“King Kong” Super-Sized
That’s one big gorilla.
The original King Kong ran 90 minutes long. That relatively tame length is just a warm-up to what Peter Jackson has in store for his remake of the great ape epic.
According to Universal, which paid a whopping $20 million for the right to distribute the Oscar-winning helmer’s remake of the Tinseltown classic, Kong’s running time is nearly double the 1933 version, weighing in at a mammoth three hours.
It was initially believed that Jackson would bring the picture in at two and a half hours, but extra digital effects that swelled the pic’s budget from $175 million to a final price tag of $207 million, combined with the Lord of the Rings mastermind’s penchant for big-time spectacle, led to the monster cut.
After flying to Jackson’s home base in Wellington, New Zealand where Kong was shot to watch a sneak peak of the film, studio executives were reportedly elated with the results and agreed to release the three-hour Kong as scheduled Dec. 14–despite the possibility that the length might eat into the monkey movie’s box office, allowing for fewer screenings each day.
“I anticipated it would be long, but not this long,” Universal Pictures chairwoman Stacey Snider told the New York Times. “This is a masterpiece. I can’t wait to unveil it.”
Universal could use a big hit about now. The company is still trying to figure out why moviegoers stayed away in droves from its critically-acclaimed boxing drama Cinderella Man.
Then there’s the mediocre ticket sales generated by flicks such as The Perfect Man, Kicking and Screaming and, most recently, Doom, which debuted with a ho-hum $15 million. The studio’s one stand-out this year has been the surprise success of R-rated sex comedy, The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
But studio suits were willing to take a chance on the plus-size running time, optimistic that audiences will go bananas over Jackson’s re-imagining of one of its most memorable mascots.
“This is a three-hour feast of an event,” Marc Shmuger, vice chairman of Universal Pictures, told the Times. “I’ve never come close to seeing an artist working at this level.”
Unlike the poorly-received 1976 remake, the Kiwi filmmaker’s version sticks close to the plot of the original Kong. It follows the giant beast as he falls for the beautiful Hollywood actress Ann Darrow ( Naomi Watts), rampages through Depression-era New York and climbs up the Empire State Building. The film also stars Jack Black, Adrien Brody and Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings, as the computer-generated ape.
As for the budget, Universal was pleased enough with the finished product to offer to pick up half of the $32 million in cost overruns Jackson rang up. However, the 43-year-old auteur insisted he and his partner and co-writer, Fran Walsh, who was also part of that $20 million payday, would cover the overages themselves.
Going over budget hasn’t been Jackson’s only concern.
New Zealand’s labor department assailed the production last week for unsafe set practices after investigating incidents on the set in which two workers were injured when scaffolding collapsed.
According to an occupational safety and health report, one of the riggers suffered a concussion and a broken shoulder blade, while another received cuts and bruises.
Jackson’s LLC, Big Primate Productions, declined to comment on the findings but said the company is cooperating with the investigation.
Meanwhile, to drum up excitement in advance of Kong’s big bow, Universal Home Video will unleash a DVD documenting the making of Jackson’s magnum opus on Dec. 13. Much of the material will be culled from the over-achieving director’s own video production diaries on Kongisking.net, in which he’s offered fans behind-the-scenes glimpses into the production process.
Jackson is also contributing a two-hour, seven-part feature documentary entitled RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World to a two-disc DVD set of the 1933 Kong, which Universal is issuing on Nov. 22
And last but not least, Turner Classic Movies is planning to air on the same day a documentary by noted film historian Kevin Brownlow on Merian C. Cooper, the original’s director. I’m King Kong! The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper will be narrated by Alec Baldwin and feature footage of Cooper working in Hollywood, as well as interviews with the late Fay Wray–the first woman to play Darrow–and special effects master Ray Harryhausen, among others.
“King Kong” Super-Sized