Monday, December 16, 2013

Movie Review: "King Kong" (2005) by David Pretty

Sometimes there's no bigger impediment to art then success. As the story goes, Peter Jackson had to fight tooth-and-nail in order to get The Lord of the Rings made as a trilogy. At first, the powers-that-be were only willing to bankroll two films but Jackson eventually won that battle and the rest, as they say, is cinematic history.

Not only was Jackson completely vindicated, he also earned total creative control over his next project. This turned about to be another childhood inspiration: a remake of the 1933 classic King Kong. Unfortunately, without a powerful contrary voice urging restraint and reason, Jackson ended up delivering a bloated, overindulgent mess that could easily stand to have an hour excised from it.

As you start to chip away at the film's prodigious one-hundred-and-eighty-minute run time, several things quickly become evident. First off, it's pretty clear that Jackson loves the original source material. After all, he kept the story set in the Depression-era 1930's, giving Ann Darrow all the built-in motivation to be desperate. The ironic thing is, if he'd just waited a few years, a contemporary economic crash would have saved Jackson a few bucks on the production design.

I also admire his restrain in the first half of the film, during which he concentrates on build-up and character development. By the time Ann and Jack are thrown into peril, you actually feel a semblance of sympathy for them. Unfortunately, Jackson also wastes an inordinate amount of time on background characters. Honestly, does anyone really give a shit about Jimmy and/or Hayes? Their protracted and numerous scenes together have absolutely no impact on the plot, especially since Jimmy completely vanishes as soon as the story shifts to New York.
It's also pretty obvious to me that Return of the King left Peter Jackson more then a little CGI drunk. As a result we get some really dumb, cartoony action sequences, including the moronic "tumblin' brontos" scene and the protracted *slash* nauseating "vermin a-go-go" set piece. Fortunately, the director eventually turns his colorful digital palette and leisurely run-time towards making Kong and Skull Island two very interesting characters. Literally realized as an anatomically-accurate giant ape with a true spectrum of facial expressions and mannerisms, Kong is a truly authentic creation. You can credit motion suit capture whiz Andy Serkis for a lot of this success.

Unfortunately, the human characters don't fare nearly as well. Naomi Watts is pretty, plucky and winsome as Ann Darrow, but Fay Wray still can still out-scream her with one lung tied behind her back. Adrien Brody makes for a sympathetic but slightly unconvincing emo-hero. Since he often comes across as a wet blanket, there isn't a lot of palpable chemistry between the two leads.

And whereas Robert Armstrong in the original Kong was a mindless slave to ambition, Jack Black's Carl Denham is nothing but a smarmy, unrepentant douchebag. A major part of the problem is that Black is horrendously miscast. His exaggerated mugging may be perfectly at home in a comedy, but it makes Denham completely and totally unsympathetic here.

I was hoping that the "Director's Cut " would have more scenes between Kong and Ann, but no such luck. Instead we get more CGI demo reels of gross, slimy things attacking people we don't care about. Despite an inevitable but crackerjack finale in which Kong breaks loose, rampages through Manhattan, ascends the Empire State Building and then battles a swarm of biplanes, this remake pales in comparison to the original in almost every way.

Not unlike George Lucas, I fear that Peter Jackson has been living in "Peter Jackson Land" for too long. What else would possibly explain this overstuffed, needy and tonally out-of-whack interpretation of what was originally a lean-n'-mean action-adventure spectacle?

 Tilt: down. 

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