Dir: Peter Jackson. US.2005. 189mins.

Peter Jackson's KingKong is Jurassic Park, War Of The Worlds, Jaws, ET and Raiders Of The Lost Ark allrolled into one mammoth, three-hour rollercoaster ride. As if saying to StevenSpielberg "Anything you can do, I can do better", Jackson delivers a resoundingaudience-pleaser which pushes the boundaries of digital technology and featuresmore setpieces than any one film should be able tohandle.

Its box-office success isguaranteed when it opens in practically all territories on Dec 14 (in the UK,Dec 16). Although it went over budget to a dizzying $207m and runs to more thanthree hours, it has massive advance want-to-see, just about delivers on thehype and is destined to become a giant-sized worldwide hit.

Jackson leaves the audiencebreathless at the spectacle on show, but he also takes great pains to generatepathos and, like Titanic and ET before it, Kong stirs up theemotions. That potent blend could well elevate the film into the all-time boxoffice pantheon up amongst Jackson's three LordOf The Rings instalments.

Unlike Titanic and ET, it's notan awards-type picture - other than in technical categories. Jackson has statedthat his intention was to reinvent the grand escapism of the beloved 1933original for a new generation. In that he is successful.

Highbrow critics, however,will focus on the plot and script structure, which are riddled with loopholesand lapses in logic.

And, yes, it is too long. It's well over an hour before we meet Kong, and it takes a good45 minutes to reach Skull Island. The middle stretch on the island features onerelentless chase or fight after the other, at least one of which feelsdispensable. And the final scenes, in which Kong and Ann Darrowperch atop the Empire State Building are protracted to an almost frustratingdegree.

Jackson opens the film witha montage of New York in Depression-era 1933 (featuring digital tableaux ofcityscapes from the period) before introducing us to Ms Darrow(Watts), an actress playing to empty houses in a burlesque show who can barelyafford to eat. When she and her troupe are barred from entry into the theatreone afternoon, she wanders the streets and contemplates a move into stripping.

Across town, ambitiousfilm-maker Carl Denham (Black) is showing footage to his financial backers andannouncing to them that he is mounting an expedition to the mysteriousundiscovered Skull Island, where he will use their money to shoot the rest ofthe opus. They deny him permission, but Denham makes a speedy exit out of thebuilding with the film reels and plans to set sail anyway.

With the investors and thepolice on his heels, he has only a few hours to find his leading lady beforeleaving. He finds Ann trying to steal an apple and persuades her to join him,saying that he is sailing to Singapore to make the film. She agrees only whenshe discovers that her favourite playwright Jack Driscoll (Brody) is writingthe screenplay.

On board the SS Venture,Denham bribes the captain Englehorn (Kretschmann) to make a hasty departure, trapping Driscollon board against his wishes and leaving the police on the dockside.

Among the characters we meetas the voyage sets sail are Denham's resourceful assistant Preston (Hanks), theseasoned cook Lumpy (Serkis), wise first mate Hayes (Parke) and a young stowaway, now crew member (Bell) who ishungry for adventure.

Ann and Jack fall for eachother on the voyage, but their happiness is not long-lasting after Denham and Englehorn steer the ship into uncharteredwaters. The ship comes across Skull Island in a thick bank of fog and is almostwrecked trying to avoid the hazardous rocks which litter its coastline.

Denham rushes ashore withJack, Ann and his leading man Bruce Baxter (Chandler) but before a massivegateway, the party is set upon by natives who kill one of the cameramen. Beforelong, they have kidnapped Ann and offer her up as a sacrifice to whatevercreatures live beyond the gates.

Enter Kong, a 25-foot tallgorilla who snatches Ann away and takes her deep inland clutched in his hand.The two develop a rapport, Ann singing, dancing and juggling to appease thebeast and Kong amused by her antics.

Driscoll leads a party ofsailors and film crew to find her but the team is gradually diminished byencounters with a stampede of brontosauruses, some nasty velociraptorsand a host of out-sized bugs and creepy-crawlies at the bottom of a ravine.

Kong meanwhile battles threeT-Rexes to protect Ann and saves her life at the riskof his own, earning her trust and his increased affection.

Kong is eventually lured outof the jungle when Driscoll finds Ann and rescues her, but Denham has alreadyforeseen the ape's pursuit and sets a trap which leaves the beast drugged bychloroform and eventually bound for New York City.

There, of course, he isdisplayed by Denham in a Broadway theatre to a full house (to the strains ofMax Steiner's original score for the 1933 film). But enraged by the audienceand the flash photography, Kong escapes his shackles and goes on a rampagethrough New York in search of Ann.

Jackson has wisely cast agroup of strong actors to lend conviction to the adventure. Naomi Watts, partlythanks to the on-set participation of Serkis in hisother role as Kong himself, interacts convincingly with Kong, while Black ischarmingly evil as an Orson Welles-ian Denham, Brodyan effective intellectual action hero and Kretschmanna handsome and brooding ship's captain. The subplot involving Bell isinteresting, but never really explored and Bell's character is peremptorilyabandoned once the drama moves to New York.

And then there is Konghimself, an effects wonder-of-the-world, who moves like a gorilla and has aface as expressive as any human. Like Gollum in The Two Towers and The ReturnOf The King, Kong is an authentic, fully-realisedcharacter, albeit a voiceless one, who will fulfil every lofty expectationaudiences accustomed to top-notch effects may have.

Some of the other effectsare less seamless, but then there are over 2,300 effects shots in theproduction. The Jurassic Park filmssomewhat rob the dinosaurs of their novelty value, although Jackson's initial setpiece - the velociraptor chaseand brontosaurus stampede - is breathtaking. As one brontosaurus tumbles overanother, crushing humans and raptors in their path, the audience effect desiredby Jackson - awestruck, heart-stopping wonder - is suitably achieved.

Jackson's Skull Island is asophisticated update on the original film - unreal, slightly set-bound andhighly stylised. Unlike the 1976 King Kong,he never attempts to anchor the film in reality, a wise move bearing in mindthe good-natured comic-strip mood of the piece.

The Empire State Buildingsequence, while too long, is nevertheless a visually bewitching finale,although quite how Ann can sustain the freezing temperatures dressed in a slipof a dress and heels is one of the many instances in the film where Jacksonrequires absolute suspension of disbelief. At least Kate Winsletshivered in sub-zero temperatures in Titanic.

Composer James NewtonHoward, who stepped in at the 11th hour to replace Howard Shore, accompaniesthe action with a menacing score. Indeed, like Jurassic Park, much of the film will be too intense for youngerchildren, not that they will want to see it any less desperately for that.

Production companies
Wingnut Films

US distribution
Universal Pictures

International distribution

Jan Blenkin
Carolynne Cunningham
Fran Walsh
Peter Jackson

Fran Walsh
Philippa Boyens
Peter Jackson
Based on a story by Merian CCooper & Edgar Wallace

Andrew Lesnie

Production design
Grant Major

Jamie Selkirk
Jabez Olssen

James Newton Howard

Main cast
Naomi Watts
Jack Black
Adrien Brody
Thomas Kretschmann
Colin Hanks
Jamie Bell
Evan Parke
Andy Serkis
Kyle Chandler