Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jackson's Kong: Not Just Another Pretty Face

A funny thing happened on the way to see Narnia. I stumbled on a 12:01 AM showing of Peter Jackson's King Kong.

My original plan was to see a late showing of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. My plan was to avoid the noisy hordes of little ones by staying up way past their bedtime. Unfortunately, there was something missing from my plan . . . PLANNING. I arrived at the theatre about 40 minutes after the last showing had started. After kicking myself three or four times for my stupidity, I noticed that they had a midnight showing of Peter Jackson's new film, King Kong. Since I intended to go see this movie, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

The first thing that struck me was that fact that I was the only one in the theatre. This would change as midnight approached. By the time the movie started, there were about 20 high school and college kids -- and me. After a few minutes of overhearing innane and self-absorbed conversation, I was more than ready to put up with the dancing popcorn in the concession ad.

I won't bother to give a synopsis of the story, because most people know the story and it can be easily found elsewhere. I think it is safe to say that John Guillermin's *tongue-in-cheek* classic 1976 remake of Kong starring Jessica Lange, can now be placed on the ash-heap of Hollywood remakes and remembered no more. Sure, PJ's Kong has a huge technological advantage over Guillermin's Kong. However, Lange's performance as a skinnier and dumber version of Anna Nicole Smith was dreadful. Then, in an apparent move to attract teenage boys to his film, Guillermin cheapened the story by having Kong de-blouse Lange. Thirty years ago it may have seemd like a good idea. Now, it seems crass and sophmoric.

Jackson, on the other hand, avoids such cynical Hollywood puerility. (Although, in a scene that caused me to laugh out loud, PJ, through Jack Black's character, does take a not-so-veiled swipe at the bosomed 1976 remake. Not surprisingly, I was the only one in the theatre who got the joke.) The beauty-beast relationship in PJ's film has an innocent, natural quality. Thanks to the work of virtu-actor Andy Serkis and some amazing CG work, Kong is realistic enough to fool Jane Goodall. As he did in the Lord of the Rings films, PJ takes a fictional story and makes you believe that it really could have happened. PJ's Kong isn't a pristine primate. His face and body bear scars from previous battles giving a backstory to Kong. His lair also shows the same attention to historical detail that is typical of Jackson's work.

Jack Black is perfect as the manipulative, truth-challenged film maker, Carl Denham. Adrien Brody is a very good actor and does a good job, but for some reason he seems miscast. Naomi Watts turns in an amazing performance as Ann Darrow, Kong's femme fatale.

Having said all that, the film is not without its flaws. There were a couple spots that were obviously green-screen shots. The most noticible was during the dinosaur stampede. In fact, it is so obvious I wonder if they ran out of time and didn't finish "touching up" the shot. There was also a "Koko the gorilla" moment which, I'm sure, others will view as a positive but I found corny. On the other hand, some may think the closing line of the film is corny, but I actually think it works.

As you may have guessed already, I highly recommend Peter Jackson's King Kong and award it 4 of 5 Fingers - one short of a "high five".

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