While Peter Jackson's King Kong was certainly no box office failure, it did come under some critical scrutiny for its unwieldy length leaving it somewhat misshapen. Not only did David Churchill take issue with this view in Critics at Large, he found that the soul of the movie lay in the face of the lead actress.
Yes, I get that the centre portion, set on Skull Island where Kong first snatches Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), has too much of too much: Kong versus Dinos, Kong versus humans, humans versus revolting insects, Dino stampedes, on and on and on. Yet the first two times I saw it I couldn't stop smiling the entire time. I've now watched the film five or six times and my reaction is still the same. I finally viewed the 'extended cut' last week and another observation came to mind: the key to this film is in the performances. The original King Kong (1933) was the film that made Peter Jackson want to become a filmmaker. It is not overstating it to say he's been in love with Kong ever since. By way of quoting film critic Adam Nayman, my Critics at Large colleague Kevin Courrier said he thought one of the reasons the centre portion went on so long was that Jackson loved Kong so much he wanted to stall for as long as possible the New York sequence where Kong finally met his fate. It's clear watching the film that Jackson loved the big brute, and gave him enough loving close-ups to prove it. But there's another filmic love affair going on here. I think, for good reason, Jackson may also have been in love with Naomi Watts during the making of this film. He lavishes long, luxurious and frequent close-ups on her too.
When a director or producer becomes smitten with his star, it can sometimes be disastrous. I recall Jennifer Jones, an actress from the 40s and 50s. She was a beautiful woman (she died just this past December) who was the mistress of producer David O. Selznick. He was so enamoured of her he gave her starring roles in numerous pictures, including Portrait of Jennie (1948) and Duel in the Sun(1946). Both were legendary flops in their day, partially because Jones was, at best, a mediocre actress. Fortunately, Jackson didn't have that trouble because Naomi Watts is a wonderful actress and she gave an absolutely outstanding performance in King Kong.