) sprinkle the opening half hour, at which Gene and I were about the only ones laughing.
Oh, wait -- you want to know about the ape, right? Well, I've never been big on monkeys and apes (apart from Hanuman and Gene, the monkey man whom I love for reasons unexplained), but I may have been won over. Looks good. Which is to say, believable, moving, real -- scarred, emotive, authentic. An animal, not a human in monkey skin -- one of the most affecting things is that his non-human (but intelligent) nature comes through. The island and all its amazing creatures look good -- and terrifying in most cases. Jackson does a terrific job of giving the audience stunning moments of awe, then jerking you painfully into terror (one of the most beautiful and sweet versions of this comes near the end).
If you want to know nothing at all before you see the film, stop here. If you don't mind knowing the arc of the story (which is much the same as the original) without any important spoilers, continue:
You know Kong fights a dinosaur. You have NO idea. Absolutely amazing.
You know there are big bugs. You have NO idea. I was squirming in my seat.
Joey: the bats! You will love them.
You know we end up on the Empire State Building. I have a terrible fear of heights and vertigo. I was near collapse by the end and sweat was pouring off my hands as my knees went weak. One of the interesting choices was all the long shots of Kong atop the building, making him look so tiny in the big city, so lost.
In resisting the desire to completely anthropomorphize Kong, the ending seems even more bitterly cruel. Watts is our conduit to Kong throughout and the face of our grief, our empathy, and she does an incredible job of conveying thoughts and emotions without any words -- as does the face of Kong, both familiar and alien. Like us, but not us.
In the end, it's a movie about a giant ape. Some might find that silly. It is silly. But it works -- it is spectacle. And Jackson's humor and thoughtfulness make it work. Unexpected turns keep the action lively (and yeah, sometimes quite funny), and the familiar story takes on new resonance. It may be a touch of nostalgia, but it delivers. I laughed, I cried -- I was totally absorbed. It was really cathartic.