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December 28th, 2005

King Kong

A while back, I said that King Kong would never justify its obscene 280 million dollar price tag, and I would like to say, just before I get into the film, that I was right.

King Kong is a difficult film to get through. It's a slog. It's pain. It's a noise without substance. At one stage, I checked my phone, found a message, replied, checked the time on it, and realised I still had over an hour to go. Cue me sighing and sinking into the seats. When I looked up, they were still on the island. That goddamn island, I swear the natives were chanting for Donkey Kong--

But wait.

Lets rewind.

Jackson's King Kong is long and bloated. That's what you need to know going in. What you also need to know is that, for some strange reason, Kong will ice skate, Naomi Watts won't lose her heels when she climbs the Empire State Building, and Jackson has no problem letting token characters run round (as in the original, I suppose). Token Black Man. Token Damaged Boy Who Will Become A Man Because Of The Beautiful Woman He Won't Have Sex With. Token Chinaman. Token Ahab. Token Ape... wait, woah, sorry. The giant ape is the point of this film. But what I'm trying to get across here is that there are an insane number of things in this film that don't need to be there. There's not one aspect of this film that you can look at and say, "That doesn't need to be cut down."

It begins with the scenes in New York, where we watch a well fed Naomi Watts pretend to be underfed and perform as a comedian, and watch Jack Black get his funding pulled on his film. By the time they hit the ship, you're kind of wondering why Kong would show any interest in Watts, when in a remake some twenty nine years ago, he had a beautiful Jessica Lange. I don't much usually go comparing remakes, but Jessica Lange was an astoundingly beautiful woman at one stage, and if you've seen Jessica Lange get carried off by an ape, smoldering sexuality just in her presence, you kind of look at Naomi Watts and wonder what it is that she'll do to make her appeal to Kong. Sadly, it appears that Jackson has also considered this, and provides an answer, much later in the film: Naomi Watts will juggle for Kong.

Yeah. Right. Kong wanted jester. Kong rampages through New York, tossing blonde women all round cause he wanted his fucking jester back.

By the time Kong is tossing round blonde women, however, you've long forgotten Jessica Lange and that other shitty remake of King Kong. You're firmly entrenched in this shitty remake. On the ship to Skull Island, you're introduced to Adrien Brody, the script writer of the film being made, and who while bookish and quiet, will reveal himself to be a gun wielding, fists a flying, kung fu master! Well, okay, so he's not a kung fu master, but he might as well have been. Brody is the writer who kicks ass in his spare time, and his character is pretty much the reverse of if Arnold the ass kicker from films such as Predator spent his spare times trying to write plays. Perhaps to impress women. Actually, I would've greatly loved to see a struggling action star trying to write the King Kong script, but always getting distracted by his need to rescue jesters.

On the ship to SKull Island, you are also introduced to the Token Black Man, and the Damaged Boy, who for a moment, I thought were going to turn out to be lovers. No such luck. I tell you, in my head, I had a fantastic version of King Kong going. The kind of King Kong that the director who made Meet the Feebles might've made, actually, but that director is long gone. We also meet the ship's cook, a comical looking fellow who reminded me, oddly, of Popeye. I kept waiting for him to break out the spinach. But yes, these three men, it appears have heard stories about Skull Island, and they know it'll all go bad if they go there, but because the Damaged Boy is reading Heart of Darkness and the Token Black Man is explaining it to him, we all know they're going to go up on the island to prove that they are all men. It's no great shakes figuring out who is and isn't going to make it back.

The time spent on Skull Island is just ridiculously long and begins, I swear, with the natives calling for what I thought was Donkey Kong. I swear, the first time I heard it, I went, "The Fuck?" and after the film, I asked C., who was with me, if he had heard it, and he said, "I know! I thought, what the fuck's going on here? I was waiting for barrels to rain out of the sky." It must be said, however, that I did find the natives to be a bit on the black savages side, and I wasn't very surprised when they only wanted the blonde girl to string up for Kong in their black pagan ways. Actually, I'm probably being a bit unnecessarily harsh on the savages, since I found them all to be kinda cool in that freaky, nearly an Orc kind of way. Sadly, there really isn't enough of the savages, and for tough guys who will leap from boulder to boulder across the ocean in a storm and then slip upon a ship in the middle of night crowded by men with machine guns, they certain ran pretty fast when those twenty men with machine guns stormed their home.

But it is at this stage that Kong has entered the film and it all goes to hell.

Because, you see, Kong looks shit whenever he's next to Naomi Watts. He doesn't look real. He looks like a blue screen. He comes across as cheap and shoddy and it really is quite shocking to have to write this, actually, given how superbly done the blue screen, digital effect stuff was done in Lord of the Rings. But it's awful, here, and there's not one scene in which Kong and Watts appear you can imagine that the two of them are actually side by side.

Of course, the other problem of Kong is that he signals the end of any characterisation. From now on, it's all screaming and grunting and being crushed by badly rendered dinosaurs. Every now and then, during Jackson's film, I found myself thinking again of the Jessica Lange staring remake (yeah, it had Jeff Bridges, too, but who remembers him), and I think about how absolutely awful the effects were in that, and then think about how they were only marginally better in this one. That stampeded by the dinosaurs is one example of very, very dodgy special effect work. There are, of course, moments of good effects, such as when Kong takes on three of the T-Rexs, and his fight with two in the vines, but I suspect that these are wholly rendered effects moments, with no need for a blue screen, and thus, without people, there's no one messing it up. Which just goes to show, really, that people are what are messing up this movie. People who have nothing to do but scream and get eaten by a bunch of monsters. People who spout stupid lines. People who might have had a shoddy metaphoric point in the start of the film, but which forget it the moment they hit the island. People who juggle to amuse a giant ape.

People. If only the film had less.

By the time the film hits New York, you're praying for something to make it worth your time, and Jackson gives you that, with Kong on the Empire State building. That scene is just spectacular. There's something fascinating about watching Kong jump and slip on top of the building as he is attacked by six planes. If Jackson has done nothing else in this film--and he hasn't--then this scene shows the promise of what it might have been, stripped back and free of its fat. Sadly, to get to that scene, you have to watch Kong and Naomi Watts skate across ice, walk through a quiet street together. ("Mom, is that a giant ape outside my window?" "No, Billy, it's just your imagination.") In addition, you have to watch the return of Action Writer, who can suddenly drive a car like you and I might not, and bravely leads the rampaging ape... um, a few blocks into the city. Closer to Naomi Watts, apparently. Well, both of them had been looking for her. She was bound to show up. After all, who was going to juggle for him?

Which is what, eventually, ruins the end of the film.

See, once Kong is dead, having fallen from his building, Jack Black approaches the still warm corpse that isn't splattered about, and says the famous lines, "It was beauty that killed the beast." But--and this is an important but here--clearly beauty has not killed Kong, because Kong is never, at any stage in the film, in a state of desire for his captive.

Instead, Watts makes him laugh.

She is Kong's jester.

But then I suppose you can't say, "It was humour that killed the beast," and get the same pathos. You ought to for 280 million, though.