Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Kong, or Stand by Your Ape

Dir: Peter Jackson

2005

Yes. Believe the hype. It is that good. Peter Jackson's post-Lord of the Rings effort is spectacular in every sense of the word. Normally, I am troubled by the need for Hollywood to remake every great, and not so great, film. But, Jackson gets a pass for a number of reasons. First, Jackson credits King Kong for inspiring his desire to direct (Thank you, Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack). Second, the original King Kong is not a great film, rather it is an important film. Consequently, with the technology available to today's filmmakers, I am certain Cooper and Schoedsack would heartily endorse a remake made with the best intentions.

Kong is Jackson's love letter to cinema and its ability to detail the exotic and the spectacular, yet capture the intimate. The familiar story follows a dedicated filmmaker, Carl Denham (an ironic and appropriately edgy Jack Black), and his reluctant crew to Skull Island to capture the great adventure story. The shooting schedule is thrown asunder when King Kong shows up on set and demands time with the leading lady. What follows is equal parts B-movie adventure and classic Hollywood love story. Naturally, the special effects are stunning, and suprisingly seamless (a couple parts stand-out as clearly acted in front of a blue screen). However, what drives the story is the tender relationship between Kong and Ann Darrow (the classy Naomi Watts). In the hands of a lesser director, the "love scenes" would be artificial and hookey (and we would be continually reminded that Darrow is falling in love with an Ape). Jackson does not insult the audience; he realizes that love develops organically and is demonstrated through subtle and innocent moments--we become transfixed with the grace of Kong and Darrow's human, and humane, relationship. It is truly a tragic love story.

All films about filmmaking possess varying degrees of self-reflexivity, but I was shocked by the level of this film's self-awareness. I wonder how much Jackson was in Carl Denham, a crazed director hellbent on getting the perfect shot. In one sequence, the on-screen screenwriter (Adrien Brody) remarks that Denham "always destroys what he most loves." Is this evidence of Jackson's existential struggle over remaking this influential masterpiece? There are many more narrative choices that suggest Jackson may have a somewhat tortured relationship with this production.

Kong is undoubtly the star of the show. Which, for me, begets the following question: is Kong an actor, a character that deserves the accolades reserved for the more human actors? With all due respect to the fine acting in both the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong, Gollum and Kong are the most compelling characters in their respective films. But Kong, like Gollum, is not a pure CGI effect; rather, he is "played" by Andy Serkis. So, how do we evaluate these performances? In the age where the real and hyperreal are collapsing, do we neglect the artistic contributions of an actor who is the "skeleton" for these CGI characters? Are such performances judged the same as actors in costumes? I believe there is a difference because the techology used to create Kong and Gollum "records" facial expressions and other non-verbals, characteristics used to define great acting that are not available to those in costume. Will we ever see such performances receiving acting award nominations?

I have said enough. Obviously, there is a great deal more to speak about (the race question is unavoidable when it comes to Kong), but that shall be reserved for the comment section. Go see the movie. There is a great deal of talent on both sides of the camera.

3 Comments:

Blogger maxwell noted on 12/19/2005 06:58:00 PM that...

1. This movie is a total thrill ride. I wonder why ANY other action directors even bother to try. WETA & Jackson simply do CGI-dominated action films better than anyone else. I spent more than 20 minutes with my hands clenched -- filled with sweat.

2. The race question is unavoidable says ron -- perhaps because the movie is racist. I'm astounded by the racist portrayal of the "natives" whose only defining characteristics seem to be that they are black and brutal. Not quite as bad as the Maori playing Uruk Hai in LOTR, but still pretty grotesque. And it's nice that Jackson took lessons from Star Trek -- you can put asians and blacks into your productions, but they all must die before the show or movie is over.

3. Your musings about Serkis and the oscar are on point for this film, where Kong gets more screen face time than any other actor. I think WETA deserves the credit for face mapping technology. But I liked Serkis as the salty sea dog . . .

4. Watts is the bomb, but I think anyone who can run 20 blocks, dodge flying cars, climb the empire state building and avoid bullets in five inch heels gets my vote for president.

5. I cried a bit at the end of this film. I was certainly not the only one -- several folks were audibly sobbing in the theatre. I really wanted more Kong destruction of NYC scenes. After all he goes through I'm ready for him to tear up the city. My loyalties in general are to animals, and any represenation (real or fictional) of animals being tortured gets me enraged.

One of the distinctive parts of the story of the monstrous (the fly, jurasic park etc) is that it distracts us from the very REAL cruelty that primates face. From bushmeat (which is not what you think it is. . . ) to the cocaine addicted monkeys that are 3 blocks from the cathedral of learning, primates get enslaved & killed for humans all the time. In the movie, we can shift all the blame onto Black's character, in the real world, we all shoulder the burden.  

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Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/25/2005 12:17:00 AM that...

I thought that this movie was absolutely spectacular. For me Jackson is an expert storyteller because he keeps us riveted even when we know precisely what is coming- the narratives of LOTR or Kong are well known and well worn.

i agree strongly that this movie is all about what the movies can do- and in that sense am tempted to read some of the film's more questionable elements (the early death of minority characters and the racist representations) as part of an overall ode to cinema- i am concerned that simply leaving these elements out whitewashes the history of film, and its not a clean history

at 180 minutes, i figured i would find a lot of stuff that could be cut- and was unable to do so- i think thats the sign of a fine movie

slightly related note: i think after the end of the calendar year we should post our oscar picks/rooting interests.  

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Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 12/25/2005 12:17:00 AM that...

I thought that this movie was absolutely spectacular. For me Jackson is an expert storyteller because he keeps us riveted even when we know precisely what is coming- the narratives of LOTR or Kong are well known and well worn.

i agree strongly that this movie is all about what the movies can do- and in that sense am tempted to read some of the film's more questionable elements (the early death of minority characters and the racist representations) as part of an overall ode to cinema- i am concerned that simply leaving these elements out whitewashes the history of film, and its not a clean history

at 180 minutes, i figured i would find a lot of stuff that could be cut- and was unable to do so- i think thats the sign of a fine movie

slightly related note: i think after the end of the calendar year we should post our oscar picks/rooting interests.  

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