Dir: Peter Jackson (Dead Alive; Bad Taste)
It seems I am the last person on this blog (although not the last in the country, that box office yeesh!) to see the film. So straight to the comments with responses to my colleagues.
I start with criticisms, not to diminsh the film but to free me to gush later on unencumbered. The film has editing problems in the first half, with far more time devoted to side characters than is warranted by their eventual contribution to the story. In LOTR, the myriad of supporting characters could unfold narratively over the course of 9 hours (almost like a series of books, huh). They are not distractions, but their own complete stories. Here, the boat captain, the father/son thing with the castaway, the crew of the film, are all leading up to something and then essentailly disappear. The slowness before the dinosaur stampede is the direct result of character development that has no payoff. This movieshould be about Kong, Watts, Black and Brody; everything else ends up being a distraction. In the untold hours of footage on Jackson's editing room floor, the other folks get their stories resolved more satisfyingly I wager; but not here.
I also found Skull Island to be a bit gratuitous, one action sequence too many. It is the stampede. That's the only one that does not develop character, but is included purely for titilation. I do think that they all are quite thrilling (especially the bugs), but I want them to do narrative work as well. Kong in the vines absolutely does this. The stampede is a sore thumb, and derivative of Speilberg anyway.
Ron wonders how much of Jackson is in Jack Black (whose performance is mediocre). I think scores, the glaring physical similarities between the two aside. Black is caught between the dual desire to produce great and original art and to provide spectacle for the masses. He destroys those around him and his own product in a selfish bid to acheive this dream. For Jackson, the tension is between loading up the film with chase scenes and explosions, or telling the real love story, and art versus spectacle tradeoff. After the stampede, I was reminded of Russell Crowe chasitsing the virtual crowd in Gladiator "Is this what you wanted ?" after a violent and narratively pointless gore fest. I suspect Jackson knows the CGI is for largely specatcle alone, that it detracts from the art, and in that respect he is very much like Black, providing glitz for the ignorant audience's approval. Not that he does the CGI poorly, but that this movie is mnore than a popcorn movie. Jackson knows that, but is caught within the genre.
But oh what bliss are the scenes where Jackson gets it right. Those points above melt away with one raised eyebrow of Kong. Jackson has accomplished what at my first gloss is the best remake ever made, by my personal standards for that genre. "Take something good, and make it better. If you cannot improve it, then don't remake it" He has both improved the film politically and narratively. Those in order.
Max critiques the film's savages (no other word), and rightly so, I guess. No matter how you slice it, those have to be blood thirsty tribespeople, unless you punt that whole chunck of the original or make them green. Jackson, though, employs his horror movie skills to make them not so much people as zombies, otherwordly creatures who bare little resemblance to real humans. Sure, they resemble Africans more than anyone else , especially in costume. But I prefer to give Jackson credit for trying to work his way out of that. As a director, he made choices to diminsh a possible interpretation of racism.. Compare that to Gibson in The Passion of the Christ, for example, where every possible moment of artistic choice was anti-Jew. That film was anti-semitic, I don't support that reading of King Kong.
Not only that, but Jackson has completely eliminated the more general racism of the original film. There, Kong was a savage plucked from the jungles on a sexual pursuit of an unwilling white woman, destroying civilization in the process. The original was a rape narrative, but this has no such implications. By having us sympathize with the ape, and allowing tenderness between him and the woman, Jackson has tremendoudly improved the story's politics. We are the simpleton's in this iteration, and the love story is consensual. That fact gives Jackson the benefit of the doubt in the savages scene (in my mind).
This long post (sorry) has been building up to the transcendent parts of the film. I knew people had been praising the love story. But I had no idea just how brilliant it would be. Jackson has managed to boil operatic, undying love down to its essence. He has tapped into a centuries old story, retold it in a fresh and fascinating way, and done so entirely in pantomime and facial expression. This is really a one word romance: beautiful. Everything else is inferred by the audience's interpretation of Kong's sacrifices. Thank God, oh praise Jesus, that Jackson did not resort to having Watts continually say things like "Oh, you killed those dinsosaurs for me!" or "But you are going to die if you don't get off this building!" Jackson respects his audience enough (see the Jack Black dualism here) to provide a complicated love story even amidst all of the action sequences.
Several choices by Jackson in this love story were truly inspired, but let me single out one. Spoiler here. Allowing Kong to die in Watts' arms, rather than from the fall, and shielding his impact from our eyes is so sweet and respectful of that character that it moved me deeply. Kong exits with grace and dignity, something that he deserves after his continual demonstrations of love through self sacrifice. What could have been the best effect in the whole movie is omitted becuase the story dictates the direction at that point. Brilliant movie making.
Jackson has made King Kong greatly better through his reinterpretation. The technology available to him opens the door to telling a love story that could not have been done with clay, masks, or animatronics. Facial expressions of this kind for a 25 foot ape are reserved for CGI. He has also cleaned up the movie's politics, and put the focus on what really matters, the archetypal love story. At times Jackson is distracted, and he struggles with the tradeoff between spectacle and tenderness. But he plays the right notes at the end.