Jan 8, 2006

Kong: The brute is a beaut

I laughed, I cried (I did!), and more than once my attention wandered over to the family next to me who were screaming at the screen at the top of their lungs and hollering WHOA! every time something happened, which was pretty much all the time. If Peter Jackson had been there, he'd been very pleased.
The movie is long, but the pace is right. Anytime there's a slight lull in the proceedings it comes crashing promptly to a halt courtesy of the giant ape, or twenty dinosaurs or swarms of giant insects or bats. My attention also wandered because unlike the new breed of humans conceived on videogames, there is so much information I can take in one frame. A lot of the computer animation looks blurry and cheesy. Sometimes it's stunning, particularly when there is less interaction between it and the actors, but it feels weird to the eye. The zealousness of it makes it tiresome, although the cheesiness makes it endearing. I was more bored by some of the endless action sequences than by the graceful moments of quiet.
King Kong is Peter Jackson's love poem to the original movie of 1933, which, as Jackson rightly feels, is a true wonder of cinema, a harbinger of what movies could be capable of achieving. When he's busy paying homage to it, the movie is absolutely gorgeous and quite moving. As a maker of spectacle, Jackson has the imagination to fit his insanity. The man thinks big. He hasn't heard yet of less is more. Sometimes he thinks so big, he overkills. In some of his most spectacular ideas, such as the dinosaur avalanche (WTF?) and the amazing giant insects, he goes on way too long and way too much, simply because he can. His capacity to amaze would be better served by a tad of restraint.
Still, he comes up with some very nifty images. Skull Island looks like the abandoned set for D.W. Griffith's Intolerance, with a dash of Apocalypse Now thrown in. The jungle is so vast and bottomless it even dwarfs King Kong, and the scenes of New York in the thirties are delightful. The movie has many splendid, lovingly rendered details and a longing for old fashioned spectacle, recreated, ironically, with newfangled technology.
But more than anything, King Kong is a love story and its male star is a beaut. Kong is a fantastic creation. His gestures, movements and expressions are authentic and irresistible, thanks to great animation and the amazing acting of Andy Serkis (who also plays Lump, the cook, in the film). The writers of the film, Fran Walsh and Phillippa Boyens, both women, know their apes well. There is a funny, wonderful scene where Naomi Watts tries to distract Kong by doing bits of her vaudeville show. He eats it up and wants more. When he doesn't get it, he goes through a hilarious domestic tantrum a la Raging Bull. Refreshingly, there are no leaden one liners so common to Hollywood blockbusters. There are some very clever jokes, but most of the entrancing comes through sheer visual imagery. King Kong is a smart blockbuster.
Kong is a terrifying beast, but he's also quite sweet. He is loyal and courageous and pensive. His eyes are deeply expressive. He likes sunsets. I'd date him if he ever got to come down unharmed from the Empire State Building. I'd take him to Zen Palate for the bamboo shoot special.
I found Naomi Watts' quite unequivocal infatuation with the ape fascinating. It is romantic, but it is also clearly sexual. When she faces the choice between Kong and Adrien Brody she clearly prefers Kong, and I don't blame her. Adrien Brody is stuck in a thankless job, playing the eternally humiliated writer of a movie script (the writers actually have him sleeping in a cage) and second banana to the ape. He looks smart and sensitive, like writers should (Mr. Ex-Enchilada says he has the face of a sad clown in a cheesy painting). To try to save the girl, he takes the elevator. What kind of a hero is that?
If you stay through the looong list of credits at the end, you will see that the movie is dedicated to Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Shoesdack (directors/writers) and Edgar Wallace (writer), the creators of the 1933 film and to "the inimitable" Fay Wray. King Kong is an archetypal dream of modern man. It is a great story and Peter Jackson has turned it into a story of his amour fou for film. What makes this enormous blockbuster different from other gazillion dollar behemots is that this one really feels like a labor of love. To quote a member of the screaming family next to me, "This is better than Jurassic Park".

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