King Kong (2005)
Starring: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis
Directed By: Peter Jackson
If I had to think of one word to describe Peter Jackson's 187 minute epic remake of the classic 1933 movie of the same name (which had already spawned a 1976 remake), I'd choose "more". I can think of no other word that better describes this dazzling spectacle of a film than more. The movie has more breathless action than this year's War of the Worlds. More rampaging ferocity than Hulk. More dinosaur battles than Jurassic Park. More soft focus lighting than Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. More art deco sets than Metropolis. More giant ape special effects than Mighty Joe Young. More giant bugs than Starship Troopers. More creepy children than The Ring. More panic over a misunderstood giant than The Iron Giant. More primate cruelty than Project X.
In this respect, King Kong truly is something to experience, an experience that I do not believe could be replicated at home on DVD. The special effects are truly spectacular, and the art deco/Depression era setting is really fantastic. Peter Jackson definitely has a flair for this type of film making, making the biggest spectacle of a film that I've seen in quite a while, while still managing to get the audience to connect with the big ape in question. Kong is as expressive a CGI character as I can remember on film, and the entire adventure on Skull Island is awe-inspiring in its over-the-top grandiosity. Jackson lovingly films star Naomi Watts, drawing every bit of sympathy necessary to establish Ann Darrow, then giving her every bit of Hollywood glamour originally epitomised by her predecessor, Fay Wray. She is absolutely stunning in the movie, to the extent that one can easily understand how a giant ape could fall for her.
It's not that Jackson is doing anything new with King Kong. Everything that is done here has been done elsewhere (for instance, all the movies I already mentioned). It's that he chose to do them all in the same film, in a bigger scale than in the original movies, that makes the movie impressive. It's so overwrought and stuffed that it ends up working because of it. Just when you thought you've seen the biggest moment of the movie, another one follows quickly on its heels.
However, not all of the "more" of this film works in its favour. The major area where an application of the "less is more" principle would have helped the movie is its running time. There is absolutely no reason for a blockbuster popcorn flick about a giant ape to last for 3 hours and 7 minutes. This is an action flick, and like most action flicks, the action scenes far outshine the non-action scenes. Yet it goes on and on like a costume drama. This movie could easily have lost half an hour and been much, much better for it. A full hour could have been chopped without sacrificing what works. Introduce the characters, show some of the delightful New York set, set up the anticipation as the boat heads to Skull Island, then give us the damn monkey already! The longer Jackson takes delaying the appearance of Kong, the longer the audience has to notice the sometimes clunky dialogue, the uninspired stock characters, and the ham-fisted attempt at ripping off Heart of Darkness (he didn't even hide it-- one of the sailors is reading the book and the other gives a dissertation on it to drive the point home. We get it, Jackson, you want to make this deep. Thanks).
Actually, when I said that there is absolutely no reason for a blockbuster popcorn flick about a giant ape to last for 3 hours and 7 minutes, what I meant is that here is absolutely no GOOD reason for a blockbuster popcorn flick about a giant ape to last for 3 hours and 7 minutes. The obvious reason for the extended play is the rather impressive egotism of Peter Jackson, director of The Frighteners. Look, hobbit-boy, just because you had some success with really long epic films recently, it doesn't mean that every film you make need be over 3 hours. In fact, I laugh at the entire idea that Peter Jackson has now become such a big name director that he can make self-indulgent decisions like making a movie twice as long as the source material. I don't think anyone in the world bought a ticket to Lord of the Rings because it was the next project by the director of Heavenly Creatures. They went because of the story. J.R.R. Tolkien's story, not his. To give credit where it's due, if Jackson had muffed it, then it wouldn't have enjoyed the success that it did. But Peter Jackson's name did not open that movie. So to believe that he now has the stroke to make a 3 hour monkey movie, that he's such a major name that people will spend $40 just to get the production diaries for his next movie, is utterly ridiculous to me and a complete and utter sign of hubris of the highest degree. This is James Cameron-type egotism, post-Titanic, and at least he was a big name before Titanic.
If they took 30 to 60 minutes out of this movie, then I'd probably be raving about it being THE action blockbuster of 2005. As it is, I'll have to simply say that it is full of spectacular moments that truly blew me away... but I don't think I'll ever watch it again.
The Iron Giant (1999)
War of the Worlds (2005)