Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Movie Review: Peter Jackson’s King Kong

We watched King Kong last night. Not so much because we were eager to see it, but because I had recorded it, and we had a rare three hours to kill, which doesn’t happen very often. It… well, it wasn’t a great movie. I realize that it was one of the most popular movies of 2005, but I really can’t understand why. We live in an age when special effects have come a long way; a movie with good special effects should not be enough, on its own, to capture peoples’ attention anymore. But, obviously I’m wrong, on that point; the special effects were almost the only thing this movie had going for it.

First off, it was pretty racist. I know that Jackson was trying to stay true to the original, 1933 movie, but man, he could have done without the scenes with the “natives”. Or at least treated it better. Not to mention the wraith-like way that Naomi Watts was portrayed. (Wait, did I say wraith-like? I meant stoned. She had the same blank, glassy-eyed stare throughout the whole movie.) Why is it that wild, savage natives, dressed in loincloths and dancing to the beat of their jungle drums, are always contrasted with a pale, blonde, skinny white woman, held up as the picture of beauty? Click here for a spoiler.)

But there is another problem with this movie, aside from the racism, and it’s the same problem Jackson had in the Lord of the Rings movies: He’s managed to squeeze a two hour movie into a three hour length. (Heh! Do you like how I used the word “squeeze” there, even though I actually meant the opposite? I’m so witty and clever! Irony is great!) Part of the problem is his constant penchant for slow motion scenes. He did it a lot in LOTR, when it wasn’t really necessary, but he did it a bunch of times in Kong when it wasn’t even remotely necessary. I hate to say it, but it’s really amateurish directing, to do that. He was able to get away with it on the LOTR, because

  1. He had a huge budget, and the special effects often made up for the bad directorial choices.
  2. He was working with one of the most popular stories ever written. (The only book that has sold better than the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the Bible.) As long as he stayed pretty true to the books—which he did—he was going to have a popular movie.
So you could watch the LOTR movies, and not get too distracted by the unnecessary slow motion, because you were captured by the story. Also, for the LOTR movies, taking out the slow motion scenes would have probably only meant taking the nine hour total to eight and a half or so; percentage-wise, that’s not such a drop. Whereas for Kong, taking that crap out would have made the three hour movie into a two hour movie, which is significant. (That may be an exaggeration; I didn’t time the slow-mo scenes, and don’t really want to watch the movie again in order to do so.)

Of course, the slow motion, and other amateurish directorial choices, are bad for another reason, too—not just because it makes the movie longer than it has to be: It also takes you out of the movie, and reminds you that: “oh yeah, I’m watching a movie”. It’s impossible to lose yourself in a Peter Jackson movie for too long, because every few minutes you get reminded that you’re watching a movie.

There were some good things about the movie. Jack Black did a good job, I thought. (I’m not really a fan of his comedy; it’s just not my style. But, like so many other comedic actors, when he takes on a “serious role” he does a good job. They say that it’s because you need such good timing to be a good comedian; you can transfer those skills to “serious roles” easily.)

The special effects were also good, in places. Unfortunately, we were watching the movie on our TV, rather than on the “big screen”, so we might have lost some of the grandeur, but some of the effects-intensive scenes didn’t really look that realistic. (Click here for examples, since it’s sort of a spoiler, too.)

And, finally, since I’ve been so hard on Jackson’s directing, I’ll mention a couple of things he did that I thought were very effective: Sometimes he would have a scene with a big buildup, lots of music preparing you for the fact that something was about to happen, and then when it happened, he would suddenly cut out the music, and simply let you hear whatever was going on; I thought this was an effective way to do it, without reminding you that you were watching a movie. It heightens the drama. And then, on the other side of the coin, there was a scene where he did the opposite, and cut out everything but the music. You have to be careful with that, though, because it has a tendency to become too schamltzy—something that Jackson already has a problem with.


Richard Steandric Ricsteand said...

you're the minority. more than 200 reviews i've read around the world agreed naomi watts gave the best performance in a most difficult role and was the best thing of the film. she was picked by the london film critics as the best actress of the year. on the other hand, many said jack black was a terrible miscast and had ruined the role of carl denham.

David Hunter said...

A) I don't doubt that lots of people disagree with my views on King Kong—it was too popular for me to assume people will suddenly change their minds. I can see why people would think that Black was bad for the role, if I actually cared about the original King Kong in the first place.

B) At first, it surprised me that anyone could possibly view Naomi Watts' acting in Kong as good. (Well… maybe a pot smoker would think it rang true.) But then I clicked the link, and realized that the person posting runs a Naomi Watts fan blog, so I guess it's not surprising at all.