December 20, 2005

Monkey Love


Like having a 40 foot silverback gorilla in the room but not saying a word about the primate smell, the first comments one must make for purely the sake of obviousness about Peter Jackson's King Kong is that it's 3 freakin' hours long. Usually Cinecultist gets cranky at anything that's billed as action adventure and over 90 minutes but one gets the feeling that Petey J couldn't find a solitary shot from the proceedings to cut. But the spectacle which is packed into his 187 minutes is so spectacular and yet so human and moving, we can hardly chastise him for our sore butt. It's all too too much. Yet it's difficult to get upset when the excess offers so much art.

In case you've missed all the internerd hubbub about this production, the 1933 version of KK is the reason Jackson first wanted to become a filmmaker and he's always wanted to remake it. It's his Ur-text. After the success of his Rings trilogy, it seems the studio was willing to write Jackson practically a blank check and he's taken full advantage. There's barely a scene that's not CGI'd or lavish set pieced within an inch of it's life. However, this film is not purely about surface effect. It's also about love. Love between an out-of-work, blonde vaudeville hoofer and a giant petulant monkey.

Naomi Watts does some really nice, though also completely over the top work here as Ann Darrow. She's fragile, yet strong. Timid but also brave. She's a girl who prides herself on being funny, not necessarily pretty though she's totally gorgeous. These are the kind of women we don't often see in the movies, or at least not enough of them. Ann's vaudeville theater has just been closed but fortunately for her, the hack filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) is in need of a leading lady for his flagging film project. Denham convinces Ann, as well as the the cast and crew of his film, including a kidnapped screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), to set sail in a dirty scow for the uncharted Skull Island. On this island the natives are particularly scary and everything is giant, not the least of them this monkey, Kong whose faces are acted by the brilliant Andy Serkis (Gollum from LOTR).

While the film has the usual sparky comic flirtation between the geeky writer Jack and lovely Ann, the really compelling romance here is between Ann and Kong. These are the moments where Watts really has the opportunity to shine. If you caught her earlier this year in the tiny indie Ellie Parker as the titular actress, you know Watts can turn on and off her emotive face like a switch. This talent makes her perfect for a green screen movie like King Kong. Her tentative friendship and then empathy for the monkey is palpable. When the rescue party of sailors and crew "save" her on Skull Island, it's as though we're seeing a teenage girl bodily separated from her rebel boyfriend with the noisy motorcycle. She knows she should go with dad but she really loves Johnny and his bad, bad ways.

The final act follows the time-worn plot points and as Kong tears into the Manhattan skyline, then climbing to the top of the Empire State like we know and love, it's difficult to know really who to root for. But whether your sympathies lie with the monkey or the bomber pilots, there's something very now about the touch of glee from watching a little destruction tempered with some tears. In mining this old cinema story, Jackson has uncovered something utterly modern.

Posted by karen at December 20, 2005 9:01 AM