King Kong returns to the screen big as ever with a bit more heart (and story) than the 1933 original. Its detail rich storytelling expands the relatively straightforward story into a three-hour goliath. While I personally enjoyed King Kong’s slow and steady pace, I think even the spectacular set pieces might not be enough to keep more A.D.D.-inclined audience members still in their seats. Short of one slight storytelling misstep at the end, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is stronger and gentler than its predecessors…and it’s great fun.
I didn’t have too much trouble finding a storyform for King Kong (2005). Like the original, the Overall Story is about getting rich by finding the "Story of the Century" (Overall Story Concern of Obtaining). Film Producer Carl Denham is the protagonist willing to do most anything to get what he wants (OS Issue of Self Interest v. Morality), including (mis)leading his cast and crew to a lost island filled with savages and monsters. With the police and creditors on his heels, Denham barely escapes to sea aboard the Venture (Story Driver of Action). From then on, running away from trouble seems to get them all into more trouble, whether its trying to avoid Skull Island and ending up crashed on its shores, avoiding the rampaging locals which steal Ann away in the night, avoiding the mountainous Kong (run away, run away), preventing Kong from hurting Ms. Darrow and die trying, or even Kong escaping to the heights of the Empire State Building only to find death dealt from above by the biplanes (OS Problem of Avoidance). While Denham and crew try to tame (OS Response of Control) the wild weather, water, natives, monsters, and even Kong himself (OS Symptom of Uncontrolled), it is a doomed effort and ends with untold dead and injured, including Kong (Story Outcome of Failure).
Ann Darrow is the Main Character. This is more solidly established than in the original 1933 version. Ann is defined by her physical beauty and Size 4 dress size (MC Domain of Situation). As the story opens, Ann’s future is in question—both as an actress and even where the next meal will come from (MC Concern of The Future). A Do-er by nature, Ann chases after an unwilling Broadway producer to get a job and even steals an apple when she’s starving. She refuses to seek employment at a burlesque (MC Problem of Avoidance) which leaves her with nowhere to go until Carl Denham approaches her. Her looks and manner make Ann a surprisingly good choice and offer Denham an opportunity to capture Kong that none other can provide (MC Unique Ability of Choice). Unfortunately, they are undone by Ann’s efforts to make it as an actress (MC Critical Flaw of Hope) when she refuses Denham’s offers to exploit the captured Kong on Broadway.
We have an interesting hand off with the Influence Character. Initially, writer Jack Driscoll acts as Ann’s Influence Character. The moment Jack sees Ann he is smitten (IC Concern of Innermost Desires). His problem is that he is unable to express his true feelings in a way Ann understands (IC Problem of Feelings). That Jack is a famous Broadway writer makes a future with him seem impossible which works to undermine Ann’s personal efforts (IC Unique Ability of Dream). Unfortunately, Jack’s notoriety is undone as he holds back expressing his feelings (IC Critical Flaw of Delay).
Once Ann has been captured by the locals and set up as the next Bride of Kong, the role of Influence Character slowly transitions to Kong and remains with him for most of the rest of the film. Like Jack, Kong also is smitten with Ann immediately (IC Domain) and develops a connection with her in a way that speaks to his innermost desires (IC Concern). Kong is upset when Ann tries to run away or is attacked (IC Symptom of Uncontrolled) and prefers things to go the way he wants them (IC Response of Control). He is, after all, the king of the beasts on Skull Island.
The Main v. Influence Throughline explores the relationships between Ann and Jack initially and Ann and Kong later on. In both relationships, the efforts to make them work require a significant amount of change in their natures. Ann must get past her professional relationship with Jack (wannabe Broadway actress / Famous Broadway writer) to make it into something else, something closer emotionally. Ann must get past her physical relationship with Kong (kidnapped human woman / kidnapping giant ape) to become more emotionally connected (Relationship Story Concern of Changing One’s Nature). She seems to do this pretty well with both.
Unfortunately, both relationships are ill conceived and ill timed. For Kong, the result is catastrophic. Kong’s desire for Ann gets him caught and eventually killed (OS Outcome of Failure), even though Ann finally comes around to accepting her relationship with him (MC Resolve of Change). Her change is, however, too late and Ann feels tortured by it (Story Judgment of Bad). The moment Kong is gone (literally), Jack steps in to continue as Ann’s newfound boyfriend—or so we are led to believe by their embrace atop the Empire State Building.
The small storytelling misstep I mentioned in the opening paragraph is this: After Kong falls and is surrounded by the curious hordes, Carl Denham approaches the body with a sad face. When a reporter offhandedly says that the planes killed Kong, Carl solemnly says, “It wasn’t the planes that killed him. It was Beauty that killed the Beast.” My beef with this is Carl Denham’s delivery of the line. Carl is not the Main Character and has no reason to change from the shameless, opportunistic flimflam artist he’s been all along into someone with feelings for Kong. The “change” in tone sounds forced and false. What would work better is if Carl approaches in the same way—saddened and thoughtful. However, when he hears the reporter’s comment his carnival promoter salesmanship sees the opportunity for a quotable “sound bite” for the papers. He turns on his charm and says the lines like a true carnie hack or film producer—with flare and charisma. This is the way it’s said in the 1933 original version and I think it works better in that version for the reason that Denham’s not the main character and should not “change his spots.”