Kong Ready for his Close-up

Universal Pictures announced today that principal photography is set to begin this month on Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 adventure classic, King Kong. Like Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, the pic will be filmed on location in the director’s homeland of New Zealand. The mighty Kong is set to rampage into theaters on Dec. 14, 2005.

Jackson is directing from a screenplay he co-wrote with longtime collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, based the original story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. Walsh and Jackson are producing the film under their WingNut Films banner.

Academy Award nominee Naomi Watts (21 Grams) is set to star as Ann Darrow, a role originated by Fay Wray, who passed away last month. Darrow is a vaudeville actress who finds herself out of a job in Depression-era New York. Her luck changes when she meets Carl Denham, an entrepreneur, raconteur, adventurer and filmmaker played by Jack Black (School of Rock). Oscar winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist) steps into the role of Jack Driscoll, a New York playwright who falls in love with Darrow and becomes an unlikely hero.

Shakespearean actor Andy Serkis, who provided the performance for the CG Gollum character in two of the Lord of the Rings films, will again don a motion-capture suit to bring life to the title giant ape, which will be computer-animated. Jackson says Serkis spent weeks in the London Zoo and in the highlands of Rwanda researching various aspects of gorilla behavior. "It is not our intention to soften Kong in an attempt to humanize [Kong]," Jackson comments. "The power of the story lies in the fact that this is a savage beast from a hostile environment, and we will not compromise that." Serkis will also play the character of Lumpy the cook, who is part of the expedition to Skull Island.

Visual effects will be provided by New Zealand-based companies Weta Digital and Weta Workshop, recipients of multiple Academy Awards for their collective work on the Lord of the Rings saga. Digital elements and miniatures will supplement practical locations in creating primordial jungles and 1930s America.

Jackson’s creative team on King Kong includes director of photography Andrew Lesnie (cinematographer for the Rings trilogy and Oscar winner for The Fellowship of the Ring), Oscar-winning editor Jamie Selkirk (The Return of the King) and Oscar-winning production designer Grant Major (The Return of the King).

Jackson notes, "I very much want to respect the iconography of the original film, because I don’t believe we should try to change what worked. Our version of King Kong will reflect the same sort of dramatic sensibility we employed on The Lord of the Rings– placing real characters with real dilemmas in the context of a truly fantastical world. I’m determined to give the film a gritty reality and to play the dramatic elements of the story for all they’re worth. Our movie is set in 1933, and this is important because it means we can invest the story with the mystery and romance of a bygone era. The Thirties was a time of discovery, when we did not know the full parameters of the world and literally, anything was possible."