Thursday, December 29, 2005


So John mentioned that a group was getting together yesterday afternoon to go see King Kong, and I hoisted myself out of my office chair to go with the Lovely Bride. John and Janice were there, along with T'ed, Marc, and a surprise appearance by Stan of the Stannex, up from San Diego.

The movie was amazing and wonderful and long. That is probably where most people will have comments - where to cut. Marc felt it dragged in the opening scenes, getting the team to Skull Island. I actually though that the opening section was great (capturing the feeling of the other island in the movie - Manhattan of the 30's), but the early sequences on Skull Island lingered too long for me on "spooky shots of skulls". And that the movie captured in full the feeling of vertigo one gets when being carried around eternally by a giant ape.

Yet there is a lot packed into the movie, even at its length, a testament to the original and to this re-presentation (I can't call it a remake because it feels so fresh). There is the adventure story, and the funny bits, and the horrific bits (the "survivors attacked by vermin" sequence was a shut-your-eyes-tight nightmare), and the monster on the rampage, and the lost world, and the love story (Actress Darrow and Kong) and the love triangle (Darrow and author Driscoll and Kong). And there is something else - in the subtext, as they say. It is a film about the creative process.

No, really. One of the group mentioned that if the director also writes the screenplay, you end up with a writer as a protagonist. And while that is true more often than not (and that's another rant), the fact that the Driscoll character is an writer is new to the mix (Bruce Cabot was Driscoll in the 1933 version, but was First Mate on the ship). Driscoll writes "meaningful" theater for the National Theater Company, but lets his friendship with movie producer Carl Denham get him onto the ship in the first place. Denham, desperate for the script, stalls Driscoll as the ship sets sail. Driscoll runs to the railing to find there is about 50 feet of the East River between him and New York City. Denham tries to console him.

Carl Denham: You see, Jack, there's no money in theater. That's why you should join film.
Jack Driscoll: I love theater more then film.
Carl Denham: No you don't. If you love it, you would've jumped.

Denham WOULD have jumped - indeed, the ship casts off early to keep creditors from shutting down the movie. Denham is willing to sacrifice everything for his movie - his fortune, his film team, even the lives of everyone involved. The Jack Black's version of Denham is more malignant than Armstrong's 1933 version, and walks the fine line of becoming the true monster of the film (Jack Black is known for best known for playing the protagonist's lumpy stoner funny sidekick in romantic comedies - he shows himself as an incredible actor here). When the survivors of one of Kong's attacks mourn their dead, Denham mourns the loss of his film stock. And in the end, showmanship wins out for him, transforming Kong into an obviously tawdry and highly successful broadway show. The question of "what would you sacrifice" runs through the entire film, from Darrow and Kong's relationship on down.

Black was incredible, selling himself as a misguided villain as opposed to a happy, bumbling windbag. And Naomi Watts shows you can act against special effects and really act - she beats Fae Raye where Jessica Lange never could. And Andy Serkis as the man in the digital monkeysuit creates another fully-rounded, completely believeable, completely imaginary character.

I have said that it has taken a while for story to catch up with Special Effects in movies. We took a huge leap forward in the seventies and eighties, but the stories slipped a few cogs, not keeping up with the tech. This faithful expansion shows a time where the movie and the tech were in synch, and produced great work. Even at the length, even with the more squidgy sequences (again, faithful to the original), it is a wonderful movive. It is worth making the jump.

More later,