The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, April 17, 2006

King Kong

You want negative? I’ll give you negative. This movie rated a solid 9 on the Molay suck-o-meter. Peter Jackson over inflates every possible aspect of the 1933 original and creates a numbing test of endurance.

At three hours, eight minutes of run length, it sometimes feels like the story is being played in real time. Unlike many people, I rather liked the early sequences establishing the characters. Jack Black does a good job as a lovable movie maker / con man / scamp who seems devoted to his craft of filmmaking (at first). After some recent gritty reality film roles, Naomi Watts is back in glamour mode as a bright eyed ingénue, and she is lovely.

But then we start getting supplemental characters piled into the soup. The three studio execs. The other actors in Naomi’s vaudeville company. The ship full of crewmembers, each of whom is a “type.” The crew of Black’s film company. And on and on. The most baffling of these supporting characters is the first mate on the ship and his youthful ward. They go to the trouble of giving a long and mysterious back story to the young man, then drop it, never to reveal a payoff. And the distinguished black urbanite for some reason slumming as his mentor and fellow crewhand is an astonishing creation. He quotes passages from Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” and explains the psychological underpinnings of the protagonist.

Once we get to Kong’s island, there is an incredibly long sequence of the boat almost smashing against rocks. We feel fairly certain that this early in the story (although still about 45 minutes into the film) nobody important is going to be seriously killed before we’ve even seen Kong, so the frenetic rushing about and repetitious close scrapes are more tedious than tense. Then we do a travelogue tour of the digital ruins on the island.

Finally we meet the natives living among the ruins and we get a genuinely scary sequence. As a matter of fact, it is testament to the weakness of the rest of the film that the natives are a more fearsome and harrowing threat than any of the many monsters we encounter later.

The long middle sequence of the story is a never-ending consecutive series of battles among creatures and men. Every time you latch onto something that seems marginally threatening, you are desensitized and deadened to its impact by extending the fight sequences until you find yourself rooting for something, anything, to die – just to end the scene. But once one fight is over, it is only a matter of seconds until the next monster comes along and you’re right back into the same action again. I felt like I was watching an entire year’s run of “Perils of Pauline” shorts shoehorned into a single highlights reel.

The resolution of some of these fights is so ludicrous that I would have felt just as satisfied with the Blue Fairy coming down and waving her wand. A man is covered with giant insects. So another member of the party machine guns the insects off of him, despite having no experience with guns and using a Tommy Gun that is jerking wildly in his hands. Two members of the party escape certain death by grabbing onto the talon of a giant bat, which carries them off to safety. Men and women are regularly able to outrun (or at least pace) gigantic animals with strides measured in dozens of yards.

These kinds of fantasy aspects ruin tension sequences throughout the entire movie. When Kong is rampaging through New York near the blessed end of the picture, the Army is seen lobbing artillery shells through crowded public areas and firing wildly from the back of moving, bouncing trucks into office buildings and residences. Riiiiiighttt.

When Kong needs a tender moment alone with Ann Darrow (Watts), we suddenly go from the crowded, panicked, snowy streets of Times Square to a quiet residential side street where no humans are about, no snow is on the ground, and peaceful silence reigns complete.

Ann is quite the trouper as well, surviving repeated thrashings that should cause whiplash, concussion, or at least severe nausea. She makes it through her jungle adventures without a rip on her dress or a bruise. She is placed on shards of broken glass in a skyscraper with bullets raining more glass on her head and never suffers a whit. Why should I feel concerned for the safety and well-being of an invulnerable superwoman? Check out the initial scene where she meets Kong. Her wrists are tied to stakes using very thick ropes. Kong grabs her body and pulls her off the stakeout. How she survives this without broken wrists or having her arms ripped off her torso is beyond me.

And now we come to the emotional content of the movie. There is a line that Adrien Brody delivers to Naomi about why he’s written a play for her:
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“Not to me.”
“It’s in the subtext.”
“I must have missed it.”

Jackson will have no truck with subtext. In his version, Ann Darrow is completely and obviously in love with Kong. Not sympathetic, not empathetic, not conflicted… She plays a giddy, emotional, heart on the sleeve open-mouthed love relationship. And Kong is just as open in his human emotions. He plays depressed, amused, infuriated, and a tender, sunset-loving ladies’ man.

In an insane sequence, Ann does an improvised vaudeville routine for her captor, who turns up his nose contemptuously at her juggling, but enjoys a bit of slapstick. In a later even more insane sequence, the two of them play Bambi and Thumper on the ice as they gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes and giggle with the joy of teenage romance.

I’ve spent far too long on this already, but I can’t finish without coming back to the Jack Black character. In many ways, the movie is about him more than Kong or Darrow. He goes from his initial characterization as a man fixated on his filmmaking vision to a common money-grubbing opportunist who cynically turns the deaths of his crew to his advantage. Okay, I can deal with that if they want to play it so superficially. Forget the subtext, play it on top. At least it supports the famous final lines of the original movie, which are repeated at the end of this one:

Reporter: “The airplanes got him.”
Denham (Black): “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

That’s a cheesy closing line and it works in the original because Denham is the kind of promoter who pompously speaks in marketing-talk like that. He delivers it to the reporter as though he fully expects it to be picked up as the headline on the Special Edition later that night.

But in this version, Black as Denham looks at the fallen Kong with horror and a dawning revelation on his face as he delivers the final line to himself in a surprised realization of some horrible truth and turns away in shame and grief. It makes no sense and simply sounds loopy.

Ugh, this is wrong, wrong, wrong. Bad movie. Bad. Add it to the big pile of unnecessary and inferior Hollywood remakes. Repeat after me… Computer Generated Effects are NOT complete and sufficient justification for a movie!

Parents’ notes: Scary creatures in the forests. People dying in gruesome manners. Kong’s death an emotional trauma. It should be good nightmare material for about a month. No problems for older kids. No nudity and very light swearing.

PS: “But Ken! What about the completely unsupported and unbelievable transformation of Baxter’s vain actor character that is never mentioned again? What about the fact that Kong can withstand having his arms and shoulders chomped by multiple Tyrannosaurii with eight-inch fangs, but pulls back in shock when Ann slaps him? What about the fact that Kong’s scale changes radically from scene to scene (watch him in New York… he sometimes towers above streetlights and sometimes is the same size as them)? What about Ann’s imperviousness to cold and wind, standing at the top of the skyscraper on bare metal in spike heels and a filmy little dress in the early morning hours of a snowy December day? What about the fact that when the greatly reduced numbers of the landing party regather at the walls of the native city, they encounter no local resistance in their attempts to capture Kong nor even see another native, when once the residents were so persistent in their attempts to outnumber and kill the intruders? What about the practical considerations of getting Kong from the island to the ship, securing him (he can break through “chrome steel” for goodness sake!), and feeding him for the weeks of the return voyage?” I’m sorry... I’d love to help you, but I’m out of time and out of patience.


At 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am gonna have to disagree with you there, this version is one of the best and remains faithful to the original. Despite they shouldn't have made it too long. And added some characters that were unnecessary but it worth something to watch.

At 11:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is one of the best period. How come you don't like it?


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