Movie Review: King Kong

Jimmy: This isn’t an adventure story, is it Mr. Hayes?
Mr. Hayes: No it isn’t, Jimmy.

And that’s the thing about Peter Jackson’s re-imaging of the 1933 classic, King Kong. It isn’t an adventure story at all, but a love story with a serious case of allegorical histrionics.

To be fair, King Kong probably has more mindshare than any other movie monster save Godzilla or Dracula. What film or TV student, or for that matter anyone who watched the old Monster Vision on TNT or any other schlock B-movie fest, hasn’t seen the old Ray Harryhausen stop-motion Kong battling dinosaurs or swatting at biplanes?

Jackson’s main ploy is not the use of 21st century computer graphics (which look spectacular, by the way, especially during the middle “Skull Island” portion of the film) but in his reverence for the source material. This is not a movie of 21st century sensibilities about love or heroism or gender roles. This is a film firmly rooted in the storytelling and scope and style of the 1930’s. Sure, that means the dialogue can seem a bit stilted and the longing looks of terror and tenderness are a bit campy, but it’s a movie, folks. You came here to be entertained by a giant gorilla and Peter Jackson is not about to disappoint you.

What worked:

  1. Jack Black as the pugnaciously portly and grandiose movie man Carl Denham.
    Spot on casting. His brand of intensity always makes you question whether he’s crazy or kidding, which works perfectly for his ultimately sleazy capitalist character
  2. Colin Hanks as Denham’s assistant.
    A small part but a great mousy mensch role.
  3. Andy Serkis as “Lumpy” and Kong.
    The man is a friggin’ genius. First Gollum, now this? Give the man some kind of special award for breathing real life into computer-generated characters, especially those with top billing like Kong.
  4. Naomi Watts face.
    So wide-eyed and frail. Beautiful in a very vulnerable and helpless kind of way. Perfectly cast for her role. She and Kong share so much screen time, but almost no dialogue. The acting of merely her face is the reason this movie works at all.
  5. The Score.
    Exciting, lyrical and good at what scores do best: adding to the movie experience without distracting from the action.

What didn’t work:

  1. Jimmy
    It’s one thing to have a headstrong ingenue willing to end his innocence and enter manhood by trying to conquer the wild. It’s another thing to have him reading Heart of Darkness and appear so clean-shavenly dimpled and pure. An homage can becom anachronism, and Jimmy’s character was the only sour note along those lines for me.
  2. Adrien Brody
    Please, for me, get your nose fixed and eat a meal. His gaunt and malformed figure was a distraction for me the entire movie.

Listen, to my point about some of the stilted dialogue and period acting, you either get that this movie is a labor of love, or you don’t. You’ll also have to seriously suspend your disbelief, but then, you’re going to see a movie about a giant gorilla.

Jason Kottke has the most similar reaction to my own, if you need a second (albeit remarkably consistent) opinion. His deconstruction of some of the themes (beyond just ape/woman love) bear reading and quoting.

But Kong is also very cheesy, like Michael Bay-grade cheesy. Cheesy but not schlocky, which leads me to believe it’s intentional on Jackson’s part, an homage to the original Kong and other 30s swashbuckler romance adventure pics. In that respect, Kong is like Star Wars, a corny film that works because it’s supposed to be a space opera, not a serious dramatic film.

At it’s core, the movie trys to teach us all about:

  1. The internal struggle between man and the natural world, especially in the post-industrial 20th/21st century
  2. Man’s struggle against himself.
    Why do we ruin those things which we should cherish by means of commercialization (think Christmas or the entire TV industry)?
  3. The true nature of love.
    Not so much romantic love, but the intense connection two individuals can share. I suppose it’s meant as a lesson about intimacy being about shared experience and not about sex

Whatever greater meanings one can divine, I think King Kong works both as film and movie. Film fans might get all uppity about some of the cheesier choices, but movie fans will love the action, adventure, humor and charm of Peter Jackson’s remake.

One thought on “Movie Review: King Kong

  1. “The true nature of love.
    Not so much romantic love, but the intense connection two individuals can share. I suppose it’s meant as a lesson about intimacy being about shared experience and not about sex”

    Bingo. A major theme people just can’t seem to wrap their heads around. Not all love is sexual, which should be obvious but seems to be forgotten. Even between a man and woman, sometimes it’s about WHO the person is, not WHAT they are. I really liked this movie. I think you’re a little hard on Adrien Brody. I liked that he wasn’t super attractive. He felt more “real” to me, but that’s just my opinion.

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