King Kong

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PLANET OF THE APE Kong lends a hand to Watts.

The last act of the original 1933 King Kong is what really makes it brilliant: the tragic, psychosexual collision of ape, girl and building. Even our taste for spectacle, nourished up till then by the fights on Skull Island, is lampooned when Kong rampages over his Broadway audience; as far as Hollywood finishes go, none are as shockingly cathartic and retributive, even after 72 years.

Peter Jackson has marshaled a small fortune to produce his own version of King Kong, an often jaw-droppingly majestic and emotional one. But amazingly (for a self-proclaimed obsessive), he's botched the ending. What should feel like a car revving dangerously into overdrive is here burdened by too many gear shifts: Kong and Ann (Watts) having an on-ice revel in Central Park? You won't believe your eyes, but there they are, canoodling.

The moment is emblematic of Jackson's flabby epic, which runs for an absurd three hours simply because it can. The ape itself is splendid, a digital creation that rarely feels impersonal as he sniffs and hoots his way into an actual persona. And the casting of manic Jack Black as self-interested filmmaker Carl Denham is inspired; the material, histrionic to begin with, is perfect for him. But the further Jackson strays from fablelike brevity—and into redundant, showy action scenes featuring marauding dinosaurs and bugs—the further we stray from feeling the magnificent, doomed romance at King Kong's core.—Joshua Rothkopf

(Now playing; see Now playing for venues. See also "Animal magnetism," page 24.)

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Rated: PG
Duration: 134 mins

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