King Kong has scenes the remind you of the original ... no surprise there ... it has scenes that copy/pay homage to the original ... no surprise there. Unlike the 1970s remake, better than its reputation but nonetheless a marginal film, the 21st-century Kong will bring fond memories to those who loved the original. The surprise was that on a couple of occasions, Peter Jackson managed to bring back memories of those wonderful splatter movies he made before he got famous. In particular, the battle with the ... and here, words escape me, I don't know, the insect/larva scene at the bottom of a chasm ... anyway, there's some pretty gross stuff in that scene, not as gross as Braindead/Dead Alive, but close enough. While Jackson goes to great lengths to attach his remake to the spirit of Depression-era American film making, these reminders of his own seat-of-his-pants productions do just as well in attaching this film to those splatter classics. And it's nice to know he hasn't forgotten those days.
The primary difference in the three versions of Kong revolve around the relationship between the lady and the ape. Fay Wray was revolted by Kong ... he may have loved her, but it was unrequited, understandably so considering he was a giant gorilla. Jessica Lange saw Kong as just another big ape, the kind she'd dealt with all her life ... she didn't hate him, any more than she hated any other guy trying to get into her pants, she just got annoyed. Naomi Watts tries yet another angle. She actually loves the big lunk. And it's to her credit (and Jackson's) that it's almost believable that Ann Darrow would get over her fear and start to connect with King Kong. (Watts also fulfills the other apparent requirement of the lead actress in a Kong production: nice legs.)
As for the rest, there's great stuff, good stuff, not-so-good stuff. Depending on your tolerance for Jack Black, there might even be some bad stuff ... I like Black OK, but thought he was easily the worst thing about this movie. I complain about movies being too long in the modern generation, and this movie is indeed too long, yet it goes by with relative speed, there aren't any boring moments, and while it didn't need to be three hours long, I'm more forgiving of Peter Jackson than I am of most filmmakers (although it is worth noting that you could watch his two best films, Braindead and Bad Taste, in about the same amount of time it takes to watch King Kong).
More importantly, and I think Jackson knows this better than anyone, no matter how much better the special effects are, no matter how loving the tribute Jackson pays to the original, no matter how effectively he adds a 21st-century sensibility to the film without damaging our memories of the original ... no matter all of this, the fact remains, without the original, there would be no remake. An obvious point, to be sure, but worth making. King Kong is Peter Jackson's version of a movie he loved. Jackson's first feature, Bad Taste, directed by, written by, starring, edited by, with makeup and cinematography and special effects by Peter Jackson, is his movie, period. I'm glad Peter Jackson remade King Kong, and it's a fine movie in its own right. It might even be "better" than the original. But it is not now, nor will it ever be, as essential as the original. And for those of us who loved his splatter-film beginnings, King Kong will never be as essential as Bad Taste and Braindead in our hearts.