Tuesday, April 18, 2006

King Kong (Movie Review)

If ever you've been traumatized by a movie — particularly by a "scary" flick you watched as a kid — then you have some idea what it was like for me to watch Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005) remake.

And if you've seen any of the three renditions (originally done in 1933, and then again in 1976), you likely know the scene where Kong grips Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) in his hand and swings her violently around. You've seen the skeletons of his previous captives, and you probably remember the mayhem that ensued when he was unleashed in New York City.

For whatever reason, I saw these three scenes — and nothing else — when I was a kid. The result of which was years of anxiety brought upon by the idea of a giant ape wrecking havoc in my own hometown. When I learned that Jackson was remaking the film, I knew I needed to watch the entire thing — if only to save whatever face I lost after all those years of (foolishly) publicizing my irrational fear of gargantuan, man-eating apes.

I never managed to find the time to watch it in the theatre, where I suspect the Dolby digital sound system (coupled with the massive movie-screen) did it more justice than did my 19-inch television. But even on my own meager entertainment center, I couldn't help but wonder if the obvious green-screening was all the more amplified in the theatres. In other words: there were certain scenes [as when the film crew is running through the legs of brachiosauruses (brachiosauri?) during a feeding stampede] where I was simply unable to suspend disbelief. I could sense the actors were running from a green screen, and not three-dimensional Jurassic Era behemoths.

But this wasn't always the case, and I was fairly impressed by various special effects in other scenes (Kong in NYC, for example). It's particularly impressive when you consider so much of the film hinged on digital effects (the original NYC set, for example, was only four blocks wide and one story high, and Andy Serkis — of Gollum fame — once again does a great job performing the actions and sounds of an otherwise digital entity).

But I'm a writer, not a cinematographer or digital effects specialist. And so, it was the script that bothered me most.

I realize this 2005 remake is an homage to the original and, by this design, borrowed much of the sentiment from the original script: but 1930s sci-fi wasn't exactly known for its fine-writing. It's replete with verbal gimmicks, bad jokes and terrible aphorisms ("Twas beauty that killed the beast" — UGH!). This irritated me most at the beginning of the film, and then again at the end. But somewhere in the middle, I did find myself drawn to the tale itself, which contains at its core a story wherein the line between "human" and "beast" is hazy, at best. And if there's one thing I look for in a good story, ambiguity might be it.

And now that I've finally seen King Kong from beginning to end, I find myself more terrified of the "people" of Skull Island — or even the naivete of the film director Carl Denham (Jack Black), or the ruthlessness of the people that wished to kill Kong — than I ever was of Kong himself. At all points in the film, people act (often violently) without thinking; where as the "beast" seems the most capable of unselfish acts.

I wonder, too, if the original Kong may have helped give way to documentaries as we know them today; when Denham makes it to Skull Island, his fictional movie turns into a documentary, and I wonder if his roll in the film inspired "real" directors to capture "real" life on the "reel." Just an uninformed guess that, if nothing else, underscores my ignorance in regards to film history.

Also of note: keep your ears perched for familiar sounds. I could be wrong but — about an hour into the film — there's a track that I believe is nearly identical to what plays in Lord of the Rings.

No comments: