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Movie Review: King Kong (2005)

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I’ve been thinking it over, and I believe the number of times I fell asleep while watching Peter Jackson’s latest film, King Kong, was 144 times. It might have been more. But let’s say at least 144 times. And that was during the first hour. The first of three very, very, very, very long hours. When I left the theater I felt as if I had just awakened from a coma. A very loud coma.

King Kong bored me silly. It was like watching paint dry. Or examing your yard to see if the blades of grass had grown. I’d be more entertained staring at a blank wall for three hours.

I suppose I have to discuss the film. So, in the first hour, we meet film producer Carl Denham (Jack Black), who is trying to convince a movie studio to finance his next film. He’s come into possession of a map that might reveal the location of an undiscovered island, so he wants to shoot his picture there. The studio heads turn him down, but that doesn’t stop Carl. He steals a bunch of movie equipment and hires a tramp steamer to take him to what I’ll now refer to as Skull Island.

Carl will need a leading lady for his picture, specifically a size four (since he had to steal the wardrobe), and he finds her in the form of Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a vaudeville actress out of a job. He tricks playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) to join in the journey and write the screenplay. And they’re off!

In what seemed like a few days later in real time, the ship reaches Skull Island. And instead of geeting a friendly Mr. Roarke kind of greeting, the ship’s crew and the film crew are greeted in a very unfriendly way by the island’s inhabitants, who apparently have mud for skin. And lots of piercings. Eventually Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the tribe and offered up as a sacrifice to the 25-foot-tall ape creature, KONG. Kong snatches Darrow and off he goes.

At this point in the filmmaking process I can imagine Peter Jackson looking at stacks and stacks of money and thinking, “I need a million computers to do the Skull Island stuff” and he gets them, and the CGI people just crank those computers up to 11, because Skull Island is stuffed to the brim with critters, bugs, and dinosaurs. I think I developed ADD while watching the Skull Island sequences, because you’d look and there’d be like 5,000 dinosaurs running around and millions of bugs creeping around and assorted other creatures all vying for screen time. And I swear to God I saw Waldo in there. Remember Waldo, from the Where’s Waldo? series of books? I think he was eaten up by one of the 10,000 dinosaurs on screen.

Now, the CGI stuff looked pretty good, and Kong was an amazing feat of computer animation. Andy Serkis (Gollum from the Lord of the Rings trilogy) did a terrific job performing Kong, especially in Kong’s different facial expressions.

One small problem with the CGI was that when live actors were inserted into the scenes, it looked pretty fake, since they were not occupying the same physical space as the CGI creatures. That’s a problem with having 150,000 CGI generated dinosaurs on the screen at the same time, chasing the live actors who obviously were actually running across a sound stage somewhere.

Kong takes Ann to his hideout and he growls and grunts and establishes himself as the Alpha Male 25-foot-tall gorilla or ape or whatever he is. Ann does her vaudeville stuff, juggling and doing flips and what not, and Kong is happy. And then a T-Rex shows up to ruin the fun. Not just one T-Rex, either, but three. Kong kicks their asses, of course. Meanwhile, everyone from the ship is trying to find Ann (and Kong), because Denham wants to bring Kong back to New York in order to make millions. By the time they catch up with Ann and Kong, the human and the ape have formed a kind of bond, so Ann’s not too thrilled when Kong is captured. Somehow, Kong is brought aboard the ship, which doesn’t make any sense since Kong must weigh a hundred thousand pounds or something. Plus, he’s tall. He’d never fit in one of those tiny staterooms.

The last act of the film takes place in New York, where Kong is the talk of the town and audiences from all over are arriving in droves to get a peek at him. Kong does not like being in the spotlight, and in one show manages to escape. Ann catches up with him and the two share some quality time ice sliding on a frozen lake (despite Kong’s massive 200,000 pounds of ape-weight, the ice doesn’t break) and then the moment is shattered by a few RPGs. Ooops! The military is after the giant ape. Kong runs away and climbs up the side of the Empire State Building, like one of those human fly guys, except in his case he’s a 25-foot-tall human fly guy. Ann has followed, as well as Jack Driscoll (he has a thing for Ann). Ann and ape are reunited, only to have things interrupted by a bunch of pesky airplanes shooting at them.

The CGI for New York City was really well done, by the way. And, thank goodness, there were only a handful of airplanes shooting at Kong, instead of 500,000.

Kong takes one for the team, falling from the Empire State Building and crashing to his death. Ann is sad that her friend is dead. I’m happy the film has ended. I leave the theater in a daze, since the film’s soundtrack was so friggin’ loud, it was like coming out of a Led Zeppelin concert.

I think I’ll stick to 90-minutes films from now on.

** out of ****

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About scottcsmith

  • I make my brief post-turkey holiday return once again.

    I thought the acting and dialogue at the start of the movie was bad and I wasn’t sure if it was intentionally stilted to echo 1930s early Hollywood dramas or just bad material acted badly. With Jack Black, you expect some lines to be delivered with bad timing, an inappropriate gleam in his eye and mugging/mock emotion. I didn’t expect that so much from Naomi Watts. The casting of Black is curious and I almost wonder if you have to subscribe to the Clooney-in-Coen-films theory where the actor is cast precisely because the gifted director knows that their overacting and lack of range suit the foolishness of the role?

    The CGI is incredible and I can see where they spent the $270 million budget, but it’s an oddly paced movie. The beginning is slow and the movie builds up to a big horror show/monster fest in the Skull Island scenes. Don’t get me wrong — those are some of the neatest, scariest creepy crawlies and monsters you’ve ever seen, but was the goal of the producers to spend as much money as possible to fit in Jurassic Park and Arachnophobia 2005 into the middle of the movie?

    The CGI for Kong is incredible as well and I credit Jackson and his people for doing research on primate facial expressions and movement to make him look realistic.

    The movie was good, but pretty dumb. I think Jackson did a decent, sufficiently eye-catching job with a story that started out as a dumb one earlier this century. Even Adrian Brody seemed like he was there for the paycheck.

    Film critics are dumb sheep, so you won’t read this in any other review, but there was some definite homosocial subtext to the ship crew that was weird: the wise, strapping black first mate and his young, scrappy protege Jimmy (who cries like a widow after the expected minority splat occurs) and the one-eyed, sea-dog cook guy who also mourns his soulmate, the racist stereotyped character of the Chinese animal-tamer who also meets his expected minority splat. I know Jackson was paying homage to the golden era of Hollywood (even trying to get Fay Wray in the film), but isn’t the Chinese coolie one 1930s film convention we could have dropped from the Charlie Chan days for this 2005 remake? Even Jack Black’s character and his assistant had a slightly weird vibe going on.

    That is all.

  • Scott Butki

    Oh my thoughts on the movie are here

  • Scott Butki

    You reached the same conclusion as me but wrote it in a different format. I agree – it was too long and the special effects mostly sucked, except for a few cases like the iced pond scene.