January 7, 2008

Mini-review: King Kong (2005)

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King Kong 2005
King Kong (movie; 2005)
Written by Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens
Directed by Peter Jackson

As exciting as it is when a filmmaker accidentally puts out a masterpiece when no one's expecting it (think the Wachowski Brothers' The Matrix, for example), there's a natural problem that comes with that as well, which is the hugely inflated expectations for that filmmaker's next movie, especially when it's a high-profile one that turns out to be not very good (think the Wachowskis' Matrix follow-up, V for Vendetta...or better yet, don't). I've always wondered, for example, if this is what happened with New Zealander Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of the classic King Kong, his first project since the history-changing Lord of the Rings (LOTR) adaptation from the turn of the millennium; I saw it in the theatre myself back when it first came out, was extremely disappointed by what I saw, and have now spent the last three years wondering if maybe I gave it an unfair shake, by unfairly comparing it to LOTR when in fact nothing can be compared to LOTR. And so I was happy when I recently came across it at my neighborhood library, because it indeed meant that I could give the film a second chance; and in fact, for the first hour or so of the movie I had indeed thought that I had made a mistake when originally sizing it up, in that the King Kong I was suddenly watching three years later seemed a lot better than the one I remembered from the theatres, a funny character study that uses just the right mix of live action and CGI to create a New York that no longer exists.

Ah, but then they get to Skull Island. And the natives who look suspiciously (and a little offensively) like Orcs. And the head-sucking goo monsters. And the giant man-eating wetas. And the dinosaurs; oh, all those dinosaurs. And all those ponderous, unexplainable ten-minute scenes where Jackson attempts to make Naomi Watts and a giant ape emotionally bond while at the top of an isolated mountain. Oh Lord, oh Lord. And then I suddenly remembered, "Oh yeah, there's a reason I disliked this movie so intensely when I first saw it; I remember now." Because the sad fact is that, after creating a LOTR trilogy that expressly avoided the usual way Hollywood does things as much as possible (which is why it's so well-loved, after all), Jackson's very next project is a textbook example of the usual way Hollywood does things; bloated, bombastic, with a fatal disconnect between what an audience wants out of a big-budget action movie and what the suits do. In fact, it seems sometimes that it was the making of King Kong that became more important than the actual finished film; witness the six hours of behind-the-scenes footage that comes with the deluxe DVD set, the fansite webumentary tie-in, the endless list of props from the 1933 original that ended up being strategically placed in scenes from this most recent remake. I mean, yes, it's cute and all to know that when Adrian Brody hands Jack Black the latest rewrites from their "movie within a movie" script, that the actual sheets of paper are from the original 1933 script that Jackson just happens to own; but if the movie itself is a meandering, plodding mess, what the hell's the point?

I'll say this about Jackson's King Kong, which serves as good general advice as well to all filmmakers; that if your audience is more emotionally invested in the background images than what's actually going on in the story, you have a bad movie on your hands, and you need to stop making movies that way because those movies suck. Let's hope it's a lesson Jackson finally learns, before his production of LOTR prequel The Hobbit begins later this year.

Out of 10: 4.3

Filed by Jason Pettus at 7:41 AM, January 7, 2008. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |