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King Kong

Due to an unfortunate plumbing situation involving upseep and effluent, we found ourselves with more reason than usual to be out of the house the other night and therefore decided to pull the now time tested "head over to the Cineplex and buy a ticket for whatever's playing next" maneuver. What was playing next happened to be King Kong in this case which we weren't all that excited about but we went in anyway and plopped down in our seats trying to summon to mind what we remembered about the original while we waited for the lights to go down. Not much was the answer and we couldn't be sure if we'd actually even seen the 1933 version with Fay Wray or just picked up references to it from television and pop culture. We thought we remembered a version in the 70's as well with Jessica Lange but read somewhere that she didn't even list it in her filmography and there's a good chance it slipped by us at the time. We know the basic story however and were mildly interested to see what Peter Jackson the odd and once plump now thin little Kiwi of Potter fame (or is it Lord of the Rings?) had done with the ape to warrant all the hype that we'd been vaguely aware of over the last month or so. As you can probably tell we are not huge fans of the fantastic block buster genre and have seen almost none of the Potter, Rings, Narnia, Star Wars or Star Trek offerings. In any event, here we were, sitting back to watch King Kong preparing to be dazed, amazed or confused and quite possibly all three.

One thing that became clear immediately is that Jack Black is in this movie and since the opening scene finds him displaying the patented, one eyebrow raised, half demented behavior that we've come to expect out of him we took this as a promising sign. The scenery and background cinematography also was looking interesting as the action commenced in early century New York and it became apparent that this Kong was to be set in the same time frame as the original. (Thinking about it, we suppose this is the only option as a monkey, however large, wouldn't have much of a chance against Rummy and Cheney and their Stealth bombers of today and the whole thing would have had to be even more ridiculous than it already is).  Anyway, after some preliminary shenanigans, Black's character is off searching for a lost island on a coal powered vessel planning to film himself an over budget adventure picture. On board with him are the obligatory Writer, Actress, black stud first mate, and foreign accented, blue eyed captain, along with other assorted characters. They plunge ahead through choppy seas and silly little attempts at establishing humanistic plot lines amongst the supporting cast until they literally ram directly into the skulls of Skull Island. Here's where the special effects team takes over for the writers and plot people as many surprises await once they make it onshore. Each is more incredible than the last, and almost all involve computer enhanced and simulated creatures of varying degrees of ferocity, creepiness, and gigantism. We're not sure if dinosaurs played a role in the original but they almost become the main storyline here as the frail humans get bounced around like pinballs in this prehistoric playground. Most of our new heroes remain incredibly unscathed in the face of all the mayhem however unless, that is, the script writers decide to kill them off in which case they are appropriately discarded or devoured. 

Given the complete suspension of any belief in the laws of physics required throughout the film, it isn't surprising that most of the fearless crew somehow survive all the Jurassic jostling to capture Kong and bring him back to New York (although the scene of how they actually load him into the boat is conveniently absent). Once in the Big Apple of course, the Big Ape breaks free to accomplish the highly anticipated chest thumping on top of the Empire State Building. This triumph is short lived as he is soon overcome by the uncaring authorities and falls to his death just in time for the scantily clad Actress and the persevering Writer to embrace on the tip top of New York's tallest structure (despite the fact that it was a windy winter day at the start of the scene). Then Jack Black steps forward to where the carcass lays and says something like "It was beauty that killed this beast" which is of course ridiculous since the supposed beast was perfectly happy in his island home enjoying beauty in the form of spectacular sunsets and lush vegetation until Black came along and dragged him back to Manhattan. Black's character is actually not likable in any way in this movie which those of us who've enjoyed him in every other performance found disconcerting.

Be all this as it may, none of it matters much since any analysis of the actual storyline and character development of a film like this will only serve to frustrate any thinking person so to sum it all up, if you're someone who appreciates incredible special effects and breathtaking shots of supernatural creatures and digitally enhanced scenery and action and don't mind ignoring the fact that most of the story makes no sense on any level than you will probably love this film. It is long to be sure and must have cost a fortune to make and is quite something to behold actually, if only as a study of what can currently be accomplished by the new heroes of Hollywood, the animators or graphic designers or whatever you call them. Of course since the real actors are playing to non existent foes on a high tech sound stage most of the time, the believability and sense of caring about the characters is bound to suffer. Also distracting is the many minor story lines that have been forcibly inserted in added attempt to humanize the film and make us care about the actual people but the effort is so strained and cursory that it mostly fails. As we said, we typically stay away from films in this genre so we don't have a large body of work to compare Kong too but it seems like movies, regardless of type, should still strive to make viewers interested in what happens to the beings on the screen whether they be supernatural or not and the dialog and personal interaction that goes on should continue to be at least somewhat important and not just of a desultory nature. Here, while Jackson succeeds in making the ape into something of a sympathetic figure and Naomi Watts does an okay job of playing the conflicted actress, it is hard for us to get very excited about a film that relies so heavily on the shock and awe generated by a roomful of technogeeks playing out their Precambrian fantasies. Being amazed by what movie makers are currently capable of as far as special effects are concerned is not the same as being moved by a film emotionally and has always proved a poor substitute in the cinematic experience for us so we probably weren't good candidates to thoroughly enjoy this film in the first place. Like we said though, there was raw sewage flowing up into our bathtub and permeating the rest of the house and the other features playing at the plex all started an hour later so we didn't have much of a choice. In any event, the chances are that you won't be bored if you head out and spend a few hours taking in Kong. Just don't expect a completely fulfilling movie experience unless you're someone who is able to immerse themselves in the visual unreal and place in abeyance any value in spoken interaction, physical laws and realistic human experience.

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