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Mighty Joe Young

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Mighty Joe Young

Starring: Bill Paxton, Charlize Theron
Director: Ron Underwood
Rated: PG
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: December 1998
Genres: Action, Family

*Also starring: Rade Serbedzija, Naveen Andrews

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

Review for Mighty Joe Young (1998)

Mighty Joe Young (1998)

reviewed by
Greg King

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 flavour.

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 season.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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