Thursday, December 15, 2005

They really can do anything on the Big Screen

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.

* * *

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.


ted said...

I dug this movie like you can't even believe, Jason. The original had a great idea and really compelling themes, but had special effects which, while state of the art shortly after New Mexico became a state, were roughly the same level of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (picture the original stop motion Kong and then picture the Bumble). It was also hampered by some of the hokiest dialog ever to grace a major Hollywood picture, not counting any movie starring Nicholas Cage or Ben Afleck. In fact, the dialog in the scene where they're filming on the boat and the Bruce Baxter character recites his lines as he re-wrote them is taken directly from a conversation between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll in the original that was delivered in total seriousness, not as comedy which is how Peter Jackson filmed it this time. Furthermore the natives of skull island, as you pointed out were downright disturbing. When the members of the crew were being placed on the rock I honestly wanted to look away from the screen, something that has not happened to me in a long, long time if you don't count Titanic. The vision of the natives in the original showed up in Jackson's version right down to the music, but this time they were used as joke Vaudevillian musical number when Kong is brought back to New York. I, just like you, had already seen King Kong. Many, many times, in fact.

Story-wise I was expecting nothing new. I knew that they would go to Skull Island. I knew that they would encounter a giant gorilla. I knew that there would be all kinds of wacky flora and fauna on the island to make it even more dangerous (though apparently not as dangerous as the world we have created for ourselves - Kong could survive in the former, while the latter took his life in less than 24 hours). I knew that Kong would be captured and brought back. I knew he would break free and raise hell. I knew he was going to climb the Empire State Building and that he would get all shot to pieces and then take a 100 story digger off the top rope. What I did not know is just how freaking great it would all look.

I guess I gave up a lot of hope that I would be able to enjoy the thrill I remember from my childhood of movie viewing some time ago. I honestly don't expect to see original visions and stories on the screen like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Dark Crystal, The Last Starfighter, Enemy Mine or any other movie which blew me away long before I went through puberty. When I want to experience an original story or vision, I tend to pick up a book nowadays. I did not see a movie this entire year that was not either a sequel, an adaptation, or a remake.

I went into Kong not expecting to be told a great new story. I went in expecting to be told a great story I already knew, but this time by a better storyteller. I got what I was expecting.

ted said...

Shoot, I also forgot to throw in a ranting complaint that there is now a re-make of Creature From The Black Lagoon in production. Bastards! So far the best re-make of a Universal monster movie has been The Mummy. What's that tell you?

Tim Lewis said...

Have you seen the preview for M. Night's new movie? I have no idea what the movie is about. And I think it's great. The trailer doesn't give it just makes me want to go see it. Go figure!

rebecca marie said...

right back atcha

Dwayne Hilty said...

I went to Kong, not because of my childhood nastalgia of the other King Kong movies or because of my love for pre-historic beasts battling, but because "it looked cool" (yes, shallow). However, I left thinking that this movie was well worth the $80 I paid to see it. On my scale: easily a full-price theatre movie.

Something about T-Rex jaws being ripped open by a giant Silver Back just gets the testosterone pumping in my system.