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— by Larry Carroll

The famous line "It was beauty that killed the beast" refers to a charismatic, sometimes villainous, hairy monster known around the world by his strong-sounding surname.

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The cast weighs in on Kong's tainted love, on Overdrive

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(No, we're not referring to Hasselhoff.)

So when "Lord of the Rings" mastermind Peter Jackson decided to resurrect moviedom's most massive monkey, he approached his actors with the film's simple belief: that the allure of beauty would lure them in. And indeed, it did.

"She did a beautiful job," Naomi Watts marveled about Fay Wray's performance as Ann Darrow in 1933's "King Kong" — the role Watts reprised for Jackson's big-budget remake. "I wanted to have moments of honoring Fay, because she created this role from the get-go and did such a beautiful job."

And unlike other modern remakes — say, "The Amityville Horror" or the upcoming "Fun With Dick and Jane" — those involved with Jackson's "Kong" knew that the original is a four-star masterpiece, and they quickly signed on to attempted to capture the magic again.

"Obviously [Kong] is an icon," Andy Serkis, who plays Lumpy the cook and also provided the mannerisms for the CGI Kong, said of the original. "That it has lasted throughout all these years is undeniable, and it's why we're making this film."

Writer/director Jackson was arguably the one who felt the pressure the most, and thus his pursuit of certain actors for the film became at times comically dogged.

"It was scary," laughed Jack Black, who fondly remembered Jackson's pursuit of him to play the role of cocky film director Carl Denham. "Every time I saw him in the bush, I was like, 'Oh Jesus, Pete. I thought you were a stalker.' And he's like, 'No, no, it's just me — standing in a bush.' "

"We wanted to meet Jack Black," said Jackson, referring to himself and his production partner/wife, Fran Walsh. "We had 'School of Rock' on a DVD at Christmas a couple of years ago, and our kids have watched it 20 or 25 times. We started to feel that Carl Denham could be interesting for Jack. If we played Carl Denham little younger and made him a bit more like a sort of obsessive, Orson Welles-type director, Jack would actually be perfect for that.

Long before Peter Jackson and company CGI'd their way to Skull Island and back, there was the original, classic 1933 "King Kong." The world into which Merian C. Cooper's film was born had no GPS, mapping satellites or jet planes. Radar was not yet in practical use. The existence of exotic, uncharted islands and distant, yet-to-be-discovered places was no mere Hollywood invention, but a living reality, and it was amid this pervading sense of adventure and mystery that "Kong" delighted and thrilled a world still deeply ensnared in a global Great Depression.

Perhaps the film's special effects don't look very, um, special to us anymore. (Then again, neither do movies from 10 years ago; recent groundbreaking flicks like "The Matrix" already look dated.) But in 1933, even sound was a relatively new addition to cinema and "Kong" was just about the realest, loudest, scariest thing moviegoers had ever seen or heard.

Kong's interspecies crush on fair-haired beauty Fay Wray, meanwhile, was likely meant to at least tweak the sexual taboos of the time, and the mighty gorilla also clearly stands as a symbol of the natural world which, of course, is there for human enjoyment, exploitation and consumption. When he finally breaks free of his shackles and starts to trash New York, the big guy might as well be yelling, "Take that, establishment!" Our view of nature and conservation has changed, perhaps even evolved, since the '30s, but one of the messages in Jackson's film recalls Cooper's: Man tries to control the "beast" and when he can't, he has no choice — he must destroy it.

While "Kong" was considered highly profitable for its time, its $1.7 million at the box office will probably be eclipsed within the first hour of the new version's release. But don't dismiss the grandfather just because he's older and jerks a bit when he moves. He's still charming, and has a great story to tell.

—Jonathan Goldner



"We were in L.A. a lot during the awards season around the time of 'The Return of the King,' and Jack was there with 'School of Rock,' " he continued. "We stalked him, because we wanted to find out what sort of guy he was. We didn't know whether he was a raving nutcase, like he plays, or if he was actually someone we could work with."

Once Jackson and Walsh stepped out of the bushes, Black expressed affection for the original film and quickly agreed to his first high-profile dramatic role. Similarly, Adrien Brody jumped aboard with a desire to take the story's themes to another level.

"The interesting thing is, I saw parallels in this film that I didn't see in the original," he said of the script's reinvention of his character, writer/reluctant hero Jack Driscoll. "Jack and Kong are kinda both taken out of their element. We're both fighting for the same girl, but we're both fighting for survival in hostile environments that we're unfamiliar with, and that was really interesting for me. I didn't see that in the original."

Indeed, the story's pivotal romance — between the terrifying title character and the fair-haired maiden he so tenderly waves around like a rag doll — is also further illuminated in the new "Kong," but it's not ... you know ...

"It's an interesting thing," Brody observed. "Her intentions for affection for him and vice versa are not in this film," he said with a smile. "And so we're not competing."

"Here's the thing," Black added, flashing a devilish grin. "You know how, like, if a horse has sex with a zebra, that zebra will have a baby that's a 'hebra' or a 'zorse'? The same, I think, is true if I have sex with a gorilla. Because we're not that far off species-wise — I think [the offspring would be] 'hurilla,' or a 'goran.' "

"There's something special and unique there," offered Watts, attempting to reel in her co-stars. "But, yeah, it might not work as a proper, conventional relationship."

"I think the relationship is very different between the two," Jackson said. "She is dealing with a wild animal that's going to kill her, and she realizes if she sparks his curiosity, it's a way for her to survive. And then she realizes he has enough feelings about her that he's going to protect her, and to make sure she comes to no harm on this very violent island they live on. And from Ann's point-of-view, she's had a very rare insight into the heart and the soul of this very frightening beast. She doesn't want to feel the guilt of her attachment to him being the catalyst which leads to his downfall."

After pondering the question for a moment, Jackson suspected that if Ann was forced to make the choice between her amorous ape and wooing writer, she'd go with the human. "I'm sure she'd pick Jack," he grinned, before adding, "but they'd probably go and feed Kong some bananas on Sunday afternoons."

"The reality is that he is endearing," Brody said, summing things up. "So it is a wonderful idea to envision running off, living on an exotic island, being protected by a big gorilla, and living happily ever after."

Ultimately, "King Kong" is one labor of love that probably won't kill anything — except, perhaps, the notion that remakes of movie classics can't be as good as the originals.


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