Sorry about taking a few days off, but it’s been the holidays.
I saw King Kong recently and have to first admit that I was predisposed to like it as I think Peter Jackson is a marvelous director. I especially wanted to see the film after I viewed the extras on the 1933 Kong DVD in which Jackson had his crew recreate the original stop motion animation as an exercise to further their understanding and appreciation of the work they were about to adapt.
I wish I could join the chorus of admirers of this new version, but I can’t. While the animation is marvelous, the attitude toward the original film is clearly one of love and respect and the production values are lavish, I can’t help but feel that Jackson missed the boat on several key points.
Movies are documents of their time. I can accept the plot shortcuts of the first film because of the time in which it was produced. I can’t accept them in this edition.
With a three-hour running time, Jackson made some curious and unfortunate choices about which material to present on the screen.
While I liked the build-up to the arrival of Skull Island very much and thought it was well paced, once we are on the island, the plot develops problems.
Simply put, Jackson clearly couldn’t tear himself away from that part of the film. The brontosaurus stampede sequence went on way too far and I had problem that stubby Carl Denham carrying his camera could actually dodge being trampled by one set of beasts or eaten by another.
The fight between Kong and the T Rexes also dragged because of Jackson’s continually upping the ante. One T Rex isn’t enough we have to have three. Throwing them into the crevice isn’t good enough, we have to have them fighting while hanging.
As an animation fan, I loved what was happening on screen for art, but those two sequences actually stopped the narrative dead because of their length.
Jackson also chose to build up secondary characters at the expense of the pace of the film. I’m still not sure why there was so much time allotted to some of the crewmembers of The Venture.
In fact, I’m confused just how many crewmembers were on that ship considering that 17 of them were killed on the island!
It’s interesting that the producer of the original Kong cut the famed “spider pit” sequence because it stalled the narrative. It does in this film as well. It’s a nice creepy sequence whose only story purpose is to eliminate more crewmembers.
And having Kong attacked by the vampire bats that live in the cave that clearly he frequents makes no sense at all. Kong isn’t stupid. He wouldn’t be hanging out enjoying the sunset on a regular basis if he knew hundreds of blood-sucking bats were going to try to eat him!
Perhaps my biggest problem was that Jackson avoided showing exactly what Cooper and O’Brien avoided in their production: just how Denham and company managed to transport Kong back to New York. With a three hour running time, I thought that some of it would be dedicated to this glossed-over plot point, but it wasn’t.
As my friends Mark and Jeannie Martin pointed out, if the crew of The Venture had to lighten the ship to get it away from the rocks of Skull Island how could they have put a zillion ton ape on board?
Once back in New York, the recreation of Depression era city was impressive, as was the realization of just what a Kong Broadway show was like, however this part of the film was not without its problems.
If you set out as a filmmaker to create a real as fantasy as possible (and clearly that was Jackson’s intent) then you can’t pick and chose what is “real.” While it’s marvelous to make Kong as life-like as technically possible, you still need to acknowledge that Ann Darrow couldn’t possibly spend a winter’s night rushing around with Kong wearing next to nothing.
Also it was difficult to take that there are no winds blowing about at the top of the Empire State Building.
Perhaps the biggest problem I had with the conclusion of the film. Jackson wants audiences to identify with Kong in a far deeper way than what was attempted in the first film. Ann and Kong have a true relationship. Jackson makes the point that they are both alone in the world and adds the dimension of communication between them.
So when Kong is killed I thought we see Carl Denham get his come-uppance. We don’t’ and that struck me as particularly stupid.
Robert Armstong’s Carl Denham was a slight caricature of the 1920-‘30s adventurer. Armstrong’s character was egotistical and greedy, but he wasn’t malicious. He operated in an era that put animals in steel and concrete zoo cages and believed that was humane and state of the art.
Re-making a 1930s film for a 2005 audience cannot be done without the contemporary audience bringing a 2005 perspective to the material. We know that what was done to Kong was criminal. By making Kong a far more sympathetic character the wrongs done to him seem worse than those presented in the original.
Therefore we need a punch line. We need to see Carl Denham led away by the cops. Jackson avoids all of this and it is counter to his own vision of the character. As played by Jack Black, Denham is more than just a white hunter type, he is a villain. He is a cheater, a liar and a kidnapper. He causes the deaths of dozens of people. He puts into motion the death of Kong. Unlike the Armstrong character he is truly malicious.
And malicious characters need their punishment. Did Jackson think that audiences truly care about Darrow and Driscoll making up? No. We care about Kong and, frankly, I doubt that I’m alone in wanting to Denham to have something very bad happen to him.
It’s interesting to note that in Son of Kong, Armstrong’s character is seen fleeing New York because of the havoc he created.
The new King Kong is not a bad movie, but it is not a satisfying film given its resources and length.