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19 December 2005 — King Kong, American Idiot (3)

Will and I saw King Kong yesterday. It sucked. The biggest thing on the screen wasn't the twenty-five foot ape, but Peter Jackson's ego. The trip wasn't a complete loss: Will introduced me to a fantastic remix of Green Day's American Idiot; and, of course, we walked out of the theater to a world shrouded in snow.

First things first: I don't know what kind of kool-aid you people are drinking, but Peter Jackson's exercises in digital masturbation are not quality filmmaking. My complaints about his bastardization of Tolkien are well-documented; now he's decided to "improve" a cinematic classic.

How does Jackson go about "improving" his source material? He changes things that don't need to be changed. He adds subplots that contribute nothing to the film. (In King Kong, there are scads. My favorite: the wizened black man who serves as a sort of mentor to the young white sailor. What the hell? Why is this in the film?) He throws as many digital images on the screen as possible. He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s running times to the breaking point. He discards reason for spectacle.

Many critics and viewers have complained about how bloated this film is. I watched the original King Kong last Tuesday, and it, too, owns a similar structure. In the original, it takes forty-five minutes for Kong to appear, then there are forty minutes racing around the island fighting dinosaurs, and finally there are nineteen minutes during which the ape rampages through New York. In the original, the first forty-five minutes seemed overlong, but that's nothing compared to Jackson's re-imagining. God, the first act drags as he tosses in subplot after subplot, "money shot" after "money shot". I didn't time it, but I'd guess it takes seventy-five minutes before Kong appears on screen, after which there are about six hours of running around the island (though it feels like sixteen), followed by half an hour in New York.

Here's a scene that sums up my frustration with the film: Kong has stolen Ann Darrow and taken her deep into the jungle of Skull Island. Our heroes are in pursuit. When they stop to rest in a narrow canyon, they are startled by a stampede of brontosauri. Not one, not two, not three, but a dozen (or more!) brontosauri come flailing down the canyon pursued by a few small ambiguously carnivorous dinosaurs. The next five minutes are a dizzying mess of visual effects: flailing brontosaurus legs, snarling meatasaurus teeth, falling rocks, etc. As our heroes race along beneath the mammoth creatures, avoiding death by inches again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, the viewer grows numb and disinterested.

"Suspend your disbelief!" you will cry. Hey — I suspend my disbelief all the time. (My main hobby is collecting comic books, for god's sake.) I have no trouble buying into the universes imagined by competent creators. I can suspend my disbelief on a macro-level, and for a few times per story on a micro-level. (Meaning I can buy a few hairs-breadth escapes or violations of physics, etc.) However, when a story asks me to suspend my disbelief on a micro-level several hundreds times an hour, it loses me. I can't do it.

As with the Lord of the Rings films, King Kong has garnered fair praise. Why? I have no idea. I didn't understand it for the Rings films, and I don't understand it now. These are not good movies. (The Rings films aren't necessarily bad; Kong is.) Despite the critics, it seems King Kong may not do well at the box office. "Wednesday and Thursday were slower than any of us expected," a studio executive has said. (Another article here.)

King Kong is major suckage.


I was shocked — shocked! — by how many people had their cell phones on during the movie. When did this become acceptable? Little shiny screens popped up all around the theater. Worse, I heard at least six phones ring. Worst of all, the woman next to us actually answered her phone and carried on a conversation. This is deplorable. Fortunately, she and her husband left. I suspect that most of the calls were related to the early arrival of our little storm.

It's been cold and dry for the past ten days. A wet weather system finally moved in yesterday afternoon, arriving a few hours early. We walked out of the theater to a about half an inch of snow. It was fun to watch how pleased everyone was by the stuff: kids threw snowballs at each other; one man slid around the parking lot, using his shoes as skates. A father led his daughter out of the theater, holding his hands over her eyes. "Don't peek," he told her. "Keep walking. Now look!" She opened her eyes and gasped in delight.

Will and I sat in his car, shivering, as we waited for all the high-tech heating devices to kick in. Gradually the seats got warm, and then hot. The snow on the windshield melted away, succumbing to a network of heated wires. While we waited, we listened to American Edit, which is a mind-blowing full-length remix of Green Day's American Idiot album (which you'll remember was my favorite CD of 2004).

King Kong may have sucked, but the rest of the outing was good.

On this day at foldedspace.org

2004Our Wild Kingdom   In which Rosings Park is home to birds and squirrels and cats, even in the middle of winter.

2003Undigital   In which I rant about digital effects in film-making. They're overused!

2002Tradition   In which I long to return to church, not to worship a god, but to spend time with family and friends.

2001Bad Soup   In which three-week-old garlic-onion soup makes me sick sick sick on the day Fellowship of the Ring opens.


Comments
On 19 December 2005 (01:47 PM), Natalie said:

Glancing at the previous post on Peter Jackson, it appears you wound up with a similar teenybopper shitstorm as me when I posted about Orlando Bloom after the last LOTR. Anyway, the fact that you hated King Kong gives me some reassurance that this nation hasn't gone completely nuts. Thanks.


On 19 December 2005 (02:34 PM), Michael Rawdon said:

I enjoyed The Two Towers more than you did (review here), but I don't have any interest in seeing King Kong. Truthfully, I was never a big fan of the original, and the basic story doesn't especially interest me.

The funny thing is, when I saw the first trailer for Jackson's Kong (actually, I don't really want to see Jackson's kong at all, but that's another topic) I didn't realize what it was, and thought it might be a pretty good film - until the ape showed up and I realized what the film was. Had it been an original script of an original story, he might have gotten me to go see it. Sort of like I was pretty interested in seeing Event Horizon from the previews - until someone told me what the punch line was.


On 23 December 2005 (04:27 PM), dowingba said:

I think your problem, JD, is that you just can't seem to look past the special effects and properly digest the story, or something. I'm not saying King Kong is a great film, by any stretch, but I thought it was fun -- which was its goal -- not to mention creepily true to the original, even considering the hour and a half of added stuff.

And LOTR is perhaps the best story ever told, and the films are the best film adaptation I've ever seen of a story. Yeah, they have special effects, and some of them are pretty cheap looking (although I still don't agree that the battles look crappy -- all those things on screen are moving completely independently, you know). Almost every movie ever made has special effects; it's whether they take over the story or not that counts. I don't believe this is the case with LOTR. If it was, Jackson could easily have had a giant stampede of Ents taking on a hundred thousand Oliphaunts for 45 minutes straight if he wanted. Instead, he compresses three large scale battles (one of which takes place over 7 days or so in the book) into three feature-length films. Oh, and he still finds room for the main character and his journey across the continent.

Next time you watch LOTR, don't watch for the special effects, watch for the beautiful cinematography, breathtaking music (yeah yeah, there's too much music too, according to you) brilliant dialogue (almost all of which is straight from the books) and sensational storytelling.

Now if you think the films would have been better without CG and instead have 100,000 extras in orc costumes followed by a few giant elephant puppets, then so be it. I'd have to disagree.