WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Peter Jackson first tried to remake the film "King Kong" (search) at age 13 — using a cardboard model of the Empire State Building, a bedsheet painted with a New York backdrop and his Super 8 film camera.
How times have changed.
New Zealand's Jackson, now 40 and with three Oscars for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, said the star-studded, multimillion-dollar remake will have some major changes from the 1933 original.
There will be much greater character development — particularly for the "very battered (and) ancient ... gorilla."
"He's a very old gorilla and he's never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature during his long ... brutal life," Jackson said.
Scriptwriters had put a lot of thought into exploring what would happen if a relationship formed between an aging, brutalized gorilla and a young woman.
The animal originally thinks he's going to kill her, "and then he slowly moves away from that and it comes full circle," Jackson said.
Australian actress Naomi Watts (search), who plays damsel in distress Ann Darrow, stood on the deck of the film's tramp steamer Thursday — but declined a preview of the bloodcurdling screams for her part in the remake.
"I'm saving my voice," said Watts, who'll reprise the role made famous by Fay Wray (search).
Watts said she was "very sad" Wray didn't live to see the remake. She died Aug. 8 in her Manhattan apartment at age 96.
"Those are big shoes to fill," Watts told reporters, adding Wray "did a wonderful job" in a role that the late actress often said had typecast her.
"It is an iconic movie and an iconic role. Hopefully people won't suddenly see me as only this role," said Watts, who earned a best actress Oscar nomination for playing a grief-stricken mother in 2003's gritty drama "21 Grams."
The Universal Pictures "King Kong" remake is due for release in December next year.
Oscar winner Adrien Brody (search), the movie's romantic hero Jack Driscoll, and offbeat comedy actor Jack Black (search), who plays raconteur and filmmaker Carl Denham, were also at Thursday's pre-shoot photo call on the set.
Brody said his character blends both sensitivity and heroism, "and oftentimes an actor is not presented with a role of that caliber. It's usually one or the other."
Black said he'd accepted his role as "a passionate and obsessed" filmmaker without seeing a script.
For Jackson it is "reliving a childhood dream" to direct the film on the back lot of his studios in a suburb of New Zealand's capital, Wellington.
"I have loved the film since I was a kid," he said. "It really inspired me want to become a filmmaker because I saw the movie when I was about 8 or 9 years old ... and it just captured a feeling fantasy and adventure and mystery," he added.