' Cinema Romantico: King Kong Lives

Monday, December 19, 2005

King Kong Lives

“He did the damn thing better than I did.”
- Bob Dylan

So said Dylan in regards to the cover of his song “All Along the Watchtower” done by Jimi Hendrix. I, of course, never knew the directors of the original “King Kong” but I think it may be reasonable to assume they would say the same thing of Peter Jackson’s version of their historic movie. And now that I’ve sat on it for 4 days, I feel safe saying this – the new version is better than the original.

Don’t get me wrong, the original will forever hold its place among the most triumphant moments of cinema. It was and will remain a milestone. But Jackson (and his other screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens – don’t forget them) takes the blueprint of the original and expands on it greatly. He takes a film that was nothing more than sheer spectacle and turns it into a touching, moving tale of a Beauty and a Beast.

King Kong himself is a wonder. The CGI looks good, sure, but he actually has a soul. (Are you paying attention, George Lucas?) He is the last of his kind left behind on the infamous uncharted Skull Island. This Kong is portrayed as one lonely fellow and Naomi Watts' Ann Darrow is presented as the remedy to that loneliness. She juggles for him. She willingly sleeps in the palm of his hand. He throws her over his shoulder as they go for a "jog" through the jungle. And anything that threatens this companionship is going to put our gorilla friend in a foul mood.

In the role made famous by Fay Wray, Naomi Watts provides some of the finest green-screen work ever done. She doesn't just shriek (though she does that well when required to). She gives her character far more shading. She comes to a gradual understanding of who this beast really is.
One of the best changes from the old film to new film comes in the third act when the setting switches back to Manhattan. Rather than Kong tracking down Ann Darrow and hauling her off to the peak of the NYC landmark against her will, she comes to Kong as a way of calming him down and stopping his destruction.

But it is the humble opinion of this writer that the most masterful stroke by Jackson and his gang was to turn the character of Jack Driscoll (played ably by Adrien Brody) into a screenwriter. Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I’m completely and unabashedly biased. Well, I am. So what? I don’t care. I loved it. The male actor is presented as a coward and the director as an egomaniac. But the screenwriter? He’s the hero. That is – without a doubt – one of the most accurate depictions of a screenwriter in film history. And when he is relocated to an animal cage on the ship far below decks while the actors and directors and producers all were allowed to stay in cabins, I wanted to grab the guy next to me and say, “That’s so true!”

Let me sum it up this way - in the original, at the end, when Kong is on top of the Empire State Building, swatting at the bi-planes, I knew I was supposed to feel something - if only because it's so much a part of film lore. But in the new version, during the recreation of that finale, Ann Darrow steps in front of her favorite beast, waving her arms, hollering for the planes not to shoot. This time I did feel something - genuinely. I'll be honest, damn it. I teared up a little. And that's the difference. That's what sets it apart.

(Footnote: When a director hits his first movie homerun – which Jackson did with his “Lord of the Rings” Trilogy – he is pretty much allowed to make whatever he wants for his next movie. But if he hits a homerun on that movie, too, he is then allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants for the rest of his career. So, Mr. Jackson, if you choose to do a claymation remake of “The Godfather Part II” with a Black Sabbath soundtrack and Ray Romano as the voice of Michael Corleone, the only question you’ll hear is – “Will 150 million cover it?”)

5 comments:

jb said...
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jb said...

Nick, did you see his first movie "Meet the Feebles"? Don't give hime any ideas. Despite P.J.'s (as I like to call him) mainstream success, behind the oscars and the millions lies the mind of a very disturbed man.

Rory Larry said...

Nick, I'm convinced you and I saw different movies. Because I don't think I agreed with one thing you have said about this film.

Undiscovered Gold said...

Nick, everything you said was correct. Rory watched a different film. Peter Jackson's "King Kong" was fantastic.

Rory Larry said...

I think Brad, Nick and I all saw the same movie, but Nick and Brad are crazy.