Sunday, January 08, 2006

Critique: KING KONG ROCKS! (Or, How I Learned to Stop Looking at Flaws and Love the Kong)

SPOILER ALERT: Some plot parts are given away below. Journey on at your own risk.

RATING: This film is rated CWBW, as in “Catherine Won’t Be Watching” due to scenes of violence and insectular ickiness.

What Peter Jackson got right:

1. Mr. Jackson got that this is a love story, and told it as such

2. Mr. Jackson gave time for the romance to develop in a real way. Unlike most Hollywood movies, this romance is not about sex (even the first two KONG movies made it about sex). Mr. Jackson lets us watch Kong fall for Ann, and vice versa. There was a reason that Kong doesn’t dispatch Ann Darrow like all the other sacrifices offered to him (and it ain’t cuz he’s all googoo eyed over her blond cuteness); there is a reason he comes to defend her; and there is a reason she accepts his defense (okay, that one is two-thirds practical – but she chooses Kong, and that’s kinda important).

3. Mr. Jackson let it be about things, without getting a hammer out to make it about things. This is a STORY, not a fable with an Aesopian moral. But the story has, in my opinion (and there is nothing in this article that isn’t my opinion), depth.

One example: When director Carl Denham first uses the death of a crewman to justify his art (“We’ll make this movie for him. He would have wanted that.” -paraphrased) I rolled my eyes. The second time, it became pathetic – and a warning to us artists (Peter Jackson included). You see, Denham believed – in the moment – that his personal goal/drive was indeed for the glory of the dead; and in that, Denham allowed himself to be deceived. “The play must go on!” is a rallying cry beloved by us artist types. It validates us and our work – the performance is more important than anything! Is it?

I remember being in the green room after a show. An actress literally miscarried during a performance. While awaiting the ambulance, she insisted that she would be back the next night. That was insane, and my Artistic Director told her so. Her husband was also in the show, and he also said that he’d be back for the next night if we insisted. After all, he wasn’t physically ill…

And the Artistic Director dropped the bombshell: the show isn’t the most important thing. He told the husband to be with his wife – because that was the more important thing. Sad to say, I don’t know many other artistic directors that would have thought life was more important than the works we create to comment on life.

Have I ever, as a good Christian boy, claimed that my work had to go on despite the cost to others, in the name of G-d? (Okay, let’s not make that a “have I ever” and make it a “how often.”) Hey, Carl: those dead guys would not want your film about a monkey to go on. That’s your own ego talking. And, hey, Sean: G-d thinks there are more important things out there than your ego. Not many, I’m sure; but some.

4. The performances by Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow) and Andy Serkis & animators (King Kong) are outstanding. I never stopped to think that Naomi was acting to a green screen, or that Kong was nothing more than pixels from a computer. I just watched Ann and Kong, mesmerized. After the movie is when it started to sink in how much the two actors had to overcome to give their performances. Wow.

5. It is, first and foremost, a ride. A wild, glorious, unpredictable, adrenaline filled, edge of the seat, I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that ride. And what a ride!

What Peter Jackson got wrong:

1. Despite what many critics are saying, the film as a whole is not too long. The three plus hours fly by. That said, the individual sequences are too long. A friend (can’t remember who – if you read this, and it was you, take credit!) suggested to me that, while no sequence should have been eliminated, virtually every sequence could have been shaved by ten percent. Yep, I agree.

2. Some characters are overblown; some wasted. I mean, come on! What’s the deal with the kid reading HEART OF DARKNESS (Jimmy)? I get the Conrad reference, but this kid had a bigger back story than any other person on the ship – including the leads – and that background never paid off. Hayes (Evan Parke) is equally wasted, with a finale that made all his scenes up to that point make you wonder why he was singled out for lines in the first place.

3. Most of the time, the action twists are “wow!” worthy; but sometimes they go just a bit too far. Jimmy is able to shoot a machine gun at a guy covered in bugs, and hit only the bugs, clearly by accident. Funny! He does it again; and then again. Yawn. Now I am out of the movie, my suspension of disbelief having been snapped.

4. Okay, I give in. I wanted to love Jack Black; even after the movie, I defended his performance. And I still say that he did a marvelous job. But, throughout the movie, I was thinking “Jack Black is doing a really good job.” Which means I was aware that I was watching an actor perform, as opposed to being lost in the actor’s performance. Oh, well.

As ever your servant,

-Sean Gaffney


Danny said...

Hey Sean! Hey Cath!

Ok. Gotta tell you. I was very disappointed in Kong. Sure it's a ride, sure it has the most amazing CGI character ever put on screen, but come on. There was no need for them to take a whole hour just to get to the island. There was not need for them to take more than ten minutes to get on the boat. My suspension of disbelief was destroyed during the Brontisauri stampede. Not only do most of them survive it, but Jack is hip checking dinosaurs out of the way? Are you kidding me? The only part of the movie that really sucked me in was the building of the relationship between Kong and Anne and the T-rex smackdown. KONG-FU! The rest of the movie is just too ridiculous to waste anymore of my time on. I can't believe you can say King Kong rocks and still get Barbara Nicolosi to return your phone calls.

Gaffney said...


Shhhh! Barbara doesn't know that I said King Kong rocks.

Can't argue too much with your criticism. I liked the movie despite the flaws.

What are the chances we will some day see a "director's should have cut" that's shorter? Ah, perchance to dream...


Jeffrey Overstreet said...

My version of the director's cut would be about 30 minutes long. T-rex fight, Ann and Kong get to know each other, Empire State Building.

You're right. It doesn't feel like three hours. To me it felt like four.

Sorry that my first comment on your blog is to poo-poo your opinion... but there it is.

Meanwhile, your friend Cory Edwards is very, very cool, and thanks to your coaxing, I had a great talk with him and his trusty sidekick yesterday... a guy named Mark Lund. ;) "Hoodwinked!" rocks!

Rich & Joyce Swingle said...

Sean & Cath,
So glad to see that you've leapt into the blogsphere!

I actually thought Kong should have been least on one front:

In the original it's the first mate that falls for Ann rather than the playwright (sorry, bud). When he falls off the log he swings into a cave under Kong. Kong reaches down to grab him and the first mate pricks his finger with his pocket knife. I thought it was a great way to set up the "tension between suitors" and also foreshadow that Kong was not impenetrable.

Gaffney said...

Jeff -- I'll allow you your half hour Kong.

But I think that Rich has exposed to you all why Kong worked so well for me: the geeky playwright gets the girl! But then again, the 800 pound gorilla takes the girl away from the geeky playwright, a thought that is causing flashbacks to high school... sigh.


Barbara said...

Sean -

Barb knows all....

[and so, she staggers out to go get drunk...]