Friday, September 10, 2010

Monsters belong in B movies.

No 450 - King Kong
Director - Peter Jackson

Right, sorry for the gap. I've been in the middle of nowhere for a little while and therefore far from my DVDs and LOVEFiLM.

This is, to my enfeebled memory, the only film on the list which appears as both the original and as a direct remake. Let me begin by saying the original is better. There are some good moments in Peter Jackson's version, but it suffers from being long and self indulgent. Whereas the original is a leaner and tauter creature feature.
Lets begin with my main negative gripe: The film doesn't seem to know when to reign it in, it seems that Jackson is so excited by the concept of remaking the film that he just throws everything he can afford and think of onto the screen. This is most evident on Skull Island when the film becomes nothing but a series of set pieces.
Now, I am usually quite fond of set pieces, but we have a seemingly unending series of events for about an hour (a third of the too-long film) which don't really move the story in any way. Because of everything happening in this middle hour, the special effects suffer too. A lot of the action (specifically the dinosaur stampede) shows how the green screen doesn't gel between the live action cast and the dinosaurs. If Jurassic Park could do it ten years prior, Jackson shouldn't have an excuse.

But, worse than the bad visual effects is the fact that after the third set piece you just stop caring. By the time the film had got to the massive bugs sequence I just wanted the sailors to capture Kong and move to America. Please. Even weird toothy monster penis worms couldn't save the sequence.

However, once Kong gets to America we're still prone to too many unnecessary sequences. This time, the film suffers when Jackson moves away from the action. I love seeing a giant gorilla attacking 1930's America. It is brilliant cinema. Whereas I really couldn't give a shit about seeing a gorilla sit on the ice. I nearly wrote ice skating - but I'd love to see a gorilla ice skating! Give Kong some skates, and that scene would have been a lot better.

The only real good thing to come out of the over egging of these set pieces (be it 'look at the sailors in peril' or 'look at the touching relationship between Ann and Kong') is that the film's final line "Was Beauty killed the Beast" is clearly signposted with all the irony and misunderstanding.

So, that was a bit of a negative start, let me talk about what I like in the film. Firstly, Jackson knows how to make some amazing visuals, and here whether it is the glamour and poverty of New York or the terrifying surroundings of Skull Island's tribal village we get a wonderful world to explore.
Secondly, I like the little nods to the original film. The inability to hire Faye Wray is a good touch. As is the fact that the stage show looks a lot like the 30's film. Including the frankly horrible racially awkward savages of the original film (I'm glad that the remake creates a much more realistic and much scarier remote isolated tribe).
However, like almost any film he is in, the film's real hero is Andy Serkis. The man is brilliant - and usually the best thing - in any film he is in. Whether the films are brilliant, flawed or just a bit rubbish.
Here, he plays two characters - and whilst Lumpy the cook is a brilliantly gruff and mysterious character who can shoot bugs with a machine gun and rustle up ship food - He isn't the star of the show.
That honour goes to Serkis' portrayal of the titular Kong. And it is with Kong that this film triumphs over the 1933 original. Motion capture and Serkis' remarkable character work means that Kong is fully rounded. Menacing and tough at times and childlike and ridiculous at others. He acts, like a proper ape.
The film's most amazing scene (in my opinion) is when he repeatedly knocks down Ann as she performs a slapstick routine. The sheer joy on his face is both wonderfully real, but also the foundation of his affection for Ann. That cements the bond in place far more than any ice pond skating sequence. The puppet Kong always seemed to either look angry or surprised, so the real triumph of this film is giving Kong a whole range of emotions. Seeing him begin the terrifying beast and end up this scared and pitiful giant fish out of water searching for the one thing that will make him feel safe.

That is this film's triumph. I just wish it didn't use such a meandering 3 hours to do so.

And I wish to end with this old video.... just in case anyone has any doubts about Andy Serkis' general brilliance.