Wednesday, February 01, 2006

KONG-founded




Each year I give myself the birthday present of attending a movie in an honest to God cinema. For three years in a row, it was Peter Jackson’s adaptation of THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy. This year, I reserved this special for Jackson’s remake of KING KONG. I must say that I wasn’t very moving. Well, not moving in the figurative sense. Literally, I did squirm.

After all the deserved awards and acclaim Jackson received for his triumphant Middle Earth saga, he decided to revive, KING KONG, his pet project. This re-imagining (as it’s now called) of the classic film inspired him to be a filmmaker in the first place. For something that has been burning in his soul for so long, how could Jackson have treated the whole thing so ham-handedly? The whole enterprise is one big bloated, overblown mess. It is clearly a half hour too long, if that little. The “new” characters and makeover of the originals are so bland that Jackson doesn’t seem to care for them himself. Bruce Baxter, the male star of the movie within the movie, starts out as a jerk, then a coward, performs a heroic act, then reverts to cowardice again in the final reel with no pay-off. Jack Driscoll is now a playwright, a botch of an idea that never pans out. Driscoll should have the actor who was a coward off-screen until he becomes a hero on the island. As for Carl Denham, Jackson is even more clueless. By casting Jack Black, he could have been a lovable rascal but instead turns into a half-baked charmless creep that can’t sustain a whole picture with (again) no comeuppance. The allusions to Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS are ill-advised as well, thrown in for no other good reason than to perhaps show that Jackson has read something else besides Tolkien. Much has been praised for the hour long Skull Island sequence and its non-stop action. To me, it wasn’t so much relentless as it was endless, and not much more than an amped up JURASSIC PARK. The brontosaurus stampede was not only cheesy, but pointlessly absurd as well. The giant insects would have been enough without Jamie Bell stupidly shooting them off of Adrian Brody with a tommy gun. Nice grouping! The highlight of the action scenes, Kong’s triple threat match with three T-Rexs, also drug on far too long. Everything had been put together with gaming in mind and that non-stop action is fine in that context, but it’s bad filmmaking and I grow weary of it all. Can’t someone just make a fucking movie anymore?

However, what is good about Jackson’s KING KONG is great, especially when he concentrates on his two lead characters. Naomi Watts is quite wonderful as Ann Darrow, the only character who is fleshed out satisfactorily. She is luminescent and her sincerity carries whatever scene she’s in. As far the star of the show, he is the reason Jackson made this damn movie in the first place. The big boy is stellar, a balls out action hero of the first order. Andy Serkis and the CGI team transform him into a star for the ages. One can’t help but cheer for the big lug whenever he gets his dander up, especially fighting back against the biplanes that eventually do him in. The love story at the core of this Beauty and the Beast tale cuts through all the fat and blubber that surrounds this three-hour supposed epic and almost makes the whole experience worthwhile.

The outcome is that this is not as cheesy as the 1976 version nor is it anywhere as horrific as its sequel KING KONG LIVES. Anyone remember this jewel from the eighties with Linda Hamilton where Kong gets an artificial heart? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? What this is is the second best KING KONG. Sorry to be a purist. The original rules.

As for Peter Jackson, well, I hope he starts to scale it down a little. I think I’ll get my wish for his next project, an adaptation of THE LOVELY BONES. After this blockbuster decade of his, I’d really like to see him pull back, regroup and perhaps get back to basics. I prefer to continue admiring the work of the man who made HEAVENLY CREATURES. I don’t need another George Lucas in the making. But with the release of this film, along with the concurrently released "Peter Jackson Production Diary DVD set" and the goddamn video game with his name above the title, perhaps he's taken a turn for the worse.

Instead of becoming George Lucas or even Steven Spielberg, maybe Peter Jackson, with his newly acquired, King Kong sized ego, might have tragically reinvented himself as Carl Denham.

Monkey see. Monkey do.
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