Review: King Kong

Finally got around to seeing the new King Kong.

As usual, this won't be so much a review as a few assorted comments and notes.

My overall impression: fun, but long. I haven't seen the original, so I can't compare them. (But I was amused that just as I got in the car on the way home, an NPR piece about the making of the original movie came on.)

I liked the look of the movie a great deal. The opening and closing credits were in a lovely art deco style--anyone happen to know which typeface that is? (It's a common deco look, but I'm having a hard time finding an exact match at Identifont or The scenes of old New York looked great (and I assume were meticulously researched and re-created). The creatures were vividly realistic; they all looked like they were alive, to me. There was some bad bluescreening here and there (or is it all greenscreening these days?), but not too much and not too awful.

It occurred to me that after having almost no black people in Lord of the Rings, Jackson put a lot of them in this movie--almost all of them savages. Except for the noble black crewmember, Hayes, whose role reminded me vaguely of the lone black character (iIrc) in Jurassic Park. I thought Evan Parke did a good job with the role, though (and it doesn't hurt that he's mighty attractive, as are several other members of the cast). (Hey! It turns out he had a recurring role in the first season of Alias, but I don't recognize him at all from that.) I'm not sure what to recommend that a white filmmaker trying to remake a classic 1930s film that featured savage black primitives ought to do, but it did seem to me Jackson could probably have handled this a little better, especially after there was so much discussion of this wrt LotR. Oh, and having your one civilized black character quote extensively from Heart of Darkness may also not be the best possible choice under the circumstances, though I guess it demonstrated that he was educated.

I also liked most of the other actors. Jack Black is in top form; I haven't seen anything of his since High Fidelity (except for Shark Tale, where he was wasted), 'cause most of it has looked pretty bad, but I really liked him in both High Fidelity and Kong. I liked Adrien Brody a lot more here than in The Pianist (and is it just me, or are we beginning to see more heroic writers as characters?). Naomi Watts does a good job, especially given how little dialogue she has. (The whole movie is remarkably short on dialogue, due to the combination of extremely extended action sequences and the fact that one of the main characters, being an ape, can't speak.) Andy Serkis does a great job with Kong's facial expressions (and body motions too? not sure)--how many people can say they've played both Gollum and Kong? And I found Thomas Kretschmann attractive and compelling as the captain, though I couldn't figure out why he kept giving in to what Denham wanted.

The movie did feel a little too long to me. The action sequences were really spectacular--but almost every one of them lasted two or three segments longer than I thought it needed to. Every time I thought one of those scenes was resolved, there would be more, and then more, and then more again. A little exhausting.

I think Ebert's review makes a very good point about the relationship between Ann and Kong, but I had read that before seeing the movie so I may've been looking for it. (And on a side note, although Ebert's one of my favorite reviewers, it bugs me that he seems to almost always get some little detail wrong in his reviews. Were there any elevated trains in this movie? And weren't those brontosaurs/apatasaurs rather than T. rexes? Not a big deal; just a little jarring.)

Anyway. Overall, I'd say the movie's worth seeing if you have any interest at all in this kind of thing, and it's definitely worth seeing on a big screen if you're going to see it. But hurry: I suspect it won't be in theatres too much longer.

6 Responses to “Review: King Kong”

  1. Dave Schwartz

    Coincidentally, I just saw this last night as well. I really enjoyed it, for the most part.

    I agree that the film was overlong, although I’d have rather seen them trim some of the Watts-as-Dian-Fosse closeups and tighten up the opening a bit than lose any part of the Skull Island sequence, which was glorious. The film worked best, IMO, when it remembered it was a monkey movie, and the references to B movies and such were perfectly pitched winks at the audience.

    I was prepared to squirm at the inhabitants of Skull Island, but primarily I felt for them what I felt for Kong; sadness at their circumstances. It was clear from the preponderance of ruins both before and behind the wall that they were the remnants of a great civilization, just as the gorilla boneyard revealed Kong as the last of a lineage. Somewhere, in this relationship of fear and awe, both parties went into a decline from which they couldn’t recover. (In my personal Skull Island backstory, it’s the priestly caste which accelerates the decline, consolidating its hold on power exploiting the peoples’ fear of Kong and squandering the society’s resources in “appeasing” him.) I saw the aboriginals’ relationship with Kong as a metaphor for our own society, which both reveres natural beauty and fences–or cages–it off.

    I know I’m in the minority here, but I thought the biggest weakness in the film–aside from the extra twenty minutes or so of length–was Watts. I’ve never seen her actually bother to act in a film, and this was no exception. Staring open-mouthed with one’s hair blowing about one’s face is not a performance. Still, it was Kong that I went to see, and in that respect the film didn’t disappoint.

  2. Dave Schwartz

    (Oh, and BTW; I got your email, and I’ll be responding tomorrow or Wednesday.)

  3. Jed

    Side note, unrelated to Dave’s comments: I forgot to mention in my entry that this is not a movie for people who are afraid of heights.

    Dave: I agree that the opening could’ve used some tightening. I did like Watts, though, on two counts: (1) although I haven’t seen the original, my impression is that Fay Wray’s part consisted largely of screaming. (“Scream, Ann! Scream for your life!”) It seemed to me that Watts did a fine job with the screaming part. And (2) I thought she did a pretty good job with the other parts, too–showing some strength and some vulnerability and generally having a pretty expressive face and body language in her scenes with Kong. I could’ve done without the performing-for-Kong stuff, but that felt to me like a flaw in the script rather than in Watts.

    Fascinating approach to the Skull Island natives, and 🙂 on the personal backstory. I hadn’t thought of any of that, and I like it. So maybe this is more a case of my being too willing to look at surface appearances and not think about what underlies them.

    Re monkey movie: Yeah, I guess underlying some of my (minor) dissatisfaction is that I’m not really sure what kind of movie it’s meant to be. I think it’s primarily a gigantic-scale action/adventure movie (and it must truly have been a colossal undertaking to put it together)–but if so, why do we spend so long in NYC at the beginning? From Denham’s early scenes, it starts to look like it’s going to be a movie about art and the creation thereof, but then that doesn’t really pay off, imo. And then there’s the subplot with the kid, which takes up quite a bit of screen time but disappears out of the movie two-thirds of the way through.

  4. jere7my

    There were no black people on the island–or, at least, no Africans. All of the islanders were caucasians in unnaturally matte black makeup, almost charcoal. I suppose someone could call it blackface, but I think it was meant to indicate that these were some new race of dark-skinned people, with nothing to link them to Africa (or Australia) except their skin color.

    Dave’s backstory for the islanders is pretty much on the mon(k)ey, to judge by the Skull Island natural history coffee-table book. The island has been slowly sinking, too, so the arable land has been largely swallowed up by the sea.

  5. Dave Schwartz

    Ditto on the heights comment. I forgot to ask my roommate how she felt about that; she’s quite fearful of heights, and there were some vertiginous shots in the film.

    On Watts, I’m not saying Fay Wray was any great shakes in the original; I just wish an actress with a little more presence had been chosen to match up with Kong. I’m afraid I’m simply not a fan of Watts.

    On the NYC stuff: I’m guessing that the opening was to familiarize us with the city ca. 1930, so as to make it seem yet more alien when we returned to it and saw it from Kong’s perspective. His experience of the city parallels the humans’ experience of Skull Island in many ways, down to the overwhelming scale; one of the most striking shots, I thought, was of Kong on top of the Empire State Building beating his chest, the camera panning swiftly back to show how tiny he is compared to the city of man he’s come to. But I completely agree that the Denham storyline never really came together, and I spent the last half hour of the film wondering “Where’s Jimmy?”

    jere7my, thanks for confirming some of my guesses! I can’t thank you, though, for linking to that book . . . very tempting . . .

  6. Shmuel

    Re: Jack Black films. You might give School of Rock a try.


Join the Conversation