Last night, after a bit of a slow start, I was drawn in to Hollywood's latest rendition of King Kong, America's favorite monster movie. After spending twenty minutes in New York meeting strange vaudeville characters, I knew this was going to be a long movie. Nevertheless, by the time the young Conrad-infatuated lookout started shouting, "Wall!", I was ready for action. And action we were supplied!
There were several excellent sequences in Kong. I was genuinely horrified by the meeting with the savages, alternating between the chillingly alien and the violently frightening. The trance-rapt women of the tribe and their undulating celebration of foreign sacrifice was disgusting and appalling--more authentic to the intention of the original films than I would have expected by Hollywood's PC culture.
Even more disturbing was the filthy, creepy encounter with the grotesque vermin living in Skull Island's mud bogs. Enormous cockroaches, spiders, centipedes, and leeches (!) streamed out of every crack to torment the crew and the audience. The scene where Lumpy has his face eaten by the protruding jaw-jelly of a giant leech was one of the nastiest things I had ever seen on film (and makes me want to go see Slither too...).
But nothing in the film topped the best monster fight sequence ever: Kong confronting not one but three full-grown T-Rexes (and Ostrom's utterly fictitious warm-blooded dinosaurs to boot). This, more than anything Revenge of the Sith or even Lord of the Rings ever put to film, convinced me that the filmmaker's ability to realize visual effects is limited only by his imagination. To quote one of my favorite bloggers, this entire sequence was comprised of awesome! Much like Terminator 3 was the first to make CG characters look like they actually had mass, King Kong managed to make ferocious monsters look like they actually were three stories tall. The sound of the T-Rex jaws snapping shut was nearly enough on its own. This is the best large-scale fight sequence ever "filmed." Amazing.
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Still, I felt much the same after watching King Kong as I did after watching the technically and artistically fantastic Batman Begins. After a little preliminary reflection (it was 2:00am when I finished watching Kong after all), I think I've finally come to a realization why I feel consistently underwhelmed by films like these--and also why I am so frustrated with films that are rehashing old ideas. It comes down to this: I've already seen Kong and Batman.
Neither of the original films were done as well (arguably) as their newer, more advanced and more intelligent counterparts. But I've already seen them. The basic films are thematically and substantively identical to their originals. Yes, they reinvent and deepen aspects of the context. And yes of course the subject matter itself is more fully realized. But they are the same films.
The beauty of King Kong is the dramatic boldness of its imagination: a film crew goes to an island where there are prehistoric monsters roaming about--and they bring one back. That's a cool idea! And there is a brilliant tragic subtext: nature's wonder destroyed by a fickle humanity that went in search of it then destroyed it out of fear. None of this changed in the remaking of the film, and thus I have missed out on the watching of the film. It was merely a re-watching.
My plea for Hollywood is to risk creating something as new and brilliant as the original concept of Kong. Use what has been learned in the realization of films such as this and lead my imagination into fresh fields.