King Kong has been playing in theaters for about a month now, and prior to that it’s been promoted on say, every possible medium – newspapers, television, radio, internet, and bus stops. Too much spin for my liking. Now that it’s out of the top ten box office films, I decided to go check it out. No screaming fan-boys, no crunching popcorn under my seat, no high expectations, just a movie on the screen, a story that may or may not engage. That may not even be memorable. A film that will make me think twice about yet another story of dinosaurs chasing doomed humans on a mysterious island. Oh, whom was I kidding. King Kong takes its time building up the characters and their world, and then throws them all into a whirlwind of an adventure. On the ship, on the island, in NYC – the adventure stops only when the credits roll, and not a moment sooner. You can catch your breath in the lobby on the way out. As long as you’re in the seat, you’re part of that adventure. Hope you enjoy the ride.
So if you’re expecting a criticism, you won’t find it here. The movie is well-done, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen, drop everything now and go see it. Seriously, turn off your computer, walk out that office/house/library and go to the nearest theater. If you remember the sheer joy and energy of Indiana Jones (in the 80s), or Jurassic Park (in the 90s), this is such an epic, massive adventure for this decade. No, not a blockbuster, a dumb summer action flick that accidentally got released during Christmas. King Kong is not a blockbuster. It’s an epic. Dare I compare it to Titanic? Romance, action, thrills, a doomed group of people, discovery, hope and more thrills? Yep, sounds about right, except that King Kong is more believable, and makes each of its act seem to effortless. That’s the best part of the movie – with all the work and love that was put in it, every plot twist, every action scene, every vista (real or computer-generated) looks like it was always there, waiting to be shot, waiting to be captured on film. It’s not forced. Nor story, nor the effects.
Peter Jackson re-creates the original King Kong film of the 30s – with cheesy dinosaurs and big spiders, with Skull island and a group of adventurers stumbling upon an undiscovered world ruled by a big gorilla. The casting sound strange at first. Adrien Brody as the main lead Jack Driscoll (a screenwriter who comes along to polish up the script as they film on the island), and Jack Black as the mad director Carl Denham (who tricks pretty much everyone into this dangerous journey, based entirely on a “possession of a secret map”) would make the film weak. But you have to remember that the main characters (as always) are Kong (computer animated) and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). If the computer-generated lead is not as appealing as the real one, the movie falls apart. And that’s exactly why we have Jack running around, trying to save the day while Kong is the one who gets all the love and admiration from Ann. This is a perfectly sweet triangle, and delivered straight, without the cheesy lines and unnecessary displays of affection. See, Ann doesn’t really love Kong, she cares for him, understands his loneliness, his awkwardness. Plus, since Kong manages to save her from dinosaurs about 5-8 times (it’s one fantastic sequence), she feels safe on an island where humans could not protect her. So she sticks with Kong, and follows him.
Kong, in turn, finally finds a little creature that he doesn’t have to eat to be satisfied. Ann is not afraid, and is eventually kind to him, so he starts taking care of a new “favourite toy”. It’s not love, it’s an attachment between a child and his puppy or a kitten. But as a relationship it’s fascinating, because they both go to extreme lengths to protect that attachment. Jack feels sympathy for Ann, and ventures into the island to save her mainly because nobody else will. Again, it’s not love, it’s an obligation. Along the way, of course Jack does discover other feelings, but that’s much, much later.
What we care about in the beginning is what these characters want, what drives them, what makes them go. And the film takes a long while establishing that. The journey on the ship is all about that – character development, and exposition. Without it, the action scenes wouldn’t be as intense, the deaths wouldn’t be as sad, and their survival wouldn’t matter. Even the “bad” characters – like the vain movie star, or ship’s captain, or the director (Jack Black) have purpose – which adds so much to their story. See, an action film, or a blockbuster wouldn’t bother introducing people if they’re going to be killed off later on. But here, they are given purpose, and the same eventual kill-off is no longer mindless, or secondary. Every member of the crew who’s lost on the island is a loss, is a death we feel. That makes it interesting.
The plot is uneven – after about an hour of setting things up, the action sequences on the island (and eventually in NYC) keep piling up. There’s just no intermission – one chase turns into a head-on confrontation, and that confrontation results in another chase. It’s incredibly fast-paced, and yet very easy to follow. No slow-speed-up camera tricks, just a good old breath-taking leaps, jumps, fights and swipes. You know what’s going on, you’re rooting for the good guys, and your wife is pulling your sleeve to get you to sit down and shut up. It’s engaging.
Everything, from the sets that blend onto real buildings to the background music that nobody hears, but you know it’s there, to the creatures – it’s a ride dreamed up by an imaginative mind. And even for a ride, this is one very thoughtful, romantic and sincere films of last year. Sure, there’s a message or two; sure, karma is delivered to everyone without fail, and sure, Kong’s fate is doomed as soon as they decide to capture him and show him to public for money. But then again, you knew a third-way into Jurassic Park where this public amusement idea was heading – you still enjoyed how it got there.
King Kong is not a new story, and is does not offer a new set of effects, or camera tricks. It won’t blow your mind like the Matrix, and you won’t cry for the main leads after leaving the theater (like many did in Titanic). Although, to be honest, I did see two couples that were crying – too sentimental, I think – or maybe they didn’t see the original, and it was a surprise to them. However, this is a solid, powerful and fast-paced adventure, something you only see once a decade or so. Thrilling, gorgeous and true to the original. They just don’t make films like that anymore. It’s either all action, or by-the-numbers horror/thriller where a bunch of unknown people get killed off every few minutes. This is an epic story, that gives each character time to develop, and gives them all purpose…
.. and then flings them into an unbelievable adventure on a mysterious island. There’s really no other way to describe this film. Go watch it.