Monday, February 12, 2007

RE: King Kong vs. Crabby Reviewer

I think I'll take the Kong over the crab. There is no doubt that this is a LOOOONG movie, but I saw it in the theater and again just last night on DVD and it managed to hold my interest both times. Now I can imagine that not being the case for everyone and I'm sure they could have released a perfectly entertaining version with a much shorter runtime, but I have to take issue with the rest of the complaint. This story is a tragedy and a damn good one at that.

Personally, I don't think the focus is on how much we should hate the bad guys, but rather on how beautiful and moving the love story is at the center. This lonely creature is the king of his own environment but he's also the last of his kind. After a string of insignificant affairs with various sacrificial maidens over the years, the big guy finally meets one beauty who he can really connect with. Sure this romance is doomed from the start and we all know it, but isn't that the case with all the best love stories? That's what makes the few truly happy moments they have together that much more powerful. In the end when the cruel world finally takes it's inevitable toll, the satisfaction comes from knowing that those few peaceful moments between the T-Rex attacks, the mortar fire, and the biplanes were absolutely the best part of our hero's life. Yes, we're sad when he dies but we're also happy that he finally had love and beauty in his life before it was over. He would have lived longer back on Skull Island but that would have just prolonged the pain of his isolation and he still would eventually have ended up as just one more pile of bones bleaching in the sun.

So you can have your happy endings with the cat making it out of the burning building, but I'll take King Kong, Old Yeller, Casablanca, Romeo & Juliet, and all the other great tragic stories where the hero dies, the dog gets shot, and the woman goes off with the wrong guy. These are the stories that really make you feel both the joy and pain of life and make you realize the whole point is to enjoy what you have while it lasts. In the big picture, nothing, neither the good stuff nor the bad, lasts very long. Well, except for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I thought those movies would never end ;^}

Sunday, February 11, 2007

King Kong vs. Crabby Reviewer

I should point out, I wasn't crabby before I watched King Kong.

I am, of course, referring to Peter Jackson's epic. By epic, I mean really, really long. I mean, at his present inflation rate, by the time he gets around to making the Hobbit, it'll actually be viewed in real time.

But I disgress. I'm here to be severely irked by King Kong.

FIRST, A WARNING: Have you seen King Kong? Go watch it first. Any version, I don't care. This is not a review in which I'm going to hold back the spoilers or warn about them, because it's sort of silly. It'd be like going Spoiler Alert! If you dont' want to know how the movie Titanic ends, don't keep reading!!! "Okay, so the boat sinks..." - Consider yourself warned.

My first problem was the length. I'm all for long movies. I adore them. I can happily sit through the Lord of the Rings extended editions, even those run for astonishing amounts of time. I happily sat through Gods & Generals, and that was absolutely un-ending.

But King Kong was just long, for the sake of being long. I realize that Peter Jackson's an immense King Kong fan, but even if I hadn't previously known this, the movie would have given it away. It goes on and on, as he's happily spending time with King Kong. The beginning is slow, and interesting, except that when they reach the island and begin their adventures there, it makes the beginning feel like it belongs in a different movie. The middle, when they reach the island, is interesting to an extent. I hate to sound like a geek who got bored watching big dinosaur fight scenes got silly after awhile. I need a plot to be advancing in my fight scenes, not just a series of interesting looking "THat's so cool!" style fights, happening one after another.

In fact, there's easily more than an hour of the movie that could have been chopped out without making it any worse for the wear. And I'm not an editor, I'm a writer. For that matter, I'm the sort of writer who can always find interesting things to add if I can spot things that need cutting, the editors on the film should have too.

King Kong himself is gorgeous. Absolutely stunning. And from the moment you begin to glimpse the mighty ape's personality, you fall in love with him. And therein lies something of the problem with the film.

That is, the ending.

The problem becomes, you are so sympathetic with King Kong and his love for Ann, you're taking his side against everyone else in the film. Which isn't hard to do. Jack Black's character is a money-grubbing bastard, who is neither written to be liked, nor is he liked. Jack Black himself does a fine job, but you're supposed to hate the character. And you do.

The problem, therefore, is that you hate all of those who are arrayed against King Kong...which, by the end of the movie, is everyone. You loathe Karl, you loathe the audience who came to cheer at Kong, defeated and in chains. You loathe the movie star who takes credit for taming the beast, you loathe the everyday citizens of New York for being loud and frightening Kong.

It's a rule of movies (that aren't horror). If attention of any specificity is shown to an animal (usually a cat, or a dog) then that animal must come through the crisis okay. Otherwise, the audience won't forgive you. The house can collapse and kill people, but your heroes must make it out with their loved ones...and the dog, if the dog's been paid attention to.

Kong falls into that category.

And then the end of the movie is him being betrayed, captured, laughed at, shot at, running scared, beaten, broken, and finally...dead. You're cheering when Kong swipes a bi-plane and smashes the wing to pieces. But ultimately, the planes win. Kong dies.

In horror movies, if you had scenes that focused on the dog and then the bad guy put a screwdriver through the dog's head, then the audience instantly wants the bad guy to die, and die badly.

In King Kong, the bad guy who does the equivalent of this is all of humanity, and most every single person of the cast so far, those who didn't die or just go away toward the end. The only sympathetic characters at all are Ann (acted beautifully by Naomi Watts) and Joe Driscoll (acted quietly by Adrian Brody). Everyone else, you loathe and you hate. Particularly in the moments when Kong is lying dead in the street, and men with cameras are climbing for good shots. You hate 'em all.

And that's what the movie leaves you with, ultimately. It's not entirely Peter Jackson's fault, the story is the story after all. Jackson's problems were other things, were lack of editing and letting his love for the story spill a little too strongly onto the screen instead of letting it give everything a finely honed edge, like it did with The Lord of the Rings.

I was genuinely sad when Kong fell, and then mad. The movie ended, and I was hurt and mad. Endings don't have to be happy, by any means, but they do have to be satisfactory in some manner, and Kong's ending wasn't. There were moments I enjoyed, but I could have gotten them out of the King Kong video game (which was also well done.)

If I had seen it in theaters, instead of on HBO, I would have lamented the loss of my money as well as my time. Some movies and TV shows you wish you hadn't seen, because of how they make you feel. Deep down, you're glad you experienced that, glad you got to feel that, even as you hate it. King Kong wasn't like that. It the cat and the hero NOT coming out of the burning building, and then the movie ends.

Feel free to disagree, though. Could just be me.