Sunday, January 08, 2006

Movie Review: King Kong

Director: Peter Jackson
Writers: Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (screenplay)
Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace (story)

Remember Saturday-afternoon matinees full of romping, restless kids jacked up on popcorn and pop? Ok, nor do I really, but I do recall the live-action Sinbad movies complete with the sword-fighting skeletons. Not cinematic glory or special-effects milestones, but fun and fulfilling nonetheless. Hollywood spectacles aren’t necessarily about art or meaning or the greater good. Sometimes it’s about chase scenes and treasure islands and scary-larger-than-live monsters. George Lucas once unapologetically described his often-maligned Star Wars series as “popcorn movies.” The Mummy falls into this category and so does King Kong.

Peter Jackson’s latest clocks in at approximately three hours; pretty lengthy even for grown-ups. Indeed, a lot of people have complained about this. Strangely, the length didn’t bother me at all; I was too busy running from dinosaurs to look at my watch. The story divides into four acts: the character introduction in Depression-era New York, the sailing to Skull Island, the adventure on the island, and the return to Gotham with Kong in tow.

Throughout the camera captures plenty of emoting courtesy of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), which would normally bug me but I’ll forgive for this picture; it’s in keeping with the ‘30s-era movie-making tone I think Jackson wanted to set. There’s lots of “damsel in distress” stuff happening, but to change that would be to further wrest the movie from the original’s moorings. This occurs often enough without further changing the characterizations. For example, there’s a sweet yet silly scene where Darrow entertains the ape, which I’m not sure actually appeared in the 1933 original. (If somebody knows for sure, please do comment. Otherwise, I’ll need to rent it to find out for myself.) All in good fun, though.

The production and art design are amazing, too. A quick search through the credits on Internet Movie Database confirms that many of the crew also worked on the Lord of the Rings films. So too with the digital effects developers. The scope and fine detail added to the entertainment value.

As far as a message or sub-text goes, King Kong is somewhat confusing. There’s a love story of sorts between a giant gorilla and a woman who later falls into the rescuing arms of writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). Is this a compassionate thing à la Dian Fosey, something sexually weird, or an overarching allegory for women’s perceived nurturing love of nature supplanted by men’s perceived technologically imperialist pursuit of the almighty entertainment buck? Perhaps this question is best left for the chin-rubbing wags of the film-studies set a part of which I’m not, thankfully.

So cast aside your watches, bring on the popcorn, suck back your soda, and enjoy. Be warned: the eighth wonder is best served on the big screen.

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