I’m not gonna write a whole long detailed review of King Kong. Go read yahoo movies or someplace like that for your recaps, though you can ignore the one from the SF Chron, Mick LaSalle obviously spent three hours with his head up his ass, not actually watching the movie.
But in a word – it’s fantastic.
Honestly, my expectations were incredibly low. It’s fucking king kong, man. How do you remake a movie that’s such an utter, complete classic? How can you take something that’s so perfect, and yet so of a time? It doesn’t work out of context. It’s like jules verne or edgar rice burroughs, stories from an era when you could have unexplored parts of the globe. Where those might be fiction, but they were not fantasy.
So I didn’t expect a lot. As much as Jackson rocked LOTR, and he did that, despite flaws and quibbles purists might have (and I’m a purist and have quibbles). Despite issues based on the compromise between making a good film and telling the whole story, Jackson made a film, a set of films, that work very well.
But you know, I figured, he can’t do it again. And starting with kong kong, he’s stacked the desk against himself. Maybe it’s just because I read LaSalle’s review in the chron first, but I expected to be incredibly bored for three hours.
I wasn’t bored. At all. Three and a quarter hours of movie, and honestly, none of it’s wasted. Not a second.
It’s interesting because Jackson was, in effect, making two films. One is simple, and we know the story; ship sails to mysterious island, Ape meets Girl, Ape loses Girl. Ape comes to the Big City. Ape gets girl, shows her the town, and it ends badly as romances will. Jackson makes that film, incredibly well. The action sequences are stunning, chaotic, exciting. They’re like being inside a video game, in a good way. The romance makes sense. Kong is a character, not just a big animated monkey. The inevitable tragedy takes on a mythic feel, the doomed love of characters from utterly different worlds.
But Jackson made another movie laid over this – a movie about movies. A movie about hollywood. This film is a tribute to the films we grew up with, the films Jackson grew up with. He’s my age almost exactly, and in an era before cartoon channels and computers and dvd-on-demand-entertainment, we lived on books and old films from generations past.
This is a movie, not about america in 1933, but about movies in ninteen-whatever. The classic movies we’ve all seen, the clips in every montage you’ll ever see. The looks, the colors, the only-in-a-movie sense of reality from when movies were shot on back lots in black and white with primitive cameras and no effects to speak of
King Kong has to be three hours long, because you can’t make these two movies without that. You can’t cram the message down our throats in ninety minutes of disney-time. Both films work, incredibly well, without detracting or interfering with each other. It works because the story itself is a hollywood story, not a real story. It’s not a story about what would really happen, a story that could really happen. It’s utter fantasy. It’s quintessential hollywood. You can’t look at hollywood of then and there without thinking of that original film.
Technically, this film is incredibly well done. Jackson and WETA together have an incredible gift for bringing CGI to life. The animation, the jungles, the rocks, the dinosaurs; they manage to look both fantastic and otherworldly, and real, at the same time. New York of 1933 is stunning, utterly stunning. I could watch footage of it for hours.
The casting is perfect; Naomi Watts manages to inhabit her character brilliantly even though 90 percent of her part consists of screaming. Adrien Brody – hell, how can you not fall in love with him? The lesser parts all work, and Jack Black is perfect as Carl Denham, the sleazy-but-lovable film producer. A little Jack Black goes a very very long way, but Jackson keeps a lid on him and gets the kind of performance we all know Black is capable of.
And then there’s the big damned monkey. Good lord, how can a CGI ape be such a real character? I don’t know how to separate Andy Serkis’ performance for motion capture out from the CGI monkey he’s ‘wearing’, but when will there be an oscar for best performance in a motion capture suit? Serkis is amazing, the monkey is amazing. This is a gorilla, clearly a gorilla to anyone who’s spent time studying primates. He moves, acts, emotes like a real gorilla. Yet he’s a character, anthropomorphised just enough that we can find parallels with human feelings and behaviors, just enough that we can identify with him. When Kong gets angry, is amused, is sad, it’s real. It feels like you’re watching an actor who completely sells a roll. You don’t think about the computers and the motion-capture sensors, you think about this character who happens to me twenty-five feet tall and covered in fur.
I walked out feeling like Kong, a creature in the wrong place and time, and wanted to climb a building and die staring into my leading lady’s eyes.
Jackson got me, utterly, in several ways. Toward the end of a brilliantly animated extended fight sequence between Kong and several dinosaurs, I found myself literally snarling, my teeth bared. I realized I was snarling out loud when I actually heard myself. I was so completely in the moment that I wanted to tear a hunk of flesh out of my enemy. Later, when Kong spies Brody’s character and recognizes the one who took my woman, I understood the moment completely, Kong’s animal rage, I-will-kill-you-you-took-her-from-me.
And the end. You know the end. We’ve seen it a million times. There’s no question whatsoever about what will happen when the monkey climbs the building and the bi-planes come for him. Yet, I wanted to swat at the planes myself, was almost shouting for Kong to take one more down, just one more.
And, for the second time, Jackson got real tears out of me at the end of a movie. Two for two now. It’s a very, very short list of movies that have ever made me cry, made tears run down my face. I can count on one hand the times I remember, and two of those are Peter fucking Jackson.
It is, frankly, one hell of a movie. Very intense, very long, and don’t take the little kids. Warn the big kids how it ends, in case they don’t know. But damn, it’s good.