Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Flight of Fancy Crashes in Latest Kong Remake

You can’t have your chorus girl and eat her, too. Kong made his choice. Peter Jackson apparently hasn’t.

King Kong (2005) director Peter Jackson thinks big. He does big, too. Everything about his vision is big, and because of this he often overlooks the smaller, more important details of his movie. His rendition of the classic tale of filmmakers shooting on a mysterious island who discover a larger-than-life ape whom they bring back to NY only for it to escape and go on a rampage—all for the love a girl (Naomi Watts)—is even less believable than the original.

With a three-hour-plus running time, there should be ample room for even the slightest bit of character development, yet this is exactly what is missing from the film. Naomi Watts, as the actress, and Adrien Brody, as the writer, seemingly hate each other at first sight. At second, however, they are immediately in love. Brody, however, is no match for the ape, and Watts quickly chooses brawn over brains. These typical clichés clutter the movie more than its excessive action sequences.

On the other hand, with so little attention paid to the characters, it would seem as though it would be easy enough to achieve consistency. Here, too, Kong fails. Cheesiness and hokieness abound, it is difficult to tell whether the movie is supposed to be a spoof or a classic adventure picture. So much of the dialogue and so many of the scenes appear to mock 1930s cinema, the era in which the original King Kong (1933) appeared. Jackson seems to have watched the wrong 1930s movies, because his script has none of the wit or sharp commentary of an Anita Loos.

Perhaps most disappointing of all is how un-original Jackson’s re-vision is. Not that is takes so much from the original King Kong, but from movies like Tremors, Star Wars, Predator, Starship Troopers and his own Lord of the Rings trilogy. The choreography of the action scenes will make you scratch your head in wonder: where have I seen this before? The dinosaur stampede, with all those Tyrannosaurus Rexes, is decidedly reminiscent of Jurassic Park.

And the nameless, fat man with glasses still dies.

One could congratulate Jackson on the enormity of his picture, on its monstrous special effects and on its technological breakthroughs—they must be there, I just don’t know what they are—but this is what I’d like to know: what is the point of making the fantastic more realistic if, in the process, the story becomes even less so? The pathos for Kong is forced, and there are more last minute rescues than in a D.W. Griffith movie.

Jack Black, however, is very funny as the villainous director with the “heart of darkness.” (Yes, there is a character reading Conrad’s novel on-board the ship). But overtones such as these—turning flights of fancy into philosophical levitations—mar the comedy with a contrived seriousness.

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