Tuesday, May 13, 2008

King Kong 2005 - A look back




It's 2008, and 75 years ago (circa a few months back), King Kong premiered to captivate audiences in a way never before imagined.
Now I look at my personal favorite film, Peter Jackson's King Kong, almost 3 years after its release in theaters in 2005. It's an odd feeling, watching a film for the first time, watching it for maybe a few more times, getting it for your own collection, then let it collect dust for awhile before you crack it open once more and throw it into your dvd player (or in my case, catch it by accident on TNT).

The result is a rather perplexing experience, especially for me and Kong. I recall 2005 with great fondness, and being absolutely enamoured with the film and everything to do with it, not to mention my respect for the classic Kong (to that point little more than "Godzilla's inspiration" on a sticky note tacked to the film in my cerebral library) grew immensely. Upon viewing it, I was assaulted by an emotional experience for a giant beast that I hadn't felt since perhaps Godzilla's nuclear heart exploded from his body in 1995. For the next year or so I fervently venerated the film, calling it (not so silently) one of, if not THE best film I had ever seen. In fact I took to viciously defending it in case I met some fuddy-duddy who found it undesirable. I motioned that anyone who disliked Kong '05 had a heart made of melted shards of glass and a soul more dry and putrid than an old onion husk (much like detractors of GMK). In retrospect...and I'm quite loath to admit it, but King Kong 2005 isn't what I wanted to believe it is. Now don't concern yourself, dear reader, Kong 2005 is still my favorite film of all time, but for a plethora of reasons. All my repeat viewings have done are to give me a more rounded perspective of the film and where others come from when they express distaste for it (despite it being one of Universal's most profitable home-video sales of all time).
I'll get my undying love of the film out of the way first, so you cynical bastards can just skim over this part. The relationship between Kong and Ann is nothing short of cinematic and narrative genius, and I will slap anyone across the face who argues otherwise. The sheer, unspoken beauty of this onscreen drama cannot be evoked more beautifully or sublimely. Kong, played masterfully by Andy Serkis, wasn't just a computer-animated piece of nothing like Ang Lee's Hulk or, God Forbid, Roland Emmerich's "Zilla." Serkis was on the set for all of Kong and Ann's scenes, and he acted against and with her for all the interaction. There's REAL acting going on there, not just soulless green-screen. Not to be outdone, Ann, played by Naomi Watts, is a remarkable beauty who, like in the words of Fay Wray herself, held "Ann Darrow in good hands" (no pun intended). Naomi has such onscreen presence and is such a powerful actress that she was robbed an Oscar nomination...oh wait, nevermind, since the Oscars is a big fat idiotic scam anyway, there I said it.
And God Dammit, JACK BLACK. You sunnavabitch. Okay, granted, all the actors maintain a level between competent and excellent acting, but Jack Black just plain steals the show. He's so damn fun and interesting as this new take on Carl Denham that, rather than attempt to channel Jack Armstrong's original character, he forges his own cross between his own persona and Orson Wells.
That said, let's talk DINOSAURS and other horrific beasties on this island. Yes, okay, it's all very excessive. There's more critters on this island that should even be legal, but I just can't help but adore the design team for coming up with them all! Granted, there are many creatures from the production that I would have preferred to see over the "Wetasaurus," but the sheer spectacle that these dinosaurs embody, the ornamentation on the heart and soul that is the love story, simply cannot be beaten. The V-Rex's themselves are stars in their own right, the big, violent lot of them. The Piranhadon swamp monster and rampaging Ferrucutus (triceratops thing) from the extended edition THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN THEATRICAL are two of my favorite creatures as well.

Well, I could go on, but I've detailed Jackson's more genius decisions in the past, especially the musical numbers in NYC at the start and end of the film, as well as some truly sublime storytelling aspects, but let's get to what I'm finally willing to agree is not so great.

First and foremost, the film is too damn long. Yes, this is an argument repeated many times, but I've finally come to truly accept it. Peter, I love you man, but get a damn editor. If you love the spectacle of the film so huggy-muggy-much (line blatantly stolen from Yahtzee), why replace that with some psuedo-man-boy story that goes absolutely nowhere? You're gonna' look me in the eye and say that you were willing to replace a big hungry piranha/sea-serpent/thingy with some bullshit about "It's not about being brave, Jimmy"? I did like Hays as part of the "Driscoll Trio" of characters inspired by the original Jack Driscoll (said burly black man, heroic writer and shallow movie-star), but everything, and I mean absolutely EVERYTHING with Jimmy and interactions with Hays feels completely unnecessary...tacked-on at best. There was supposed to be some sort of "young man learns about life" going on here, but after Hays dies, Jimmy seems to literally become dead weight or a walking hazard. There's probably a good hour of exposition that could be cut from the film, and it would be SO much tighter and more enjoyable without losing the spectacle or the real drama. I'll make a list:
1. All Jimmy/Hays crap.
2. A LOT of the scenes that drag on and on could be trimmed down immensely.
3. About half of the whole sea-voyage bull.

Something else that has finally started bothering me is the general logic that pervades several parts of the film. Yes, okay, my belief is already suspended what with the whole giant ape/way too many dinosaurs for that tiny island to sustain, but seriously, can we have a little dignity? The Brontosaurus stampede is almost universally regarded as one of the poorer spfx in the film, and I'm inclined to agree, with the exception of some truly breathtaking shots in that sequence...but raptors? C'mon, Peter. We've SEEN raptors. Why not Carnotaurs, like your first idea? Or how about those four-legged wolf-raptor things from the beautiful concept art book? THOSE would be AWESOME. Anyway, it's just how strangely fake and removed everyone is in this scene that throws me, not to mention in the Ferrucutus scene, where the SPFX guys seem to be too aware of how to work a creature AROUND the actor.
It's natural that a piece set in the 1930's will be a somewhat awkward transition to a 2005 audience without going the tongue-in-cheek route of The Mummy or Jackson's original script for Kong, but still, the spectacle is hard for some people to swallow when it takes big leaps like "How did they get Kong to New York?" and "Why are they so quick to want to kill Kong?" and "Why do they keep searching for one girl when several of them have already died?" That last bit has to do with pacing, frankly.
Speaking of The Mummy, there were elements of that film that were oddly parallel with Jackson's bizarre but wildly entertaining 1996 script that could have and should have been integrated into the final Kong product. It seemed as though when trying not to be so SERIOUS SERIOUS SERIOUS all the time is when Jackson's films have the most entertaining. Can anyone say they would have enjoyed Lord of the Rings more had they not made Gimli the comedy relief? There's a scene in the extended edition where an platoon commander is harping about a "filthy ape" in an extremely humans-are-best-and-everything-else-has-to-die manner, and then gets barreled by Kong that absolutely SHOULD have been in the final product.

Of course, with all my criticism here tonight, it would be easy to say that my opinion of Kong has lowered, and if you think that then you're a liar and a filthy horrible person, because it has not. King Kong 2005 is still my favorite film of all time, not just because I can take the spectacle and all of the best aspects of the film more to heart than any of the bad pieces that most other people let absolutely annihilate their movie experience (and as such are people who inherently must dislike cinema as a whole). One of the biggest factors is how much absolute LOVE went into this film. Yeah, remember "LOVE"? Yeah, that whole thing that people scoff at nowadays. It's the sort of thing that led to the birth of the Speed Racer film (a joyous and also overly-long experience in my humble, fiery opinion). While watching the video of Peter while he mulls over Fay Wray's death, you don't see a director; you see a man who's just learned that a childhood idol and first crush died before he could give her a last shining moment on film (a cameo at the point of Kong's death). Jackson and his army of nerds have created one big fangasm, and though it doesn't always work, it's still a great and epic cinematic experience, and I'll still defend it with tooth and claw.

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