Monday, March 3, 2014

King Kong (2005)

KING KONG             C                    
USA  Germany  New Zealand  (187 mi)  2005  ‘Scope  d: Peter Jackson

The film that inspired Peter Jackson to become a filmmaker, where the story has it after watching the movie on television when he was 9, he woke up the next day and began making models, turning his own updated version into something along the lines of an Indiana Jones adventure story, where much of the look of the landscape feels as if you are at Disneyland wandering around one of the artificially designed set pieces, a special effects bonanza, where the director obviously got carried away with the buckets of money he was given to make this film, so much of it is overdone to the point of excess, some of it downright ridiculous, as so much is over the top, but in the quiet moments, which were few, it works wonderfully.  The Fay Wray part was extended and reconceptualized with Naomi Watts, where she plays a down on her luck burlesque performer during the Depression, her face seen through a reflection on a sidewalk window glass by safari adventure photographer Jack Black, who dreams of making a film on the never discovered Skull Island, an unchartered island that remains perpetually “out of time,” a place where compasses and navigational equipment don’t work.  Black obtained a kind of treasure map which led him to this journey, where he brings Naomi Watts along for the ride. 

The opening sequence on the island is creepy and scary, beginning with a ridiculous move by Black to offer a piece of chocolate candy to a horrid looking native child, believing everything will be under control.  So of course, all hell breaks loose as they are attacked by almost zombie-like decrepit-looking humans that could be hundreds of years old.  These are the black-skinned, nose and face pierced, face painted native inhabitants, who could just as easily eat you as look at you.  But the boat crew arrives with guns to clear the way.  But Naomi has escaped in the night to the thunderous sound of drums with Kong.  The journey to find her leads to a stampede of dinosaurs, where men are running underneath them in a scene resembling INDIANA JONES (1984), but also the stampede sequence of LION KING (1994).  Instead of stepping to the side, they continue to run underneath where they can easily get squashed.  Surprisingly, all but a few survived.  Meanwhile, Watts inexplicably decides to perform her burlesque act in front of Kong as a means of pleasure and amusement, which leads to a huge temper tantrum when she stops.  But that’s the last of his bad moods, as Kong fights off a series of dinosaurs, perhaps a half-dozen or more, including three at once, all with Watts in his hand, switching her back and forth as he crushes skulls, breaks jaws, swings them around like a wrestler, throwing them against the rocks, even socking them square in the jaw.  Only at the end of this prolonged sequence does Watts realize she’s safer with him than without him.  Kong looks at her like, what do I have to do for you to pay attention to me, and walks off in a huff.  She yells after him, “Hey, wait for me,” and runs after him where he scoops her up and throws her on his shoulder as he thunders through the jungle.    

Meanwhile, the boys from the ship, with all their weapons, have their hands full with the dinosaurs and bugs, including a swamp sequence where giant sucking creatures swoop down atop a man’s head and suck him in, something right out of Alien (1979), or another giant roach eating sequence that is really gross, where machine gun bullets wipe them off of human bodies, without so much as a scratch to the humans.  What aim!  And this from a kid who has never fired a gun before, who throws it away afterwards like it’s tainted goods.  Again, the crew from the boat save the day with still more weapons, most all of whom survive, but oddly, all are on one side of a canyon while Adrien Brody, the supposed script writer and romantic interest (showing zero chemistry), the only man who actually cares about saving Watts, is on the other.  So he sets off alone into the jungle to find her.  Within a few film seconds, he amazes us by finding the exact spot where they have laid down for the night to snooze, a spot perched high over the entire valley with the river below and the sun setting far away.  ”It’s beautiful,” Watts repeats to Kong, attempting to humanize his feelings.  Brody finds her, and as Kong awakes pissed off, catching him stealing his girl, giant flying bats decide at that moment to descend upon Kong in droves, distracting him sufficiently while Brody and Watts can escape, grabbing hold of giant bat wings and descending to the bottom of the canyon falling safely into the water — another one of the ridiculous moments.  The beauty of the original King Kong (1933) is in its simplicity, where the cutting edge special effects were a marvel of invention at the time and continue to elicit awe and amazement well into the next century.  If Jackson’s film causes audiences to revisit the original, it can be viewed as a success.   

Needless to say, Kong is on them within seconds, and purely by accident they are able to subdue to beast with a bottle of chloroform to the nose.  Black sees dollar signs in his eyes and the scene shifts to New York for the extravaganza opening for the Eighth Wonder of the World.  When all hell breaks loose, Brody has mysteriously anticipated it all, and only he senses that Kong’s wild rage will only be subdued by the presence of Watts, and he tries to lure him to where he thinks she is.  After a scene that could just as easily be car crashes and city mayhem from SPIDER MAN (2002), there is a momentary calm.  Out of the steam rising from the street walks Watts, almost in slow motion, like Clint Eastwood entering the scene in a Sergio Leone movie.  When they reunite, it’s the closest thing to happiness in the entire movie, reflected in a magical sequence where he takes her into Central Park in the snow, where he slips on the frozen ice, and the two slide around on his giant butt, as if ice-skating, laughing with glee, as if they are the only two beings on earth.  This is the money shot in Jackson’s remake, a beautiful expression of extreme tenderness, where nothing in the rest of the movie is as memorable.  Enter the military, who make their idiotic presence felt late at the end of the film, stupidly shooting without thinking.  Kong’s climb to the top of the city’s highest building is a delight, carrying Watts most of the way, stopping to enjoy another sunset where Watts can again utter “It’s beautiful,” but as the airplanes appear, he carefully places her out of harm’s way and climbs alone the last few stories. 

In perhaps the film’s most ridiculous moment, the darkness following a sunset suddenly turns light and the rest of the film plays out in the daylight.  Amazingly, she climbs an outside staircase up to the top to join him, where the airplanes are sending a barrage of bullets at him and the accumulated damage is slowing him down, but the two have moments together at the top of the world, where Kong looks sad and somehow aware of his mortality.  Both are infatuated by what they can’t understand, but there’s a peculiar peace between them, where love is certainly in the air.  Brody breaks through the police barricade and rushes up the 100 floors or so on the elevator to greet Watts after Kong tumbles down to the ground, which is captured with a sky cam.  Down below, the wretched humans are gleefully praising the Air Force, but Black, or course, has the last line, “It wasn’t the airplanes, it was Beauty killed the Beast.”  There are simply too many references from other films on display here, where imitation is a form of flattery, but very little is original, and the victimization of Kong in the hands of his enemies is over-accentuated to the point of wretched excess, attempting to dramatize all the lurid melodramatic aspects of the story, but it brings nothing new, where the romantic notions eventually lose weight and are overcome by an overlong, overindulgent and often annoying CGI special effects/action/adventure movie. 

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