January 1st, 2006

Whale fluke

"Kong" – short name, long review

(Suggestion: Read this if A) you’ve already seen King Kong, or B) are not planning on seeing it anyway. Spoilers ahoy. Still, I don’t want to put it behind a cut.)

I have a gasped-out, “Oh My God”-quality laugh that I laugh when I see something insanely audacious (or audaciously insane, take your pick) and am suitably impressed.

I didn’t use this laugh much in the first hour of King Kong. I used it some in the last hour. I used it A LOT in the middle hour. Whew. That flick wore me out. Sometimes (especially on Skull Island) that’s a good thing. Sometimes that’s a bad thing. Ultimately I left the theater last night feeling about as shaken as Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, thrown around and falling down. (Thank goodness it was it’s-only-a-movie shaking, which doesn’t harm me or Watts or anyone except for pedants who worry about physics being ignored in a Giant Ape flick.)

As I figured it would, this remake of King Kong allows Peter Jackson, essentially, to let his inner nine-year-old direct a movie. When I was that age, I had such Star Wars toys as a piece-together Death Star, and my standard play was to remove pieces and make it collapse. (Of course the Death Stars didn’t collapse, they f’ing exploded, but portraying that was beyond my means and, I hasten to add, my inclination. Yeah, I wasn’t a “let’s blow it up!” Beavis-type!) So Jackson cheerfully concentrates on What Looks Cool, which includes dinosaur stampedes, the S.S. Venture dodging rocks like it’s in a hazard-choked slalom course, Kong throwing people into walls, supporting characters being torn apart and eaten, giant creatures stumbling off cliffs, and (oh my God) Kong and two dinosaurs fighting while hanging from tangled masses of vines.

That laugh I mentioned? Yeah, I was really using it then.

Of course, most nine-year-olds are not known for their taste (Me? I was still watching The Smurfs at that age) and restraint. They also don’t usually get to spend 207 million dollars on their playing like Jackson does. So this is three hours of Exploding Id, with a result that’s not especially thoughtful or deep, and while I feel the emotion of this film is genuine (as opposed to the technical exercise of Spielberg’s work on the Jurassic Park series), it’s also pretty juvenile.

Maybe it had to be that way. Jackson can balance the emotional and intellectual sides of a story – which (to me) is what makes his Lord of the Rings films work so amazingly well, because they portray Tolkien’s depth of thought in creating the story but also make that story a more openly emotional experience – but there’s less meat to King Kong, so Jackson can’t do that as much. He and co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens do what they can, to their credit, while also slyly acknowledging the original’s melodrama (a scene from the first Kong becomes, in this version, part of the movie that Carl Denham is shooting while sailing to Skull Island – nicely meta). And adding Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a nice touch. Still, Kong (any version) is no Moby Dick in the challenging-your-intellect department.

Example: plotting-wise, the jump from Skull Island back to New York made me think I was missing something huge: Huh? Darrow and Driscoll and Denham have all gone their separate ways? When did that happen? Did they have a falling-out? This was, I think, an unnecessary complication, as the film has to take time to reunite the three human leads when Kong escapes the Times Square theater. (But, OK, I’ll admit it, what an escape! As he rampages into the orchestra level, smashing seats aside like huge and heavy leaves, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if he climbed the balcony?” and lo and behold, Kong climbed the f’ing balcony!) It seems like a plot hole, and you shouldn’t be thinking of those while experiencing the story.

And since the last line no longer really quite fits (I didn’t care for it as a last line in the original, either), I wondered: what if there had been no dialogue for Kong’s last few minutes? Just pure imagery, not risking being cheapened by comments?

Thank goodness that there are moments of calm – perhaps my favorite moment is a blink-and-you-miss-it appearance by a Triceratops (yay!) drinking from a river – and moments of gentle humor, like when the kidnapped Darrow figures out Kong wants to play, so she starts doing vaudeville routines for him. This escalates into Kong playing along, gently knocking her over (yes, it’s possible) and laughing his monkey laugh. And a Tyrannosaurus Rex sneaking up behind Darrow is actually a credible version of the monster-silently-approaches-heroine image usually done so badly in monster films or horror/stalker/slasher films. (Remember my laugh? It happened again then!)

And Andy Serkis (whether as Kong, Gollum or the Venture’s chef getting eaten by leeches) is now a god. Let him do anything now, please.
Whale fluke

Other yesterday stuff:

Saturday, I went to the Aladdin Theater about ten blocks from my place and bought a ticket for one of Kris Kristofferson’s solo acoustic concerts; I’ll see him on the 9th. You know, his writing for Janis Joplin (“Me and Bobby McGee”) and Johnny Cash (“Sunday Mornin’s Comin’ Down”) should be enough to make me want to hear him, plus happyspector enthused recently about Kristofferson’s music, so he’s definitely worth a try. And I should stop being a snob about country music, so I don’t miss any good country music.

Then, after some other errands, I traveled farther than planned to see King Kong. I decided to try a brew pub in St. Johns that shows first-run movies (coffeeinhell likes the place), so I took a long bus ride from downtown up to that theater, only to find it had closed early for New Year’s Eve.

“That wasn’t in the ads,” I said to the guy who was telling people this.

“I know, it wasn’t in the ads,” he said, in the weary tone of someone who’s had to say that several times to several people.

I feel stupid for having said it, as if my saying it would magically make the theater open, so knowing I was starting to sound like Clueless Customer Person, I said, “OK, I understand.” Maybe I should’ve fallen to my knees Heston-style and screamed, “Nnnnnnnnnnnnoooooooo!”

So I hopped another bus that, conveniently, goes right past my neighborhood, stopped at home, dropped off my things, then drove to another theater that definitely was open. The results are below! Review-age for your reading pleasure! And isn’t that what it’s all about, Dear Readers?