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Just Monkeying Around

I gave myself the "finishing classes" reward I'd been promising myself all week. I went to see "King Kong." I think most people probably know the plot, but the review is somewhat long. Hence the cut.

It's a massively fun movie. I'd heard that this was the one Peter Jackson has wanted to make since the birth canal, and it shows. He puts everything into it, up to and including the kitchen sink. It's the same basic plotline as the 1933 original, only. . . bigger. Everything about it is larger. Where the original was hovering between being a pure creature feature and having a plot and characters, Jackson's version is big enough to accommodate both.

The first act establishes the setting (Depression-era New York, complete with shantytowns, soup kitchens, and the last dregs of Prohibition) and, more importantly, the characters. Carl Denham, Ann Darrow, and Jack Driscoll all have actual personalities in this film. In particular, I like this vision of Ann Darrow as a scroungy vaudeville performer. It gives her an authority she'll need later on in the film. The first act is also a great satire of the drama industries, both live theater and filmmaking. One can definitely see why Carl Denham's story might have held some appeal for someone like Peter Jackson. Some of it reminded me of a more grown-up and less X-rated version of the humor in "Meet The Feebles," which I, at least, thought was funny.

Jack Black has a sort of controlled mania about him that drew laughter even through the bits where you realized that Denham is in fact a heartless profiteer. Naomi Watts can certainly scream and looks good in a white bias-cut dress (the two basic prerequisites for playing Ann Darrow). She goes above and beyond by showing that Ann has a performer's brain in her head and a sense of humor, even when it comes to her own fangirlishness about Jack Driscoll. Adrien Brody starts off giving a very bare-bones performance. He fills it in gradually as the film goes on, becoming more and more of a real, feeling human being who falls in love without quite meaning to, but realizes that he will have to spend at least some time playing second banana to a giant ape.

The second act is a creature feature on speed. The natives are in no way PC, nor, given their function in the story, is there any way to make them so. Jackson goes the other way and revels in their primitive oinga-boinga-ness. The dinosaurs definitely show the effect of modern scientific research, being lively and quick-moving. There's a brontosaurus stampede, a triple-T. rex attack, and lots of creepy-crawlies. Jackson is an arachnophobe who seems to delight in making other people understand just why he is so. Shelob was only one spider (albeit a very large one); on Skull Island, Jackson can have hordes of giant cockroaches, centipedes, scorpions, and other unsavories literally coming out of the walls. And then there is Kong.

The great thing about Kong is that he is a person. He's not a human person. He's a gorilla person, and you really believe him as a gorilla. He moves like a gorilla and, more importantly, he thinks like a gorilla. He knows his environment, he knows what the dangers are and how to deal with them, he has an understanding of social relations and a sense of humor. You get a good look at Kong's life and how he's adapted to it, which makes the third act come alive.

The third act is the horror movie part, where Kong rampages through New York and finally has his Empire State Building scene. What's nice here is that, having spent so much time watching Kong on Skull Island, you know what his life is like there, and you can see how he might interpret the things that happen to him in New York. The point of Denham's stage extravaganza is clear to the audience, but Kong doesn't get it. Trams are just more T. rexes to be fought, biplanes are giant bats to be swatted, the Empire State Building is a giant cliff to be climbed. And there are suddenly a lot of bottle blonds who look similar to his favorite toy, and he has to find the right one.

There is also a scene involving a frozen pond in Central Park that manages to be both romantic and hysterically funny at the same time.

Kong's last stand atop the Empire State Building is at once touching and gorilla-ish and spectacular.

The three hours don't fly by -- it's a long movie, and there's no getting around that. But there's so much to see and explore. The reason "King Kong" is three hours long is because Jackson does not hurry at any step of the way. To him, everything about the story is interesting, and he gives it all a thorough examination. You feel like you've seen everything once you leave a particular location. Very satisfying. And afterwards, I overheard some girls crying in the ladies' room about what happened to Kong.

Definitely worth my while. I'd see this one again.

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
saadiira
Dec. 18th, 2005 05:23 pm (UTC)
Awww. The original always made me tear up, too.

It's like..the ultimate example of why you leave the wild thing in the wild, and you leave the wild there for the wild thing.

Sounds well worth seeing..but then..Peter Jackson...how could it be otherwise?

-Dira-
frenchpony
Dec. 18th, 2005 06:31 pm (UTC)
It is definitely worth seeing. It's become a much more rounded story, without delving quite so much into cheesiness.

Though no one fainted in the aisles when Kong appeared.
saadiira
Dec. 18th, 2005 10:33 pm (UTC)
Heh. Too bad they botched the remake of War of the Worlds...that caused mass hysteria. :D.

-Dira-
frenchpony
Dec. 19th, 2005 12:03 am (UTC)
Oh, the one that featured Tom Cruise and a cute little blonde girl menaced by aliens? I'd pay to see that sort of thing, maybe.
dot_o_choillmor
Dec. 18th, 2005 10:23 pm (UTC)
It’s got some great reviews (though none so well-written as yours!) and the critics seem to like it far more than Narnia. But it’s good to hear what non-critics think. I’d like to see it over the Christmas holidays, though it might be difficult to find someone to go with me due to the length of it. I saw the trailers and I thought the first part looked very interesting but was afraid it became just a special-effects extravaganza after that so your review has made me even more eager to see it. I saw some of a making-of special about it earlier – I hardly recognised PJ! Oh, um, as someone who absolutely cannot cope with spiders – will I be able to watch it? I still haven’t really seen Shelob. Those were either close-my-eyes or go-to-the-bathroom moments.

Yay that you’re finished classes! Are you done now until the new year? Except for any thesis-type stuff you feel inclined to do over the holidays…
frenchpony
Dec. 19th, 2005 12:05 am (UTC)
Oh, um, as someone who absolutely cannot cope with spiders – will I be able to watch it?

Find someone to go with who won't mind when you need to squinch up your eyes and bury your face in his/her sleeve. The creepy-crawlies really come out of the woodwork. But they're not the whole of the second act.

I'm done with classes. I have one paper and one final exam left, and I'll be doing a little thesing over break, but not as much as if it were not break.
aerden
Dec. 19th, 2005 03:05 am (UTC)
Good review! I enjoyed reading that. Here's my take on it.

I always thought King Kong was just a creature feature, but Jackson opened my eyes. He made a wonderful film!

Chantal
frenchpony
Dec. 19th, 2005 03:55 am (UTC)
Not that there's anything wrong with a good creature feature, but King Kong had the potential to be so much more. Jackson saw that potential and made it so.
perelleth
Dec. 19th, 2005 03:57 pm (UTC)
Good that you finished classes! Take it easy with thesing, I say. Thesis, too, need some time for themselves!

I fear I never felt attracted by King Kong. In fact, it bored me. So... I`m still doubting whether to go watch it or not... let´s see. I liked your review, though... :-)
frenchpony
Dec. 19th, 2005 06:51 pm (UTC)
I suppose that whether or not you go see this one depends on what bored you about the first one. If you wanted more in-depth characters and fleshing out of sketchy scenes, then go see the new one. If the whole concept of a "Beauty and the Beast" love story between a blonde starlet and a twenty-five-foot tall ape doesn't appeal, then give it a miss.
elliska
Dec. 20th, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC)
Catching up on LJ now (as much as I can) and I wanted to thank you for this review. I was waffling on whether I wanted to see this or not and I think this review made me decide to see it. It sounds pretty good.

And have a great break from classes!
frenchpony
Dec. 20th, 2005 10:04 pm (UTC)
I liked it. I hope you do, too.

The last paper is done, and I have an exam tomorrow evening. And then my Ph.D. applications to send off. And then. . . aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )

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