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King Kong - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
cinema_holic
cinema_holic
King Kong
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Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B-
Special Effects: B+



When Peter Jackson released each one of his three Lord of the Rings movies, it was easy to forgive the excessive length because the films whittled down the astoundingly intricate and detailed stories of the novels on which they were based. The result was pacing that moved at a steady clip in spite of a run time between three and three and a half hours; with masterful storytelling, beautifully written dialogue, and astounding special effects that never went over the top and only existed to serve the story, it was impossible to get bored regardless of length.

We get somewhat of an opposite effect with Jackson's follow-up, King Kong. It's tempting to say that the movie simply runs too long, most notably because easily half of the first hour (out of three) could have been cut. But after the first hour, which is definitely glutted with absolutely unnecessary filler, the second two hours are so relentless in their pacing and action that you scarcely have time to absorb what's going on. If the latter two hours were fleshed out even a half hour to replace the half hour that should have been cut from the first hour, the film could have been seamless.

The most obviously unnecessary component to a film many regard as a totally unnecessary remake is the time Jackson spends on giving us back stories to characters who are clearly meant to be expendable to begin with. If most of the film is a self-referential ode to big dumb monster movies, why bother lame attempts at adding substance or emotional weight? Nobody really cares about the mysterious origins of the young stowaway -- or the fact that he keeps reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, for that matter. That's not what audiences are here for.

King Kong is a ridiculous movie about a gigantic gorilla falling in love with a blonde actress -- a premise that remains an unbroken common thread throughout all three versions of the film. To that end, Jackson actually does manage to add emotional weight heretofore unseen in either the 1933 original or the campy 1976 remake, hard as they tried. The motion capture process of Andy Serkis that ultimately creates the emotional complexity of Kong is truly a sight to behold. You really feel the connection forged between woman and beast.

Ultimately, King Kong is a worthy venture only as spectacle, the human beings all mere pawns in a parade of effects sequences. In spite of some knowingly hokey scenes that evoke the cheesiness of previous incarnations of the film (the twirling ice skating on the lake in Central Park comes to mind), once the action gets going, you're literally on the edge of your seat clear to the end.

There are two clear problems with it, however. First, we don't even see Skull Island until an hour into the movie -- a tactic that worked well for Jurassic Park but not for King Kong, which, instead of being reminiscent of the smart character development in some earlier Spielberg films, instead evokes the sappy cornball by-the-numbers "set-up" of Titanic. If you want to spend this much time on the supporting characters, you need to give us reason to actually care about them.

Secondly, it's nice to be on the edge of your seat, but once the action starts, it's relentless. It's also nice to get a break every once in a while, get a chance to catch your breath. Jackson captures none of the sense of astonishment and wonder that Spielberg so skillfully manufactured with his dinosaurs in Jurassic Park because, in King Kong, we aren't given any time for being awe-struck, no matter how spectacular the special effects are. Not even the characters themselves get any time for it: they see a herd of dinosaurs, and within a minute, they -- and we -- are all in the middle of a ridiculously unrealistic (if undeniably gripping) Brachiosaur stampede that lasts for more than five minutes.

And while the majority of the special effects are indeed incredible, other effects are surprisingly terrible. There are moments when the CGI animation is so obvious, such as people jumping off moving mounds of earth displaced by a tripped Brachiosaur, that it becomes a little cartoonish, and actually moves Peter Jackson into George Lucas territory -- not a place he wants to be.

Still, with better editing and special affects alone, King Kong could have been nearly perfect, the movie spectacular of the year. This is an adventure story about a rampaging-yet-lovable giant gorilla, after all, and thus any expectation for realism should be left at the door. Peter Jackson was a huge fan of King Kong all his life, and how much fun he had making this movie shows on screen, and it's all the better for it.

No one expects brilliance from a movie like this. They just expect action and fun, and between the action sequences and the large amount of genuinely funny humor, Kong delivers in spades. Even with corny scenes of Naomi Watts entertaining the gorilla with her vaudeville act, Jackson seems to know what he is doing: it's all part of the territory. Anyone who is easily exasperated by stupid throwaway plots to big budget action movies would do well to avoid this one.

But if you do appreciate spectacle, even if it gets a little overwhelming at times, and in spite of a few technical effects flaws here and there, King Kong remains one of the most entertaining films of the year.

Naomi Watts braces herself for a little monkey love atop the Empire State Building.


Overall: B+
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