Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Kong

Midnight showings are always a bit of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand they leave you tired as hell and a walking zombie the next day. . On the other hand when I got the call tonight from a buddy of mine( ‘Kong. Midnight. You in?’ were his exact words) I didn’t hesitate. I’ve been waiting for this movie since I saw the first production still of the great ape himself.

You see, Kong has always held a special place in my mind. A favorite of my father’s, the black and white original was shown to me at an early age and has sat in my psyche ever since. The Universal horror flicks (Dracula, the mummy etc…) were his bread and butter growing up and thus mine as well, but Kong was special. Kong was more than just a thing in the closet that shouted boo. Kong was familiar yet exotic and tapped into every little boy cell in my body that screams for an adventure. There was such a joy for him to share that experience with me, the majesty of the big monkey and unparalleled work of Harryhausen, the simple story of heroics and love.

I found it amusingly apt that this film is directed by Peter Jackson. His film ‘Dead Alive’ (‘Braindead’ to you non Americans) was probably the next most memorable movie moment shared with my father. Clear, vivid memories of being the only two people in the local theater during that bloodbath have yet to fade.

So, down to business. Most of you have already read the obvious: Stunning. Breathtaking. Epic. Accurate descriptions? Yes, but at the same time fall so astoundingly short when describing this treat of a film. To save time for those of you who don’t like to read: It’s pretty, it’s Kong see it now. For that to be my only recommendation though would be a travesty.

It’s plainly clear that all involved with this film have given more of themselves than anyone else in the business in recent memory. Jackson himself LITTERALLY gave most of himself to the film. Andy Serkis spent a mind boggling amount of time to learn every aspect of walking like a monkey, standing like a monkey and just being a monkey and man does it show.
Kong has one of the most sympathetic faces I’ve ever seen on most real actors (Nic Cage I’m looking at you) never mind a digital creation.Most movie tech geeks out there will marvel at all the creases in his skin and how naturally the fur moves (usually a notorious rendering headache) but the rest of us will forget that he’s not actually alive. One look into those sad eyes and you connect immediately.

Most of the actual actors do a grand job as well. Naomi Watts shines in a simple classic role such as Ann Darrow, working her good girl smile and bright voice for all it’s worth. The added moments between her and Kong actually give their relationship some form of a natural arc as she slowly comes to realize that she feels something strangely powerful for this beast.
Brody is dynamite as Driscoll. He’s the guy we can understand and bond to quickly, but his quiet heroics remind us that he’s who we wish we could be. Modest yet iron clad strong.
Which leaves us with the slightly controversial casting of Jack Black as Carl Denham. Put down the pitchforks folks, he’s electric as the hyperactive little slimeball who we like despite our best efforts.

Much credit has to go once again to the writing team. The same collective who pulled of a veritable miracle with ‘Lord of the Rings’ takes the simple two dimensional original story and give the audience so much more meat to sink our teeth into while still capturing the simplicity of the original. Completely useless scenes such as Driscoll doing re-writes in a cage in the ships cargo hold with Denham could have easily been cut but make the movie much stronger for being there. We are given a concrete sense of character for every face on the screen. We never question their motives and we simply cannot help but care. They keep the pacing pitch perfect, switching between lighthearted moments and the ‘Indiana Jones’ style sequence of thrilling bad luck (oh no stampede!, whew we’re safe…except for those giant bugs!!!) with completely confident fluidity.

But the absolute star of this movie has to be depression era New York. Much as the first hour or so of ‘Fellowship of the Rings’ is my favorite part of the Rings trilogy, the opening sequence here is similar in tone. Showing my home amidst skyscraper skeletons, trollys and old time Broadway transported me wholesale into the movie. Man oh man did I want to stay, even in the desperate state shown on film. The only other movie to do this to me this year was ‘Sin City’.

Just as that movie was a resoundingly loud love note to the source material from which it was adapted, ‘Kong’ is quite clearly and refreshingly a work by a fan for a fan. Some of the scenes seem almost masturbatory as the camera dwells on a particular subject a bit longer than normal or a certain scene runs longer than it should. Think Jackson’s final hour of ‘Return Of The King’ and you get the idea. All of it , though, works astoundingly well packing in all the little details and visual cues that your eye can handle.

The topper to all this is, of course, the iconic showdown on the Empire State Building. Despite his new look, despite the ultra HD tech behind the animation this is still the same exact scene as the original. Shots of Kong beating his chest as he smashes a plane bring back that nostalgia with extra goosebumps. The soul of this movie is firmly intact and shining throughout.
And after all, isn’t that what all the film makers have been lacking recently? We need more directors Like Rodriguez and Jackson who are hell bent on telling the best god damn story no matter what the cost. They understand the magic of the movies, and for that I thank them.

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