How do you follow up on the most successful and critically acclaimed film trilogy since the original Star Wars movies? What do you do next after proving your critics wrong and pulling off a great adaptation of a book many still considered to be unfilmable? How do you move on from the longest and most complex deliberately-planned film shoot in the history of cinema?
These are all questions you’d imagine that director Peter Jackson must have been asking himself when he finally finished his epic Lord of the Rings series after nearly a decade of work. But no – he always knew precisely what his next film would be, because it was the movie on which he was working before he had even thought about taking on Tolkien’s epic. In fact, it was some of the pre-production special effects work on his planned remake of his all-time favourite movie, the 1933 giant ape classic King Kong, that helped land him the funding to take on Middle-earth in the first place.
In other words, this film has been in the planning for well over ten years – even if back in the early 1990s, when Jackson was still a little-known director with not much more than a cult following on the horror circuit for his low-budget, gore-packed comic shockers Braindead and the appropriately-named Bad Taste, he could never have hoped to be able to make his film with the kind of budget he has been allowed to play with here. Jackson’s salary alone was $20 million – the most any director has ever been paid for a single film, and more in itself than the total budgets of his first five movies combined.
But just because it has been long-planned, and just because Jackson has been paid a fortune, does this guarantee that it’s going to be any good? Although Jackson did an amazing job with the three Lord of the Rings movies, his previous cinematic outings fared nowhere near as well, largely due to their relatively limited appeal – mostly focussing on gross horror and sick jokes. The fear is that he might return to his roots – a joy for early fans, certainly, but to the Johnny-come-latelies who only became aware of him on the release of The Fellowship of the Ring back in 2001, it could be a bit of a shock.
Add to that the film geeks’ worries about remaking one of the all-time classics of cinema, the ground-breaking special effects movie that is the grandfather of all that have followed, and Jackson’s got quite a task ahead of him not to disappoint.
Whether he manages to succeed or not will largely depend on what your expectations are. If you are looking for something as epic, beautiful and instantly-accessible as The Lord of the Rings then you may be left feeling a tad short-changed. If you want to look at alterations made to the original King Kong story so you can complain of a lack of respect to Hollywood history, you will find quite a bit to moan about. If, however, you want a decent, in places intelligent action flick which doesn’t take itself too seriously and easily rises above its rivals as Kong himself would above other apes, you can’t go far wrong with this. Not as good as the Lord of the Rings films, perhaps. But that would be a tall order indeed.