King Kong (2005) (**)

Posted on January 2nd, 2006 in Movie Reviews by EngineerBoy

I’ve heard and read nothing but good things about Peter Jackson’s King Kong. This weekend I got a chance to go see it with my friend Bruce. Long story short, there is no way that Mynagirl would ever go see a movie filled with so much animal cruelty, but she and her mom are deep into a home renovation project (from which I am excluded by everyone’s mutual consent), which left me at loose ends on Saturday, which is rare.

So on Saturday we saw the film, in a fairly full movie theater, and I must say that I do not get the hype. I will say this, the film managed not to be boring over its three hour length, but “not boring” does not an epic make.

On the positive side, the effects are pretty eye-popping and realistic for the most part. Kong’s face is very realistic, as is his fur, gait, musculature, and hands. I’d quibble with the fact that during his titanic clash with three T-Rex’s, Kong throws boxing jabs like Joe Frazier, drop-kicks like Jackie Chan, and does rolling, over-the-shoulder throws like Rowdy Roddy Piper. Not very…ape-like, I must say. But very well-rendered from digital effects perspective.

With regards to the story-telling, I think I can sum it up with one anecdote. An hour into the film Bruce leaned over and asked, “Isn’t there supposed to be a giant monkey in this movie?” The first hour sets up the tale by showing an idealized but still Depression-era New York, with fanatical movie producers, struggling engenues, salty tramp steamer captains, and earnest playwrites. The second hour begins with the tramp steamer voyage, complete with gruff but trustworthy crew members, secret maps to undiscovered islands, and a semi-kidnapped earnest screenwriter.

During the second hour we finally make it to Skull Island, replete with fog-shrouded rocky coastlines and the ship temporarily beached on the rocks, forcing them to stay just long enough for the plot to continue developing.

The first journey ashore is quite frightening, and the lady beside me with her two kids should be ashamed of herself. Her daughter appears to be 6 or 7, and her son appeared to be about 5. During a very scary encounter with the local natives, and I mean *very* scary, her son leaned over and said “Mommy, I’m scared…” and tried to crawl into her lap. She fended him off back into his seat, saying, “Look, your sister isn’t scared…stay in your seat…”. I almost couldn’t pay attention the rest of the film knowing that this poor kid was sitting there having to huddle alone with his fear next to his seemingly uncaring mother. And, ma’am, if you read this, next time believe it when the film is rated PG-13.

About halfway through the film we finally get a brief glimpse of Kong as he takes Ann Darrow off into the jungle. The next 45 minutes consist of the men chasing Kong and Ann, Kong chasing the men and Ann, everyone fighting with dinosaurs and insects, and the crew of the tramp steamer being miraculously transformed into the Colonial Marines from Aliens, blasting natives, dinosaurs, and giant bugs like a well-trained special forces military squad. They finally knock Kong out with a sh*tload of chloroform that just happened to be aboard.

They bring Kong back to New York, put him on stage, he gets loose, climbs the building, yada, yada, yada, we all know how the story goes. The creative part of this film is that this whole thing is stretched to three hours. It felt like about 30 minutes of screen time were taken up with Ann and Kong staring soulfully into each other’s eyes and inventing a new one-word sign language (setting up the faux-tearful finale).

Jack Black, as big a personality as he is, isn’t really able to inhabit Carl Denham, the larger-than-life character that he plays…his performance just doesn’t do it…like a long fly ball that hits a foot below the top of the fence…still a well hit ball, but just a double, not a home-run. I didn’t even recognize that Ann Darrow was being played by Naomi Watts, as the performance was very un-stellar and unremarkable, and it was only later that I found out it was Watts. Adrien Brody is…just one of those things that I don’t understand about women. He looks like a whippet and has about as much personality as a sedated whippet, but the accolades seem always to flow for him, so I’ll just have to resign myself to his celebrity-hood, I guess.

Overall this movie is just average, which means that it’s actually pretty bad given the budget, expectations, reviews, and hype surrounding it. If I’m being completely honest, I have to say that this movie was just about exactly what I expected, so I’m glad that I’ve seen it so that I can now disparage it from direct experience. And if that’s the most positive thing one takes away from a film, that is faint praise indeed.

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