A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that King Kong has many violent scenes that could be scary for younger viewers, as well as plenty of action. Specifically, humans are attacked on the island by giant bugs, bats, and dinosaurs in sustained, pounding action scenes. Kong shifts from scary (chest-pounding and roaring) to sympathetic; he's attacked brutally by men in tanks and planes, shooting guns. Characters drink and smoke cigarettes; Ann wears a slip through most of her adventures on the island. Most troubling is the depiction of the black island natives, who appear as nightmarish, surreal images, chanting and shaking when they sacrifice Ann to Kong. The showbiz version of this scene (re-created in New York) uses blackface performers. Occasional mild profanity: "crap," "hell," "Christ," "goddamn."
What's the story?
Barely surviving the Depression in New York City, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) loses her vaudeville job just when film producer Carl Denham (Jack Black) is seeking a leading lady for his new film project, to be shot on "unknown" Skull Island, which, unknown to them, is home to KING KONG. Denham and crew set out on a ship; also onboard is earnest playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who starts a romantic relationship with Ann. On Skull Island, they encounter violent natives and a land that time forgot filled with dinosaurs and other enormous beasts. The natives kidnap Ann and present her as sacrifice to the giant ape Kong, who falls for the diminutive beauty. Kong's weakness for Ann results in his being trapped by showman Denham, who brings him to New York City to appear in a sideshow the likes of which have never been seen.
Is it any good?
What sets Peter Jackson's movie apart from its predecessor is its characterization of Ann as courageous and her insight when she is grateful for Kong's protection. In this excellent version of the classic 1933 film, the relationship between Ann and the giant ape is everything. It's not "beauty that kills the beast," but greed, meanness, and fear that destroy his admirable "nature" and emblematic manhood. The men around her adore her and even indulge in heroics to save her, but none is so compelling a personality as the gigantic gorilla who comes to love her. Like the 1933 original film, Jackson's adaptation examines the excesses and vagaries of show business.
While the movie demonizes the black natives who throw back their heads and chant during their ritual to sacrifice Ann to Kong, it also offers a complication in the ship's courageous, sensible, and black first mate, Hayes (Evan Parke). It's telling that Hayes does not see the reenactment of the tribal ritual as Denham's stage show, populated by performers in overtly offensive blackface. If this scene illustrates the movie's awareness of the problem (the crude translation of blackness by a white "producer"), it's not quite a resolution. Neither is the relationship between Ann and Kong, though she tries mightily to do right.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the relationship between Ann and Kong in King Kong. How does their mutual affection extend beyond person and pet to something more complicated?
How does Denham's exploitation of Kong parallel his exploitation of people?
How do the military attacks make Kong increasingly sympathetic (even an underdog, out of place in the city), as he tries to protect Ann and then she tries to protect him?
How do the blackface performers serve as commentary on mainstream fear of the "unknown"?
How does this version of King Kong draw on the original version of the movies, and where does it stand on its own? What are the ways in which it draws on epic novels like Heart of Darkness and Moby Dick?
- In theaters: December 14, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: March 28, 2006
- Cast: Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Naomi Watts
- Director: Peter Jackson
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Run time: 187 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: frightening adventure violence and some disturbing images.
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