Despite the fact that the 1933 original is my favorite movie, I divorced myself from the classic KONG for a few hours and trudged to the local multiplex, a strategy that helped me kill time until a cozy dinner party with some dear friends whom I hadn’t seen in months (barbecue joint schedule, dontcha know). Girded with a big sack of “buttered” popcorn and a fruit punch large enough to last through a three-hour-plus flick, I scoped out a seat that gave me a perfect centered vantage point in the virtually empty cinema. The lights dimmed, the commercials and trailers — all of which were pretty feeble — cranked by and then the film started.
We all know the basic tale: an ambitious filmmaker/showman leads an expedition to an uncharted island to film a fantastic monster. Said monster gets a major hard-on for the blonde starlet of the piece when she is sacrificed to him by the local crazy Negroes (in the South Seas???), hauls her up to his mountaintop crib through an island full of every horrifying creature imaginable while the film crew and sailors follow and meet hideous deaths, and is eventually captured and put on display on Broadway. The monster then escapes, snags the blonde again, climbs to the top of the then new Empire State Building, battles some biplanes, gets shot off of the building, plummets to a messy end and inspires the filmmaker/showman to state that “It wasn’t the planes that got him…It was beauty killed the beast.” THE END. The Jackson remake follows the same basic plot, but with a few tweaks and I will discuss in detail, so if you haven’t already seen the new one stop reading now for HERE THERE BE SPOILERS.
As you know the basic plot, I’ll just break certain elements of the film down, plain and simple.
- IT’S TOO DAMNED LONG. The story of Kong is already epic enough and it in no way needed to be expanded to over three hours of running time. The length also causes the film to seriously drag at times, so much so that I almost walked out during the last third due to its glacial pace and the fact that I already knew how the story ends. But I was good, and I stuck it out.
- THE DEMYSTIFICATION OF KONG. In the sixty-two years since the original we have learned a lot about apes — specifically gorillas — and how they behave, and Jackson has approached Kong as pretty much an ordinary gorilla, only one who happens to be twenty-five feet tall. He’s no longer an ageless deity/monster, but a sensitive anthropoidal puppy dog when in the presence of Ann Darrow. In other words, Kong is now mediocre.
- THE REIMAGINING OF THE ANN/KONG DYNAMIC. Ann Darrow is now a multitalented vaudevillian who, once she figures out that Kong isn’t as bad as he seems to be, entertains the big ape with somersaults, soft shoe schtick and juggling antics. There is no danger to Kong’s interest in Ann, other than the fact that she is in constant threat of being devoured by every critter on Skull Island as long as she sticks around. I really hated this development, especially when after rescuing Ann the crew hauls ass to avoid Kong, and Ann is ready to stay behind on the island so Kong will leave the rest of the cast alone. Now I don’t know about you, but no one in their right mind would volunteer to remain with Kong; sure, he’s a bad motherfucker and all that, but he can’t be there to protect your ass every waking second, and it is abundantly clear that Skull Island is a Lovecraftian hellhole full to bursting with carnivorous nasties. Ann may be blonde, but she didn’t strike me as stupid until she was ready to stay with Kong. And once Ann and the big guy become pals the saccharine factor goes through the roof, especially during the "Kong on ice" sequence that's meant to be charming but made me want to hurl, and Kong’s weepy demise. This is Kong, for fuck’s sake, not Old Yeller. I do NOT want to see Kong as a pussy.
- UNINVOLVING CGI. Special effects grandmaster Ray Harryhausen (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS, THE SEVENTH VOYAGE OF SINBAD, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, CLASH OF THE TIITANS) has stated that he felt that making special effects monsters too realistic rendered them mundane; there should be a certain unreality about them to give the fantasy a certain magic. The effects geniuses at New Zealand’s Weta studios have created some technically incredible creatures for the film, a virtuoso display of just what is capable of being unveiled before our wondering eyes, but the magic that Harryhausen sought and achieved is glaringly missing and the monster battles felt to me like I was watching someone else play a video game, an experience that I am sadly finding to be quite common in big effects-laden pictures. I did not care for Kong as a character and was utterly uninvolved in his exploits, but I was able to appreciate the artistry that brought him to life. And at least the plant-eating dinosaurs stick to their leafy ways and do not attempt to chow down on the sailors.
- AT THE BOTTOM OF THE RAVINE. What happens to some of the cast after they are shaken off of the log bridge by Kong into a deep ravine is the one truly horrifying moment of the film and I wish that the rest of the movie had one iota of the intensity found during this sequence.
- DISAPPEARING NATIVES. Once the heroes return to the native village after their pursuit of Kong, the multitude of natives has disappeared with no explanation. Where did they go?
- THE FINALE. I honestly did not give a damn during Kong’s Manhattan rampage — although I have to give Jackson thanks for using Max Steiner’s 1933 score during Kong’s Broadway debut — and when Kong did the slo-mo plummet from the zeppelin mooring, all I could think of was how much it reminded me of one of Wile E. Coyote’s falls in any of Chuck Jones’ Road Runner cartoons. The only thing missing was Kong fading from view only to be replaced by a muted “smack” sound effect and a tiny cloud of impact-disturbed dust.
- JACK BLACK SUCKED OUT LOUD. Sorry, folks, but Jack Black’s Carl Denham was a study in arch overacting. If it weren’t for SCHOOL OF ROCK I would never forgive the guy for this performance.