Just as the film crew traveling to Skull Island in the original 1933 version of "King Kong" had no idea what was in store, Peter Jackson wants to keep moviegoers guessing about his upcoming remake.
"I'm not allowed to say too much," star Naomi Watts said recently when prodded for details.
"I can't say much, but it's going to be impressive," an equally well-trained Adrien Brody said a few days later.
One thing cast members would say is that people should expect more than just an onslaught of special effects.
"It's not going to be a superficial movie," said Brody, who's returning to Wellington, New Zealand, this week to wrap up production. "It's going to be very compelling and wonderful — incredible sequences and yet intense drama. ... I am getting the chance to be very heroic, much more the action hero than I [normally] get to play, and yet the character is very full of depth."
British actor Jamie Bell, best known for "Billy Elliott," said the casting of Brody, Watts and Jack Black, actors hardly known for action movies, is a sign of the kind of movie it will be.
"I think [Jackson] went for actors, people who can deliver performances, instead of people who can just bring in box office [numbers], which I think is a much better idea," Bell said. "I want to see good acting, a good story. I think they're all perfectly cast. Naomi, the idea that beauty killed the beast, she's perfect for that role."
As for the story line, "we're honoring the original, but Peter Jackson is a clever man and he's obviously introduced great new ideas and has made it incredibly modern," Watts said without elaborating.
The gist is Black's character, eccentric filmmaker Carl Denham, is on a mission to make a movie on a mysterious Indian Ocean island where a giant gorilla is said to be roaming. Among his crew are reluctant screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Brody) and actress Ann Darrow (Watts), all characters from the original. (The 1976 remake had different characters.)
One of the new additions is Bell's Jimmy, the lookout on the SS Venture, the ship on which the crew is traveling. "They wanted a kid in the film, so I play the kid," he said.
Bell, who has grown accustomed to low-budget indie films since debuting in "Billy Elliott" (two of his latest movies screened at Sundance last week), was shocked his first day on set at Jackson's Stone Street Studios, where the director built a rain forest. "You get showed around the digital departments, the miniature departments and all this crazy stuff and you get overwhelmed by it all," he said. "But it's been a lot of fun. ... You're going onto a production where the director and his production team just won every single Academy Award they were nominated for, 11 Academy Awards. These guys know exactly what they're doing."
For Jackson, "King Kong" is truly a labor of love. The original is what inspired him to make movies, and in 1997, before he started the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, he had already written a remake and was set to direct it. At the last minute, however, the studio pulled the plug because two similar movies were already in production. (Both of those — "Godzilla" and "Mighty Joe Young" — flopped.)
Now that he has a second chance, Jackson, along with his "Rings" collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, has penned a new script and put together a visuals team that is promising more special effects than in all three "Rings" movies combined.
Still, Jackson hasn't lost his ability to pull memorable performances from his cast.
"You expect him to be so concerned about the technicalities of the scene, what he's gonna do in post-production with the effects and blue screen," Bell said. "But he has an ability to store all of that inside of his head and still be able to approach an actor and tell him what's wrong with a scene or how he should do it differently."
In other words, "Peter Jackson is a genius," Brody said. "I am really thrilled to be a part of it."
"They're really wonderful people and incredibly creative, and I'm having the time of my life," Watts added.
Bell is also having a blast, but he's quick to point out that big-budget movies aren't simply fun and games. "It's not all glamour and glitz. There's a lot of running through jungles, getting trampled on by various things," he said. "It's not all easy."
"King Kong" is expected to wrap at the end of March and is due in theaters December 14.
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