Saturday, January 21, 2006

King Kong is a ding dong

Although you may want to take my take with a fair helping of salt.

Confession #1: I walked out, about 2/3 through. Although it's just barely possible that one of these days (most likely when it comes out on DVD) I'll go to the trouble of seeing that last hour. Maybe.

Confession #2: I may be one of the only people in western civilization who never saw the original(s) and in fact hadn't known much about the plot before I saw this one (and then later read the reviews). The gist and the big finish, sure; but I hadn't ever really known how they got there.

Which means that I had always assumed that the racism people attribute to the movie only had to do with the subtext (what with the brute's ravishing of the delicate blonde and all). I hadn't known there was also that whole "savages in the jungle" scene. And I certainly didn't expect that level of...well, savagery.

I find myself agreeing with the camp that suspects Peter Jackson was (at best) not really being very conscious here. For one thing, there is that one noble black guy, the first mate (the only non-white in the picture who couldn't be mistaken for an extra from "Dawn of the Dead"), who not only dies whilst heroically saving his white comrades and protege, but telegraphs his death for a good five minutes before the inevitable denouement. "Run, you fool!" I wanted to shout. Then I dropped my four-dollar water bottle, and promptly forgot about his or any of the other characters' problems, as ultimately I didn't really give a shit about any of them. Which was really the bottom line, for me; but, I'll get there in a sec.

Then, too, it seemed to me that the demonic natives looked just an awful lot like Jackson's orcs.

That wasn't enough to drive me out of my seat, though; what finally did it was that I just wasn't having any fun. And yes, the CGI was astounding, especially Kong himself (and that's the only reason why I'm just a tiny bit sorry I didn't stay till the end). Visually it was a treat. I think if I'd had more understanding of exactly went into all those amazing effects I'd probably have appreciated the whole thing a lot more. Also probably would be true if I were a film buff and understood all the nods and homages and so on.

But, I'm not. And, taken on its own terms and not as a beloved classic or a visual tour de force, the movie simply didn't work for me. Too overblown to be camp and too preposterous to be anything else. I didn't even enjoy it on a "thrill ride" level, and it's not that I don't ever like such movies. I thought "Jurassic Park" was completely daft but it still had me jumping out of my seat, for instance (from which film the best action sequences in this film seemed directly ripp'd). Whatever it is that Spielberg does to make you suspend and jump and scream, Jackson doesn't have it, at least not here.

And without the "AAHHH!" factor, the Skull Island stuff just seems ridiculous. I mean, come on, I heard myself saying out loud, a number of times. What the fuck is that chick made of, anyway? Silly Putty? If you don't want to show the full-body bruises and crushed ribcage that (at least) istm would inevitably result from being clutched in a giant paw and flung about at dizzying speeds, not to mention the whole vines-and-narrow-escape-from-being-a-dinosaur-hors-d'oeuvre sequence, well okay (she is a dancer after all, and hence rather agile and springy); but jeez, something. Projectile vomiting from the vertigo, perhaps? It's not like it would've added significantly to the "ick" factor. Was her lingerie even mussed?

And "come on" was also my reaction wrt the characters and their actions. Starting with: *why* the fuck doesn't the screenwriter just jump off the goddam boat? I mean, seriously? Okay, it's not exactly naturalism here, but surely if it's supposed to be that he, like the crazy/smarmy director, is motivated by the fine, dark love of adventure, it wouldn't be too much to ask that they establish something to that effect? Even a comic book character deserves that much. And if it's the glamour of film that's drawing him away from not just his play rehearsals but his whole fucking life, well, it's pretty damn obvious that this is not a glamour flick. Not to mention the boat itself, and again I come back to my point about the curious lack of vomiting in this picture. As it is, he just looks, well, kind of lame. And while Watts is cute and all, I just do not buy that her limpid gaze, blonde locks, and winsome pratfalls are enough motivation for that entire fucking hardbitten crew to go on a blind chase after her into what sure as shit looks like certain death. And Jack Black...well, 'nuff said.

Ultimately I just found myself asking: why? Why remake this? Why tell this story? Yeah, it had really cool SFX possibilities (which were duly manifested), but so could any number of movies, old and new. Why this? Why now?

Even without the anvilicious Meaningful Display of "Heart of Darkness" (as read by a wide-eyed cabin boy) I was getting the impression that Jackson wanted to do "Kong" at least partly because something about that old subtext or narrative or whatever you want to call it still speaks to him. In both LOTR and this, now: it is a very heavily white and male cast, along with the odd fair maiden or so, heroically fighting off the forces of darkness, quite literally. Dark, filthy, subhuman savages (and one sort of noble savage, if you count the giant monkey). Not to mention dank caves and swamps full of icky sticky devouring spiders (and now Alien-styled worms as well). The horror, the horror...the symbolism.

I'm not saying Jackson intended any of this (I just don't know), or that the movies' worth depends on their political correctness...or at least awareness. I'm just saying: I don't think I relate, really.


Ed Ward said...

Awww, this is a shame. I saw the original on TV when I was about 8, and that, I think, is the kind of preparation you have to have going into this film. Not that I think I ever will, because I really don't see how you could improve the original. Sort of like Coppolla's remake of Dracula: my childhood memories of that are so clear and so filled with just the emotions the director wanted to evoke that I don't see why I should re-experience it.

I can't imagine why any adult who hasn't seen the original Kong would shell out to see a three-hour CGI-enhanced version of it. Do yourself a favor, though: rent the original. What you just saw will make a whole lot more sense.

Rey said...

I've been avoiding this one like the plague, because I am one of those annoying people who heard Peter Jackson was re-making Kong and jumped to the conclusion that he's a white supremacist. There is no progressive or even non-offensive way to remake this movie. It will always be about a black man - I mean ape who'll eat all kinds of women of color, who then decides to spare/steal the white woman instead of just eating her. Then he takes her against her will and climbs a gigantic erection? And then all the primitive jungle vs. urban progress hoo-hah.

I'm just not going to go so I don't ruin other people's (questionable) fun.

belledame222 said...

Somewhere I was reading an interpretation that says that Kong is supposed to be Denham's id. Interesting theory, but it doesn't really make me any more sympathetic to anybody there.