Sunday, January 01, 2006


King Kong

Elvis, Schmelvis, indeed. There’s only one King...and that’s King Kong.

All others are mere pretenders to the throne.

Last week, I spent a pleasant afternoon with Don (Mr. Laura Belle) and Khody, taking in Peter Jackson’s epic reimagining of King Kong. I had deliberately gone in with modest expectations. I have a jaundiced eye when it comes to remakes in general; when a Beloved Classic is involved, disappointment is even more a statistical likelihood.

To me, the 1933 original version of King Kong is not only a Filmic Classic, it may be my favorite movie of all time. As many times as I have seen it over the years, it still never fails to move me, with its heartbreaking story of a King-Hell Brute snatched away from the land he ruled, only to meet an ignominious death. It has all the elements of great tragedy, including a protagonist who is all too human despite having the outward form of a giant gorilla.

Kong works so effectively because gorillas are so close to us on the Great Tree o’ Evolution. Dark cousins, as it were. Giant man-eating, city-destroying lizards (Godzilla notwithstanding) just don’t pack the emotional wallop that a Big-Ass Gorilla does, because we can all see ourselves in that gorilla’s eyes.

Jackson’s remake, unlike the Dino de Laurentiis botch in 1976 that starred Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, and Charles Grodin, was not only a technically brilliant retelling of the story, but a respectful homage to the original Kong. The inclusion of some of the old Kong set design and the brilliant Max Steiner score as components of the New York stage show was a great way to incorporate these elements without being heavy-handed. The scenes aboard the steamship Venture did a much more effective job than the original of conveying the filth, the rough seas, and the claustrophobia of a long ocean voyage.

And King Kong his ownself, as envisioned and made real by Jackson’s effects team, was wonderful. I say this as one for whom the old King Kong was the iconic Movie Character, primitive as he was.

The only thing that didn’t work for me was Naomi Watts’s interpretation of the Ann Darrow role. Sure, Fay Wray screamed a whole lot, but Naomi gets a little too emotionally involved with the Big Guy. It strains credulity, is what it does.

But this is a quibble.

The 2005 King Kong will never replace the 1933 original. But it stands on its own as a great movie, and it’s a damn sight better than most of the crappy Big-Effects Moveez out there today.

Only one question remains, however. This new Kong is a perfectly imagined Magnified Gorilla in so many ways. Why, then, does he not throw his Volkswagen-sized turds at his adversaries? Mr. Jackson, explain yourself!

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