MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (PG).
(Walt Disney Pictures/RKO/Buena Vista International)
Director: Ron Underwood
Stars: Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron, Rade Serbedzija, Peter Firth, David
Paymer, regina King, Naveen
Andrews, Lawrence Pressman, Linda Purl.
The original Mighty Joe Young, produced in 1949, was politely
regarded as something of a distant cousin to King Kong. This
entertaining and environmentally friendly $49 million Disney remake
softens the action to make the movie more palatable for family
audiences, while retaining something of a deliberately old fashioned
For those interested in useless trivia, the original Mighty
Joe Young is the only movie to have been directed by a legally blind
person. Director Ernest B Schoedsack lost his sight during W.W.II,
and could only see blurred movement. An assistant director told him
what was happening on the set. Taking advantage of more sophisticated
technology, director Ron Underwood (Tremors, etc) also improves upon
the original, even though it ultimately ends up being something of a
lukewarm cross between Gorillas In The Mist and King Kong.
Oscar winning effects designer Rick Baker (incidentally, the
man inside the gorilla suit in John Guillerman's 1976 remake of King
Kong) has created a life-like and realistic gorilla who interacts
beautifully with his human co-stars. Joe, the 20 foot gorilla, is
portrayed here as quite loveable, and ensures that audience sympathy
is with him all the way. The climax, in which Joe rescues a young boy
trapped on a blazing ferris wheel, is awash in mawkish sentimentality,
and threatens to unbalance the movie.
Jill Young (Charlize Theron, from The Devil's Advocate, etc)
has grown up as a wild child of the jungle. She and the gorilla Joe
share a life shaped by tragedy. Twelve years earlier they both lost
their mothers to the villainous poacher Strasser (Rade Serbedzija,
from The Saint, etc). Ever since, Jill has protected Joe from the
dangers represented by man, hiding him away from the rapidly
encroaching modern world.
One day he is discovered by Gregg O'Hara (Bill Paxton, from
Titanic, etc), a scientist who traps animals for a nature conservatory
in Los Angeles. O'Hara eventually convinces Jill that the safest
place for Joe is in the preserve, where he will be protected from
poachers. Joe initially reacts badly to being displaced from his
jungle home, but soon settles down as Jill watches over him.
All goes well, and Joe becomes the conservatory's biggest
attraction. Then Strasser returns to resolve unfinished business.
Joe escapes Strasser's clutches, and runs amok through the streets of
LA, climbing over familiar landmarks such as Mann's Chinese Theatre
and the Hollywood sign. There is plenty of action as Joe is pursued
through the streets and sewers of LA by helicopters. These sequences
are more genuinely exciting that the recent Godzilla, in which much of
the action was murkily shot.
The computer generated special effects are superb, although
they do not detract from the more human elements of the story.
Younger audiences may find themselves a little bored with the
developing romance between O'Hara and Jill, and the pace is a little
slow until Joe escapes into LA. Characterisation is pretty one
dimensional, although the performances overcome many of the
limitations of the formulaic and predictable script.
An always likeable and solid actor, Paxton brings plenty of
charm and sincerity to his role here. Special effects creator Ray
Harryhausen, who designed the Oscar winning stop motion effects for
the original, and actress Terry Moore, who starred in the 1949
version, both contribute brief cameos here.
This modern reworking of Mighty Joe Young is quite an exciting
and entertaining adventure, ideal family viewing for the holiday