King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

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King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby wpqx » Sun Dec 25, 2005 6:49 pm

A waste of time? That's the first thing I thought when I heard Peter Jackson was remaking King Kong, one of the most hokey and overrated of all classic films. It was already remade once to disastrous results in 1976, and I figured the man behind some of the best films of the last 15 years was seriously wasting his time and talents on an adaptation. Then I heard something that began to change my mind, and that was that Naomi Watts was cast to play Ann Darrow. I make no attempt to hide the fact that I find Miss Watts the most beautiful woman on the planet and will probably see any movie good or bad she's in, sooner or later anyways. Then I heard that they weren't going to modernize the story, keeping it in 1933, and this touch wound up working quite well. With the team responsible for LOTR in tow, I figured this film couldn't be too bad. I'm morally opposed to all remakes, but well I wasn't a fan of the original, so there was certainly room for improvement.

Then came the reviews, and the top ten lists, and lets just say there are some fans of this film out there. I was shocked to find Roger Ebert, who basically dismissed all of the Rings trilogy included Kong in his year end top ten list. Now it appeared I needed to see this film, three hours or not. There were techincal marvels to behold, bold entertainment pieces, and lots of CGI which usually makes me cringe, however duty calls, and just as I'll have to see Brokeback Mountain, so too did I have to pay my respects to Kong.

The film is a classic three act story. Each section of the film divided into a nice hour long segment. There is an hour of exposition, leading up to the arrival, or rather running into, of Skull Island. Then the story takes another hour or so to explore the island, fight random prehistoric monsters, and set up the relationship between Kong and Ann. Finally we get Kong in New York and on Broadway, with the inevitable climb up the Empire State Building. Broken down like this Kong doesn't resemble one film but rather three nice little films. One of which is expository and a collection of details and observations about the time.

The first hour is possibly the slowest in terms of plot and excitement. Jackson is trying to get us to feel for these characters. Jack Black's Carl Denham is set up as the renegade auteur. A constant showman, straight from PT Barnum. Denham never misses an opportunity to profit, and is convinced he is the greatest thing to happen to himself. He is out for glory, and he is out for profit, not necessarily in that order. We find ourselves on his side, because he is on the run. It is his film that's going to be scrapped and sold for stock footage, it is him that's got a warrant out for his arrest, he is dead broke and on the run, with hardly a script, a crew, or even a good idea of where the hell he's heading. We feel for him because he is down and out. Just as we feel for Watts' Ann. She is broke as is, due to the fact that it is the depression, and her vaudeville theater has just been shut down. Her only friend in town is leaving, and she is close to going into a peep show for money (a scene I desperately wish was included). Her and Carl seem to be a quick match, they need each other, but their possible connection and entanglement is bypassed really quickly.

The first film made numerous inferences to Kong being Denham's repressed sexual instinct, which is all but disregarded here. Kong is not the animal side of Denham, but rather his own seperate beast, which we'll explore later. The only character we don't get too much feeling for is Adrien Brody's Jack Driscoll, a writer very much admired by Ann. He shows up, quietly woos Ann, but we don't feel much of his pain, despite being conned into being stuck on a boat headed for a mysterious island never before seen by man. He is the only one really there against his own will, but as Denham says "If you really loved the theater you would have jumped". It is the instinct of Driscoll that keeps him on the boat, which winds up working in some way for him, because without it he wouldn't have met Ann.

On the boat we are introduced to several crew members. A touch military man, a foreign captain, and a somewhat pointless and stupid mysterious stowaway who happens to be a kleptomaniac. This is one character that I found completely useless to the story, and when the casualties were piling up on Skull Island, I really wanted his to be one of them. As a bit of a cheat we never really see what happens to him. Kong smashes the row boat with him in it, and he goes flying, but no body alive or dead is seen again, unless of course I missed something.

The hour on Skull Island is where the story really picks up. I must hand it to Jackson who got his start in comedy horror, the man has some idea of what it may take to make a scare. I found the natives cast on the Island to be among the creepiest "savages" yet captured on film. You truly were creeped out by them, and feared for the lives of those brave/stupid souls that wandered off the ship to go exploring. There is cut footage I'm told, and the scene from the original of Ann attempting to scream on camera for Carl is cut from here, which might have come in handy here. Instead we are shown Kong only in brief glimpses. Of course hearing him before we see him.

Ann is offered as a sacrifice, and I must say Kong has a nice taste in ladies. Her entrance into the world of Kong is one that we see can actually be a place for her. Kong is not going to kill her, as we quickly discover, partially based on the vaudeville talents of Ann, who discovers that falling down is the funniest thing to a 25 foot gorilla, not surprising to find him a fan of the low-low brow. It is this ability to make "people" laugh that saves Ann, and let's us get an early glimpse of Kong's heart. The fact that he beats the holy hell out of several dinosaurs for Ann is another clear indicator that he's out to prove himself. He's the King of this jungle, and in a touch taken straight from the original after killing one particular Tyrannosaurus, he checks its broken jaw to see if it moves.

During Ann's havoc she gets in contact with some rather hideous insects, always something to make me squirm, and two centipedes that would probably make me defecate on myself if in contact with them. These may be the creepiest moments of the film, but the creatues encounterd in the bottom of the canyon by the rescue party are what really get you rolling. Giant spiders, huge bugs, and 50 foot worms with various different mouths looking like creatures from a Star Wars film. In this aspect Jackson has free reign to create monsters, far eclipsing the dinosaurs and bugs of the original. He gets some generally creepy moments here, and as admirable as stop motion may be, it is no match for what is accomplished here.

It is during Ann's rescue that the greatest emotional weight is weighed. Kong's capture is heartbreaking, truly. I probably would have cried if I had tear ducts. It is a startling moment, and one of great power that I would have expected from such "Hollywood" entertaiment. Here is where Ann goes from more than just some animal rights activist to a lover of Kong. She is more than just lashing out at their cruelty, she is weeping for her lover, the one person/thing that could truly protect her, keep her safe, and give her a home of her own. She has lost that as they capture him, and this once might warrior, who battled dinosaurs, giant bats, and anything else on this island was powerless against some chloroform. A truly touching moment.

We get a little reprisal on Manhattan. Kong gets to run amuck and I for one was quite pleased. Unlike in the original where any girl who wasn't Ann was killed by Kong, here he just seems to fling them aside, not necessarily killing them or eating them. Come to think of it Kong doesn't have a taste for human flesh, we never see him eat any person. In fact the only thing we really see him eat is a branch off a tree, making perhaps a reference to him being a vegetarian? Although he does bite the head off of a creature or two, not so much for the taste but for the kill. Once he finds Ann in Manhattan the two have a date, complete with ice skating in Central Park, a romantic evening alone for many couples. It is a sweet touch, and we see that the love these two have is mutual. Here is where we start to feel a little for Driscoll, who can't really compete with Kong. Sure he was brave/smart enough to rescue her from the island, but how can he be more masculine than a 25 foot gorilla that kills dinosaurs with his bare hands? Kong is the "man" that Ann needs, and Ann is the woman that they both want.

I'll spare you much overanalyzing on the ending. It is kept relatively similar, including one cheesy line from the original, but it is what leads up to this that makes it superior. A truly fantastic achievement, and continuing a rather impressive run of films from Peter Jackson, who's making himself quite the bankable Hollywood player these days. Of course as always the film was shot entirely in New Zealand, so perhaps not as Hollywood as others might think.

Grade A

Re: King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby jcdavies » Fri Sep 01, 2006 6:09 am

Well, i'm sorry but i just didn't last the distance with it. For me, it encapsulates everything that's wrong with Hollywood:

-pointless remake of beloved classic
-reliance on marketing hype
-relentless roller-coaster pacing
-uninspired compositional sense and use of shot-reverse shot
-over-reliance on special effects and spectacular sets
-macho bludgeoning into submission and obsession with size
-needless rapid-fire editing
-equally needless (often swirling, swooping, nausea-inducing) camera moves
-multiple shots when one will do
-showy, boastful style
-insistent melodramatic score
-waste of talent
-over-use of close ups to milk emotions
-racism alongside attempt at "political correctness"
-wallowing in nastiness and violence
-reference to classic book (or other artwork- see also Titanic) to demonstrate "cultural sophistication"
-audience manipulation
-dumb dialogue
-shallow characterisation
-pandering to teen mentality
-heavy-handed sensationalism and self-glorification
-relegation of genuine intelligence and soul behind "technical advances"
-wasteful budget

Jackson showed promise with Heavenly Creatures and Fellowship of the Ring but the latter was marred by its relentless ending and here that's developed into an overwhelming fault. Such a juvenile effort; Jackson could do with growing up- and perhaps we could do with some female directors taking the reins till he and the rest of Hollywood does? The little boys have had their turn with the toys.

Poor Naomi Watts (so wonderful in Mulholland Dr), stuck with such a monstrosity.

Re: King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby wpqx » Fri Sep 01, 2006 3:28 pm

I'm amazed how much I wrote about the film, and I still stand by my favorable praise. Naomi Watts gave one of the best performances of last year. I should also add (or repeat) that I disliked the original version, found it horribly dated, clumsy, and overwrought with bad techinical limitations. I must say I was a little disappointed with the Heart of Darkness reference, but I geniunely thought the natives on Skull Island were generally creepy. Jackson's style has always been rather rapid, just watch Dead Alive, I've gotten used to it. If someone is going to be part of the system and make mindless entertainment at least do it well, and I don't think anyone's doing it better than Jackson. He embodies all the good qualities of Spielberg without being overly kid friendly.

Re: King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby arsaib4 » Sat Sep 02, 2006 3:14 am

I fall somewhere in the middle between wqpx and, as he currently known as, jcdavies, though I'm leaning towards the latter. A couple of excellent points by him:

"-over-reliance on special effects and spectacular sets
-macho bludgeoning into submission and obsession with size."

[My old post]

Prior to watching Peter Jacksons King Kong a couple of weeks ago, I had only seen the 1976 Kong by John Guillermin, and even that was quite a few years back on French television. Since then, however, Ive had the opportunity to catch the Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsacks 1933 original and also a few parts of the 1976 remake on TCM and AMC (Ill let you guess which played where). Anyway, whats quite remarkable about the original film is that it makes the most of its playing time of about 100 minutes: its screenplay is lean and to the point. Also, Willis OBriens "visual effects" were considered to be quite remarkable for that time and its not hard to see why. On the other hand, the first remake plays out like a genuine "B" film (not surprising considering that it was produced by Dino De Laurentiis) containing shoddy performances and nauseating special effects. Kongs behavior in this film is also oversexualized which is actually what sticks out more than anything else (no pun intended). The expression on his face while hes stroking and fondling Jessica Lange (lookin mighty fine, btw) with his finger is simply priceless. The behavior of our new Kong is comparably much more mature and gentlemanly. A friend blithely suggested that perhaps like many of our other "leading men" this year, Kong is gay, and wouldve preferred if the natives sacrificed Driscoll instead of Darrow. (No wonder Watts actually had to "vaudeville" him. I cant even imagine what the other Kongs wouldve done to her for their, and our, pleasure.)

*The opening sequences certainly did provide a more than efficient background for the characters and the world they inhabited. But once the journey began, thats where Jackson was quite loose with the editing. Skull Island shouldve been reached in about, say, 45-50 mins., instead of the whole hour it took.

*It was amusing to hear the man/nature monologues by first-mate Hayes. And that was because of my suspicion that perhaps Jackson recovered a few sound reels in Australia that Malick left behind after The Thin Red Line (1998). Even Howard Shore's score all of the sudden turned very familiar. Anyway, Jamie Bells Jimmy was on the receiving end, the only purpose he served.

*Im not sure how to divide the credit between Andy Serkis and the technicians who handled the CGI motion-capture related with Kong. He is simply a magnificent creation. There wasnt a moment where he didnt look "real."

*The running with the Brontosauruses was a highlight, and one of the few moments where it wasnt clear what was about to happen next (and thats a good thing). A later sequence involving Kong and a couple of Tyrannosauruses was quite silly, though. I wasnt aware of the fact that Kong has watched a few "Chop-Socky" flicks in his lifetime.

*One of the reason why I brought up the editing issue earlier is because it wouldve been a nice touch to spend some time with the characters on the way back from the Island. Jackson couldve utilized the time to depict the evolving relationship between Darrow and Driscoll. And what about the feelings Captain Englehorn had for the leading lady? Wasnt he the one who initially risked the lives of his men in order to save her? But then, I guess there's a reason why the film is titled what it is.

*And does anyone care about the blondes who were picked up and thrown aside and the planes who probably crash-landed somewhere on someones rooftop? Nah, me neither. Last year it was Scorseses pretty boy, and now its Jackson himself (playing one of the gunners, just like what Cooper did in the original) who just might come crashin in. Hollywood is now literally invading your living-rooms so LOOKOUT!

King Kong had the potential to be a remarkable film, kind of like Titanic (1997), but Jacksons towering ambition, which did wonders for him in the Lord of the Rings trilogy ('01-'03), seems to have hurt him on this occasion. The film is a little too long, a little too loud, and a little too pleased with itself. LA Weekly's film-critic Scott Foundas said it best: "Kong never misses an opportunity for ostentation. Its like the nouveau riche on the block who drives his Lamborghini to the corner store when walking would suffice." Having said that, it could be argued that it is far and above recent remakes like Frankenstein (1994) and Psycho (1998). Jackson has said that he wants to do a couple of smaller films at this point, and hopefully he'll stick to this plan.

Re: King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby jcdavies » Sat Sep 02, 2006 7:54 am

I love Naomi Watts- of course she was the best thing about the film- but i had one of my strongest physical, emotional and intellectual adverse reactions to a film; stronger than when i had to leave the cinema feeling nauseous with Amlie (and then i was in the front row). By half way i was already overwhelmed, in a state of shock, battered and barely coherent. Stop! Stop! Throw in the towel! Jackson wins in round 7 by knockout. For 1/2 hour after, I was literally slumped in my chair in a daze, still reeling + not knowing what had hit me. I may now have to be clamped with eyes held wide open a la Clockwork Orange for the next Jackson masterclass; the prospect of a rematch fills me with abject terror. I know how Frank Bruno felt having to meet Tyson again, or Frazier when pulverised by George Foreman. I'm just a poor sensitive soul; i think a long period of recuperation, quietly knitting, is in order. Or whole days spent caressing the beautiful Tibetan cherry tree i encountered in a park this week. Oh, soft, kind, lovely cherry; beauty to Jackson's beast.

Please call me John- i have a vague recollection that's my name.

Re: King Kong (2005) - Peter Jackson

Postby wpqx » Sat Sep 02, 2006 1:23 pm

Well John I thought the film flew by, and had a genuinely warm and entertaining reaction to it. It would be nice to see Jackson scale it down (ala Heavenly Creatures or Forgotten Silver), but who knows? Personally I would have been pleased if Watts got an Oscar nomination for her work here, she was better than all but maybe Witherspoon last year, but how could the Academy resist some prime "I want to win an Oscar" perormance like Judi Dench in Mrs. Henderson Presents, especially considering Hoskins actually did a better job in the film. Likewise Theron had overtones of "trying too hard to be important" in North Country, the rest of the nominees on the other hand I felt were deserving (Huffman and Knightley).

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