Peter Jackson's 35-year journey to remake King Kong has neared its end. The boy who dreamed of a fantasy world with glamorous actresses, giant apes and faraway adventure has become the director who created such a reality. Yet after all of his efforts--and the innumerable time and contributions of his filmmakers, cast and crew--his goal is a simple one:
"I hope that audiences take away a sense of having had an entertaining and emotionally engaging experience seeing our film. I think that movies have to be more than just entertainment. I do believe that entertainment is the foremost responsibility of filmmakers, but I think if you can move an audience emotionally and make them think and feel while they're watching a film--that's a great thing. I hope that with our movie that you will engage with the characters and engage with Kong himself--even though we've tried to keep him as this very noble, brutish, frightening gorilla. But I hope that we have presented him in such a way that you can engage emotionally with him and feel the tragedy of his story…because that is what's at the heart of the film."
Triple Academy Award® winner PETER JACKSON, whose The Lord of the Rings trilogy made motion picture history, now brings his sweeping cinematic vision to one of the screen's most enduring classics and one of the greatest filmic adventures of all time: King Kong.
Assuming directing, producing and co-screenwriting duties, Jackson turns his attention to the iconic tale immortalized in 1933 by adventurers-turned-filmmakers Merian C. Cooper and co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, who first conjured the indelible image of the gigantic ape atop the Empire State Building, protecting his human companion from an onslaught of attacking biplanes. Jackson refashions the tragic beauty-and-the-beast love story--infusing the spectacle of the tale with propulsive action and a poignant humanity--and gives us a Kong never before thought possible through the combined efforts and visual effects wizardry of the multiple-Oscar-winning Weta Digital Ltd. and Weta Workshop Ltd.
King Kong is the culmination of the filmmaker's near-lifelong dream--taking the best elements of the original story and adrenalizing them with up-to-the-minute effects magic and the alchemic talents of a superlative group of filmmakers, cast and crew.
Jackson retains key members of the team behind The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He is joined once again by longtime collaborators FRAN WALSH and PHILIPPA BOYENS, co-writing the motion picture with three-time Oscar-winning partner Walsh and their The Lord of the Rings co-writer, Academy Award winner Boyens. JAN BLENKIN, CAROLYNNE CUNNINGHAM, Walsh and Jackson produce the film under their WingNut Films banner.
THE STORY OF KING KONG
It is 1933, and vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Oscar nominee for 21 Grams, NAOMI WATTS) has found herself--like so many other New Yorkers during the Great Depression--without the means to earn a living. Unwilling to compromise and allow herself to sink into a career in burlesque, she considers her limited options while aimlessly wandering the streets of Manhattan. When her hunger drives her to unsuccessfully try to steal an apple from a fruit vendor's stall, she is rescued--literally--by filmmaker and multiple hyphenate Carl Denham (JACK BLACK of The School of Rock).
It seems that the entrepreneur-raconteur-adventurer is no stranger to theft, having that day lifted the only existing print of his most recent and unfinished film from under his studio executives' noses when they threatened to pull his completion funds. Carl has until the end of the day to get his crew onboard the Singapore-bound tramp steamer, the S.S. Venture, in hopes of completing his travelogue/action film. With that, the showman is certain he will finally achieve the personal greatness he knows awaits him around the corner…and although the crew believe that corner to be Singapore, Denham actually hopes to find and capture on film the mysterious place of legend: Skull Island.
Unfortunately for Carl, his headlining actress has pulled out of his project, but his search for a size-four leading lady (the costumes have all been made) has, fatefully, led him to Ann. The struggling actress is reluctant to sign on with Denham, until she learns that the up-and-coming, socially relevant playwright Jack Driscoll (Oscar® winner for The Pianist, ADRIEN BRODY) is penning the screenplay--the fees his friend Carl pays for potboiling adventure are a welcome supplement to Driscoll's nominal income from his stage plays.
With his newly discovered star and coerced screenwriter reluctantly onboard, Denham's "moving picture ship" heads out of New York Harbor…and toward a destiny that none aboard could possiblye foresee.
Joining Watts, Black and Brody is an accomplished ensemble cast from around the globe. German star THOMAS KRETSCHMANN (U-571) portrays Captain Englehorn, commander of the Venture, who allows Denham and his ever-increasing bribes to persuade him to endanger the lives of his crew by searching for Skull Island. COLIN HANKS (Orange County) is Preston, Denham's put-upon assistant and unwitting moral compass, who attempts to keep his boss in check and the production from spiraling out of control. Young actor JAMIE BELL (Billy Elliot) plays Jimmy, the youngest crew member, whose experiences onboard the Venture prove more fantastical than any old salt's seafaring yarn. EVAN PARKE lends his talents to the role of first mate Hayes, keeping a watchful eye on young Jimmy and serving as Englehorn's conscience.
KYLE CHANDLER takes on the character of Bruce Baxter, a "B"-movie-level leading man cast opposite Ann Darrow in Denham's adventure movie. ANDY SERKIS (who performed the role of the CGI character Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) provides both on-set performance reference and motion-capture performance for the "Eighth Wonder of the World"…the title character of King Kong; he also appears onscreen as the eccentric sailor in charge of the Venture's galley, Lumpy the Cook.
To create the widely diverging worlds of two disparate settings--the urban jungle of 1930s Manhattan and the primordial environs of Skull Island, home to a lost race and a myriad of formidable, not-extinct creatures--Peter Jackson gathers an unparalleled team of film artisans, the majority with whom he enjoys longstanding collaborative relationships. These include: director of photography ANDREW LESNIE, who received the Academy Award® for his cinematography in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring; production designer GRANT MAJOR, Oscar winner for the third in the trilogy, The Return of the King; and film editor JAMIE SELKIRK, who likewise collected an Academy Award for his artistry on the final installment of Jackson's epic. Visual effects are again accomplished by New Zealand-based companies Weta Digital Ltd., under the direction of Oscar winner JOE LETTERI (The Return of the King), and Weta Workshop Ltd., under the direction of Oscar winner RICHARD TAYLOR (The Return of the King). The film is scored by six-time Academy Award nominee JAMES NEWTON HOWARD (Batman Begins).
A YOUNG DREAMER MEETS A CLASSIC STORY
For a young New Zealand boy named Peter Jackson, the viewing of a 1930s black-and-white film one Friday night was more than just an evening's diversion--it quite literally became a life-changing event.
The filmmaker remembers, "I first saw King Kong when I was about eight- or nine-years-old on TV in New Zealand. And it made such an impact on me, such a huge impression, that it was the moment in time when I had decided I wanted to be a filmmaker. I thought, 'I want to make movies. I want to be able to make movies just like King Kong.' It had that profound an effect on me."
To have chosen King Kong as an entrée into the world of filmmaking shows just how discerning and imaginative Jackson was, even as a child. RKO's 1933 masterpiece was a cutting-edge film by the era's standards, utilizing a combination of groundbreaking visual effects (stop-motion animation, rear screen projection, multi-plane glass paintings, detailed tabletop miniatures) to realize the fantastic story of a giant ape captured in the wilds of a forgotten island and brought back to New York City, where he meets his tragic fate. During its initial release, the title smashed national attendance records and earned more than $1.75 million for the financially strapped RKO (pulling it back from bankruptcy), who periodically re-released King Kong up until the 1950s. In 1991, King Kong was selected to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress' National Film Preservation Board (which is dedicated to the film preservation efforts of American film archives and historical societies). The cultural significance of the mythic tale continues to fuel the imagination of film historians, artists and authors to this day, more than seven decades after its initial theatrical release.
That defining Friday-night viewing stayed with young Jackson, and barely three years later, he set out to live up to his career decision…and at age 12, he started work on his own version of the 1933 classic. His mother donated an old stole, which provided the gorilla's fur; the garment was cut apart and used to cover a padded wire-frame body, and voilà--a stop-motion Kong figurine. The top of the Empire State Building was a painted cardboard model (to conserve the budding filmmaker's efforts, he did not paint the back of the structure, since that side was never going to appear on camera). The New York City skyline was provided via a painted bedsheet (admittedly more appropriation than donation, as his mother was never informed of the bed linen's involvement in the project).
Sadly, the film was never completed, although the fur-covered figure of Kong, the Empire State model and the skyline backdrop still exist. But the idea continued to preoccupy Jackson.
Jackson's ongoing collaborator, screenwriter Philippa Boyens, comments, "I think for a lot of filmmakers--not just Peter--but for a lot of others, the original King Kong is one of those landmarks when you saw cinema reaching for the impossible and trying to do something extraordinary. In terms of the actual story--a giant gorilla, and then putting that giant gorilla in New York?--is about as brilliant as cinema gets in terms of its ability to tell a story differently than reading a book or hearing it orally. I think that relevance for today's audience is still there--and Kong is again reaching for that."
Flash forward several years, when the director had already triumphed as a singular new voice in filmmaking with several projects, most notably the confident entry of 1994's inventive and acclaimed Heavenly Creatures (which received an Oscar® nomination for Best Screenplay).
In 1996, his thoughts once again returned to King Kong and this time, the obsession had advanced far enough that a full-length screenplay was drafted. Jackson remarks, "Our 1996 draft was written as a very Hollywood-y, sort of tongue-in-cheek adventure story, full of gags and one-liners."
Facing a marketplace that was also welcoming its own "big gorilla" movie in Mighty Joe Young and other projects like Godzilla, Universal put the project on hold--to the heartbreak of Jackson. Instead, the director was to begin an ambitious project that would occupy the next several years of his life: The Lord of the Rings.
To accomplish this, Jackson assembled an enormous team of film artisans and actors to his native New Zealand and shot all three of the entries simultaneously (over 16 months, with 274 days of filming), the first filmmaker in history to complete such a daunting task. The first installment, The Fellowship of the Ring, hit theaters in 2001; The Two Towers in 2002, and The Return of the King in 2003.
Even before attending the last of the awards ceremonies where Jackson and his team would be lauded for their three-part epic, the idea of remaking King Kong once again returned. Fresh from his experience of breathing life into one of the greatest fantasy adventures in literature, the filmmaker now approached the story of the great ape much differently than his previous attempt in 1996.
He explains, "One of the lessons that we learned with The Lord of the Rings movies was the more fantastical your story, the more you should try to ground it in the reality of the world. We set King Kong in the 1930s, but we're making it a very realistic 1930s. We wanted to make it feel very grounded, and the adventure on Skull Island is very gritty. It's a story of survival. It's a story of relationships and love and empathizing for this huge beast. But it's told in a very down-to-earth, realistic way. I think because something has fantasy elements in it doesn't mean that you have to approach it with a fantastical style as a filmmaker. I think it's much more interesting to approach fantasy through the door of reality and make it as real as you possibly can. That gives it the veneer of the real world, which makes the fantasy all the more extraordinary. We had definitely learned some lessons doing Lord of the Rings that we didn't know in 1996, and we applied those lessons to doing a complete revision of the screenplay."
With this maturity as a filmmaker, Jackson was now ready to tackle King Kong and weave reality with fantasy into his version of the film. He shares, "The original 1933 King Kong is my favorite movie of all time. And I guess for that reason, I wanted to remake it. I just thought a version of this wonderful story told with the technology that we have available to us today would be a really amazing thing. So I guess I'm remaking King Kong as a fan who wants to see a high-tech version of this wonderful story."
It really comes down to one filmmaker's continued fascination with a movie creature whose presence has impacted popular culture for nearly 75 years.
Jackson continues, "It seems strange. I mean, King Kong has been part of my life for so long now. For 35 years, I've had this movie as my favorite film, and the fact that I'm remaking it now is an incredible dream come true--it's something I would of never thought would ever happen. It's just really cemented my affection for King Kong, having been the person that gets to remake it. I feel very obligated to him, because he really did start my career off--he kick-started me in the direction towards being a filmmaker. And in a way, if I can do him honor by telling his story well today, then I'm returning something of the favor that I owe him."
THE DIRECTING/ WRITING TEAM
PETER JACKSON (Director / Screenplay by / Produced by) made history with The Lord of the Rings trilogy, becoming the first person to direct three major feature films simultaneously. The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King were nominated for and collected a slew of film awards from around the globe, including 17 Academy Awards®, 12 British Academy of Film and Television Awards and four Golden Globes.
It was for The Return of the King that Jackson received his most impressive collection of awards. This included three Academy Awards® (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director and Best Picture), two Golden Globes (Best Director and Best Motion Picture-Drama), three BAFTAs (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film and Viewers), a Directors Guild Award, a Producers Guild Award and a New York Film Critics Circle Award.
Jackson previously received widespread acclaim for his 1994 feature Heavenly Creatures, which received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Screenplay. Other film credits include The Frighteners, starring Michael J. Fox; the adult puppet feature Meet the Feebles; and Braindead, which won 16 international science fiction awards, including the Saturn. Jackson also co-directed the television documentary Forgotten Silver, which also hit the film festival circuit.
Born in New Zealand on Halloween in 1961, Jackson began at an early age making movies with his parents' Super 8 camera. At 17 he left school and, after purchasing a 16mm camera, began shooting a science fiction comedy short--which, three years later, had grown into a 75-minute feature called Bad Taste.
Jackson works closely with partner Frances Walsh, with whom he shares his writing and producing credits, as well as a family. Jackson has a special interest in WWI memorabilia. He is also the proud owner of his own Sopwith Camel.
FRAN WALSH (Screenplay by / Produced by) has received numerous nominations from around the globe for co-writing and producing The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, but it is her work on The Return of the King, the final film in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, that has been most celebrated. Walsh shared writing, producing and songwriting credits on The Return of the King, for which she garnered three Academy Awards, three BAFTAs, two Golden Globes and a Producers Guild Award.
Walsh's first Academy Award® nomination for Best Screenplay was for the feature Heavenly Creatures, which she co-wrote with her collaborator, Peter Jackson. Other writing credits co-written with Jackson include Forgotten Silver, The Frighteners, Meet the Feebles and Braindead.
Walsh, who has a background in music, began her writing career soon after leaving Victoria University, where she majored in English literature. She continues her tradition of working alongside lifetime partner Peter Jackson as a writer and producer on King Kong.
Since being named by Variety in their list of "Ten Writers to Watch in 2000," PHILIPPA BOYENS (Screenplay by / Co-Producer)--who made her debut as a screenwriter with The Lord of the Rings trilogy--has won (along with co-writers Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh) an Oscar and a BAFTA and has been nominated for two Writers Guild of America Awards, among others. Prior to working as a screenwriter, Boyens worked in theater as a playwright, teacher, producer and editor. Boyens moved to film via a stint as director of the New Zealand Writers Guild. Unsurprisingly, when asked by Jackson and Walsh if she'd like to work with them again on the remake of King Kong, she said, "Yes."
THE ACTRESS, THE DIRECTOR, THE PLAYWRIGHT AND THE CREW
BUILDING AND PLAYING A SHREWDER APE
FILMING KONG: AN ISLAND OFF THE CHARTS
A CITY THAT NO LONGER EXISTS
SHOOTING IN A NON-DIGITAL WORLD
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A Universal Picture ©2005 Universal Studios. www.kingkong.com