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King Kong Review

King Kong

There is room for concern when one faces the prospect of watching a 3 hours and 7 minutes film about an overgrown monkey. Yes, haha, it’s an easy joke, but seriously, even fanboys like me have to leave a little room for concern, especially since it’s a remake of a 72-year-old black and white film, which I’ve personally never seen, but which has King Kong look more like a stop-motion novelty, a relic from a long gone past, than a movie monster icon.

Add to that the fragile legacy of having done something as staggering as The Lord of the Rings, it is hard to not be a little concerned that the facade would crack and show the real face of the Peter Jackson underneath, wallowing in his own newfound idolism, churning out Warner-length vanity pieces; remakes of his favorite films… Hmm.

Thankfully, Kong marks the return of the king (haha).

Getting Your Moneys Worth

King Kong, ano 1949 Rikke and I arrived early at Imperial and stocked up on as much candy, Coke and popcorn as we could carry. We hunkered down at a table near our entrance, from which we could hear the distant rumbles of Kong’s fight for his life in the final act of the show before ours.

We were treated, about a dozen times or so, to the Narnia PR tape (sans audio), which reminded me, that while I am looking forward to it, it feels like little more than a stepping stone between the Lord of the Rings and an eventual release of The Hobbit, complete with Richard Taylor and New Zealand backdrops (both of which I will never tire from).

We eventually boarded the cinema; and then something happened, which I hadn’t expected. After we had sat through all the commercials (Stimorol can roll up and die), an employee at the cinema walked on-stage and welcomed us to Imperial, the best cinema in the north, spoke briefly about King Kong and then—and this is the kicker—let us know, that they would be on-call if they were needed.

Having been to a couple of films where punks pretty much ruined the experience for me (okay, so there’s not a whole lot to ruin in Doom), this was very comforting indeed, and a sign, that my money had been well-spent.

A New Era

I’m not a complex guy when it comes to movies. I could care less about the vast majority of the latest indie flics, emo-pics and quirky fringe-of-society human stories (right up until I see one of course, after which I’m usually totally sold). This city wasn’t built on rock n’ roll; it was built on Star Wars, Indy, Time travelling Deloreans and a T800 with an affinity for Harleys.

I was born and bred by spectacle cinema.

Which is one of the reasons why I love Spielbergs movies (though The Terminal was perhaps not his finest hour). In my eyes he’s still one of the greatest directors in the world, though there is one period in particular which holds a special place in my heart.

Running from 1975, with the release of Jaws to 1982 with the release of E.T., in which everything he touched—with the exception of 1941 of course—turned to magic, seemingly without any discernible effort (not that I’d know; I was born in 1978 after all). Along with Star Wars, this heralded the era of the blockbusters. Large, fly-by-your pants, effects-ridden tales of adventure.

That, to me, is the most magical time period in cinema (helped along by the fact that John Williams also happened to write his best scores in this period, if you ask me), and I hold it very dear. These are the movies that have stuck with me throughout my childhood, teens and early twenties (27 is the new early twenties, didn’t you hear?). The period leading out of the 80’s was primarily lead by James Cameron, who took the baton in 1984 with The Terminator, and ran with it until 1991, with the release of T2.

But, quite honestly—and I like Quentin Tarantino, the Wachowski Brothers (let’s not get into that whole debacle) and Pixars films—the 90’s weren’t so much ‘lead’ by anyone in particular (and I love Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List as much as the next guy/gal). Everyone was trying out different things, going this way and that.

And that’s great as well, but I have a longing for the proverbial ‘old days’ of going to the movies and coming out fulfilled. And I think Peter Jackson and his team in New Zealand may be the ones to bring those days back. Hell, they already have.

On With the Review Already!

I will go right ahead, and proclaim King Kong my best movie of 2005. Many of the reviews I’ve read complained—at length, ironically—over the length, though honestly my ass wasn’t numb at all afterwards. At just over three hours, it’s a perfect saturday night movie for me, and I can guarantee you, I will watch it many times over.

I will say this though: There are scenes on Skull Island I could have done without, which in a perfect world I would have exchanged for more scenes onboard the Venture. While it was a freaky scene in itself, the creepy-crawly ‘underworld’ our band of damsel-seeking mend find themselves in after their meeting with Kong, is perhaps a bit out of place. As is the second rescue by the dear captain (in my mind they should’ve perhaps kept this rescue, or one similar to it, and cut the first one where they rescue them from the natives).

What wasn’t out of place however, in the heart of this 13-year-old, was the absolutely relentless layering of ‘oh you think that’s something? Then check this out!’. Particularly evident as Ann runs through the forest, ‘escaping’ from Kong, and runs into some sort of dinosaur, which gets killed by a V-Rex, which then chases her, and then there’s another V-Rex. And another. And then Kong fights them. And then they go over the cliff. And then they get caught in the vines. And… and… and…

I was laughing my ass off; but in joy. In utter child-like glee! If Lord of the Rings was the passing of the torch from George Lucas (bless his soul, the new Star Wars trilogy just wasn’t what we had hoped for), then that fight was the passing of the torch from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park to Kong himself.

Jurassic park had one single V-Rex? Is that supposed to be scary? Our protagonist beats the living crap out of three! How ‘bout that?

And that’s really where King Kong is at its best; in those defining moments. The arrival at Skull Island, the offering of Ann to the Kong. The V-Rex fight(s) and of course the slaying of Kong at the top of the Empire State Building.

And for me, those key moments overpower the weaker points of the film. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

As I mentioned, I would have liked a bit more action on the boat. Some more falling-in-love scenes between Ann and Driscoll would’ve been good, and perhaps a less out-of-context introduction to the ‘Heart of Darkness’ theme. In fact, the scene in which the young Jimmy says to Hayes “It’s not an adventure, is it Mr. Hayes?” felt entirely out of nowhere to me. Not that it wasn’t in the right place, because I think it was, but it just had this weird awkwardness to it. Suddenly Hayes, who to me seemed like a rough-and-tough, but trustworthy smuggler-type character to me, starts reciting what I’m guessing is a segment from Heart of Darkness… Lines that would have seemed natural in Driscoll’s mouth, but coming from Hayes they seemed a bit off to me.

What I did love though, was the look of the Skull Island jungle. I remember having heard someone describe it as if they had simply gone to the 1933 King Kong jungle and shot it with better camera’s, and they hit that pretty spot on. It has a mysterious prehistoric feeling to it, as if anything could be living in there. And of course anything does.

Same goes for the lizards. These aren’t your National Geographic dinosaurs from Jurassic Park, these are prehistoric monstrosities, complete with spiked backs and rows of teeth sticking this way and that. Straight out of pulp novels—only pulp novels by and large aren’t very good, only the distilled idea of them are. And that’s exactly what makes King Kong hit home with me.

It’s not perfect, but in my humble opinion it easily takes the price as movie of the year. And it is a sight to be hold, from start to finish, with Kong himself being absolutely everything you could hope for. Again, we look at Star Wars, and we wonder just how they could fall that far behind all of the sudden. But apparently WETA, Jackson and Serkis are just that much better, and you do not doubt for a second that Kong isn’t very much alive and real.

And while that may have become everyday business for the movie-going crowd of today, it most certainly cannot have been an easy task to accomplish.

Though, on the topic of special effects, I must mention the CG water, which is not entirely up to par with Kong. It just doesn’t feel real yet, and it is ever so slightly off-putting. Not that it’s a major eye sore, and it probably won’t even show up on the DVD, but it was something I noticed nonetheless.

And now that we are getting slightly picky, Jack Black might have been slightly mis-cast. I love Tenacious D and his over-the-top humor, but I did sometimes catch myself waiting for him to launch into a rant about inwards singing and the wonders it will do for rock n roll.

The Score

Another thing, which I personally didn’t find was entirely up to par, was the score (SoundtrackNet’s review). Now there’s a little story hidden here, and I unfortunately don’t know the full set of details surrounding it. But what happened was, that Howard Shore—who of course did Lord of the Rings—was replaced by James Newton Howard (Waterworld, Signs, Batman Begins) in October. At this point, Howard Shore had allegedly written about an hour of score, which we probably won’t see anywhere soon.

Now I liked Waterworld, in fact it was one of my favorite scores for some time, and I love Signs, though Batman Begins I could really care less for (he’s done lots of other scores of course, I’m just handpicking). And let me just say that I have full understanding for the fact that he had to write a 3 hour score in 5 weeks, which is a lot, all the while never having met with Peter Jackson once before the premiere of the film!

But even so, I do think the score is by far the weakest link in this otherwise virtuous movie. It feels pretty bland to me, and even out of place in some scenes. For a movie like King Kong, I had imagined in my minds ear, something far more organic and romantic. Instead the score is quite harsh and, dare I say, mechanical at times. I can’t even remember the number of tracks on the soundtrack album, which begin with an orchestral thunderclap and then proceed into what feels to me, like quite ordinary action pieces.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh, but the point remains; the score is unfortunately the weakest part of the movie.

The Verdict

But when all is said and done, any flaws in King Kong, are by and large miniscule and lost in the midst of the spectacle of a love story between an ape and a girl. And if you skipped the above monster-review, suffice to say, King Kong is the best movie of 2005. Go now.

PS: I know it’s ape, but I’m testing to see how many will flame me for writing monkey, without having finished reading the review.