Monday, December 19, 2005

Thoughts on King Kong

It's sometimes painful to see the amount of remakes coming out of Hollywood now (Michael Mann, I love ya, but Miami Vice?), seemingly verifying the notion that creative thought is going down the drain. But in the case of King Kong, I am confident in saying that this is the best remake ever made (remade?). Not necessarily because of the special effects (more on them later), but because of the way Peter Jackson went about remaking his favorite movie. The core story is the same, there are scenes that are literally shot by shot (and sometimes line for line) the same, yet through all the parallels this is still a very different movie that was made the best way possible.

I loved it, but five years from now when I'm flipping through channels and Kiwi Pete's Kong is on TNT and the original Kong is on Turner Classic, I think I would choose the latter. The main reason I prefer the original is how Jackson has tried to make the relationship between Kong and Ann more mutual. In the original, the movie is mainly about Kong being a very lonesome beast who finds some kind of happiness in this strange flax-haired beauty who doesn't run away from him. We never see too much emotion (or anything other than screams) from Ann toward Kong, she's pretty much along for the ride. Jackson tries vainly to show that Ann cares for Kong, with unfortunate results most of the time.

Two scenes in particular illustrate this. As they're escaping the island, Ann tries to stop Denham and Co. from hurting or capturing the ape. Um, a few hours ago you were hanging from the lip of a T-Rex and were nearly eaten by a half dozen jungle creatures, are you really worrying what's going to happen to Kong at this point? Then at the end as the biplanes attack Kong on the Empire State Building, Ann tries to wave off the attackers. Why? What do you plan to do with Kong once they let him live in peace? Jackson never really sells the audience on why Ann would care so much for a 25-foot ape and as a result she often comes off as comically deranged. We can easily see why the beast would love the beauty, but why does the beauty want anything to do with her beast?

What impressed me the most was how much homage Jackson pays to the original Kong. Many scenes are recreated note for note, most surprising of which is the T-Rex battle, which uses the original's climax nearly verbatum. A few others, such as Jack's rescue of Ann and the entire Kong on Broadway sequence, are similarly recreated. In the hands of any other filmmaker, Kong would be throwing the T-Rex into a volcano, but it's a tip of the hat to Jackson who can use the original foundation to create scenes that still mezmerize.

And he is able to mezmerize the audience with the best special effects ever seen on screen. If you think you've been CGI'd to death after seeing any of the Star Wars prequels or even Jackson's Lord of the Ring trilogy, where you never forget you're looking at something digital, Kong will blow you away. Even upclose (which many of the shots are), there's no reason to believe you're not seeing a live 30-foot tall ape. Jackson and Co. must have done exhaustive primate research to make Kong move and act so lifelike. His lips and fur look like you could reach out and touch them, you never get that feeling with the aforementioned movies.

Is it too long? It comes in at 3 hours 7 mins, but I can only think of a few scenes he could have cut. Jackson essentially follows the same structure of the original, but obviously fleshed out the potential of Skull Island with more horrors. Skull Island is a truly terrifying place in 2005. The original natives wore coconut bras, now they're almost as scary as the creatures outside their walls. Jackson's Skull Island also has a welcomed mythical quality, with Mayan-style ruins peppering the landscape (complete with steps leading to Kong's perch). The only part of Skull Island where Jackson may reach too far is the bug pit, which has a scene in it that I think crosses the line and will cause many audience members to look away.

It cost over $200 million, but 'King Kong' lives up to the hype and would have conquered any summer challengers had it been released then. Universal has a license to print money with this film and it should earn Academny nominations for visual effects and sound editing. What I'm looking forward to now is what the DVD will be like, since the LOTR sets were appropriately over the top.

NOTE: The DVD Panache offices will be closed for Christmas vacation next week, but will re-open for business in January