Peter Jackson's KING KONG is the first movie I've seen that finally fulfills the promise of CGI. When you are watching Kong, it is impossible to tell that it's a computer generated creature. Every hair, every scar, every pore, it seems, is perfect, with none of the pixel stretching that other movies have used when their animal moves. The cgi skin moves in a natural manner. This was one of the most vital things for KING KONG as educated audiences had to believe in the ape, and not just accept the limitations of the medium.
Such effects all come with a price as KING KONG cost over $200 million to make. That means anything less than a runaway biggest blockbuster of all time is a loss.
And not just Kong, but all the special effects are outstanding. This movie should win an Oscar for the best cgi special effects ever.
In Peter Jackson's KING KONG (co-written with Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens), Carl Denham (Jack Black: MARS ATTACKS!) is a man at the end of his rope. He is a filmmaker who makes flops, and his latest is his worst. Panned by his investors, who want to cut it up and sell it for stock film footage to another studio, Carl has no friends. In fact, he's charmless and unlikable. Most people tolerate him and endure him because he can, after all, make films that people watch (?).
With debtors, investors, and even cops hot on his heels, Carl connives the crew of a tramp steamer to go on a voyage. Along the way he picks up an out of work vaudeville actor, Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts: DOWN, MULHOLLAND DR., THE RING, THE RING II), to be his new star. Ann has never heard of Denham, but it's the Great Depression of the early 1930s in New York, and Ann, like many, is desperate. Ann also holds a deep fascination, even crush, on the New York writer, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody: OXYGEN, THE VILLAGE, THE JACKET), whom she has never met (??). This is a layered funny moment in the film, as the actual writers of this KING KONG created a filthy, crass, ship's crew - unbefitting of Ann's affection - and basically wrote themselves into the film as the only worthwhile hero and dashing love interest.
And does Jack Driscoll ever dash. It's amazing that someone who sits on his ass at a typewriter all day can be as inhumanly athletic as Jack - but that's the movies for you.
The sea voyage is drawn out nearly too long, with a plethora of additional characters introduced who are vestigial at best, to the story. While a large cast of fleshed out characters was vital to THE LORD OF THE RINGS - a story which was even more complex than the movie - KING KONG is very simple. So simple that, despite the hours of investing our time and interest in the additional characters, they are just going to be killed off or forgot about. By the end of the movie I was saying, "So what ever happened to ...?"
The arrival at Skull Island is rough and dangerous, a taste of things to come. When the natives are discovered, they are inbred disasters of humanity pushed to the point of no return. Unlike the natives in earlier Kong efforts, these humans are little more than insane creatures, past the point of survival and soon to be extinct.
They sure are mighty damn handy with flammables though!
One thing leads to another and, like previous Kongs, the natives make with the sacrifice of Ann Darrow. Though why they bother isn't clear. They weren't in the process of sacrificing someone else and got interrupted. The entire sacrifice seems to be out of the ordinary for the natives. They have nothing to protect, including their own lives, which they don't appear to value beyond simple fear of pain. But they are murderous and brutal and this marks the first Kong movie where the natives, who inexplicably begin murdering Denham's advance party, get shot up by the rest of the ship's crew.
With every KING KONG movie, I asked myself: Why would an ancient civilization build this great wall that can keep out the mighty monsters on the other side, yet build a massive doorway in said wall that the creatures could pass through if opened?
That question has yet to be answered, but Peter Jackson added more questions, borrowed somewhat from SON OF KONG. Unlike the original KING KONG, SON OF KONG and KING KONG 2005 have crumbling relics and dead cities on the other side of the Monster wall. Proof that an advanced civilization once thrived on Skull Island. Just the fact that the buildings are there, that the monsters walk around, through, over, and occasionally destroy in passing, reveals a deeper mystery that has yet to be revealed in film after nearly 100 years. At some point, the monsters arrived, nobody knows how, and wrecked the civilization. The last great act of that civilization was to use their technology to build a massive wall to keep the monsters from destroying them utterly.
The appearance of Kong isn't as majestic as I would expect, though the special effects that create him are outstanding. The violent view of Kong's world, where every day is a non-stop assault, conveys the realism of everyday nature for wild animals. You are either prey or predator and everything wants to live. Kong takes Ann deep into the jungle on a terrifying yet scenic route of Skull Island until they finally arrive at his hang out. By this time Kong has both threatened and saved Ann's life many times over. To protect herself from him and the other creatures, she used her Vaudeville pratfall skills to ingratiate herself to him. She is still a pet, but now she is a valued pet.
Throughout the interior of Skull Island, the story takes a backseat to the special effects. Kong moves and swings his massive form around an enormous jungle made to accommodate monsters. Kong seems to know no difference between natural rock formations and the ruins that he runs through. And I gotta say one more time: This is a three plus hour movie that has a lot of unnecessary baggage going on. It would have been vastly more interesting if they could have done something with the mcguffin that is the ruined civilization. Ah well.
Through lots of tribulation, Kong is eventually bagged and taken back to civilization.
On A Tramp Steamer!
Kong is about as big as this boat! How in the hell did they take him back? In the first two Kongs, the ships were built to accommodate. But the ship of this Kong is quite small and now beaten and crippled. And it is leaking from everywhere! And they take him back to the U.S., from the Pacific all the way to the Atlantic, feeding him ... WHAT?
The next thing you know, we're in New York where Denham is finally being feted. We despise Denham by this time, as he revealed on Skull Island just what kind of cowardly, petty man he is. Lives were lost in his zeal to get Kong, and his actions threatened more. But he delivered the eighth wonder of the world and all of New York turns out for him, including his investors who wanted him arrested: All is forgiven; Denham delivered.
Following the previous Kong formula, the monkey goes ape and runs amok in New York City. Eventually, Kong and Ann Darrow find each other again, but not before an exhilarating chase scene involving Jack Driscoll in a car. Jack took Ann away from Kong and the beast still remembers. In the name of "leading Kong away from people", Jack instead, leads Kong on a rampage throughout New York City, killing more people than would have been slaughtered if Kong just stayed in one place while folks ran away. The chase infuriates Kong, making him more destructive.
You DON'T want to get Kong all excited in the heart of New York City! Trust me on this one! Oh, why won't anybody listen to me shouting at the screen?
KING KONG follows form if not formula in regards to the original. Peter Jackson wanted to both honor the original as well as surpass it. That form of New York - Ship Voyage - Skull Island - Sacrifice - Kong - Chase - Capture - Return - New York - Battle from New York's tallest building remains unchanged. Any fans of the original KING KONG won't be surprised by the chain of events. What is surprising, I must say again, are the special effects. Jackson recreates a believable 1930s Depression era New York City. The tramp steamer is old and decrepit and at one point in the movie, the fact that the damn thing doesn't break up and sink is more unbelievable than a giant ape and dinosaurs in the 20th century. This KING KONG, unlike the original, also gets an
!!!UNFAIR RACIAL CLICHE ALERT!!!:
The biggest problem for me in this film is length. 3 plus hours is one hell of a long time to sit in your chair and watch anything non-stop. What's more, Jackson pushes everything to its limit. The ship's voyage takes nearly too long. The introduction and backstory of so many ancillary characters who don't contribute to the tale is stretched to the limit. By the time we reach the other side of the wall on Skull Island, we're exhausted by it all. The fight scenes re-energize us somewhat, but even these are pushed to the max as the initial fear and fright of the island devolves into simply watching one damned thing after another.
I'm glad I saw KING KONG. There is so much cool stuff about the movie. But despite all of the eye candy, it remains an ape meets girl, ape loses girl, ape dies movie. No matter how great the effects you add to that, an extra hour and a half of story is just froth on the coffee. In fact, there are a number of side stories that I haven't even mentioned in this review just because they were entirely unnecessary, contributed nothing, and would make the review too long.
Three Shriek Girls.
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