Lord of the ''Rings'' becomes king of the ''Kong'' - Peter Jackson on how he's making the classic ''King Kong'' his own

By Steve Daly
Updated April 30, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

He’s been obsessed with the 1933 ORIGINAL since he saw it on TV at age 9. Now, having had an initial attempt to remake King Kong fall apart in the mid-’90s, Peter Jackson finally starts shooting a new version this August in New Zealand. Naomi Watts will play the big ape’s love object, Ann Darrow. Adrien Brody may play Darrow’s boyfriend, former WWI pilot Jack Driscoll, and Jack Black will be blustery adventurer Carl Denham, who imports Kong to Manhattan. EW caught up with the Lord of the Rings director for a quick overview.

Why futz with a classic?

There’s a generation of kids today who don’t watch black-and-white films. So [the original] Kong, for a lot of people, is something they’ll never see. I think the time is right.

What will you add besides color?

We are not reinventing it. Our story follows the same structure. It starts in New York, goes to Skull Island, and there’s dinosaurs on the island. Then it comes back to New York and there’s the Empire State Building and the biplanes and the whole thing.

What about the 1976 version, with Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Rick Baker in an ape suit climbing up the World Trade Center?

It was terrible! I mean, the ’70s film has aged worse than the ’33 movie. It was all about the sexual politics of the ’70s combined with a sort of heavy-handed environmentalist thing. It’s just so dated.

You’re setting your version in 1933, like the original. How do you make a period piece work today?

The one thing we’re trying to do that the original didn’t is to make it more emotionally truthful. I put that ahead of anything else, including technology and the realism of the effects. Everybody’s image of King Kong is that it’s this amazing beauty-and-the-beast love story. And when you look at the original film, there is a sense that Kong is feeling an attraction toward Ann — probably the first empathy he’s felt in his life toward another living creature. But Ann is not giving him a thing. She just looks at him as an object of horror the entire time. She screams at him, she’s terrified. Her relationship with Kong doesn’t go beyond that. We’re having a lot of fun making it more psychologically real.