Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Completely Impartial Review of Peter Jackson's King Kong

In a word: overrated.

I wasn't even all that into seeing King Kong, but I live in a region of our country that's very culturally homogonized — the suburbs — so it was either Kong or that gay cowboy movie or that geisha shit or Cheaper By The Dozen II, whose existence confirms my belief that there is no God. King Kong got a ton of glowing reviews, with so-called professional film critics calling it "visually spectacular and emotionally resonant" because they're on crack. Okay, I'll give you this: if you see only one movie about the timeless love between a hot Aussie chick and a giant marauding ape, make it King Kong. It's much more visually spectacular and emotionally resonant than Dunston Checks In.

I believe I have an advantage over A. O. Scott and Roger Ebert (who's generally on crack when reviewing movies anyway) and Peter Travers and all those other film "experts" because I haven't seen the original King Kong, and I can't confuse my feelings about the Jackson version with that nostalgia for that jejune Hollywood awe I first realized upon seeing an obviously stop-motion gorilla humping a model of the Empire State Building. I've seen Independence Day and Jurassic Park, back in the good old days when we simpletons were still getting acquainted with the idea of ubiquitous computing power, and CGI effects no longer impress me. Kong didn't even have particularly good special effects — they reminded me of the computer animation style that Pixar would put to use in a movie with a better storyline, and I wouldn't be surprised if the video game has better graphics. Heck, there were points in the movie where the monkey from the old NES game Rampage looked more realistic than Kong.

I hate to keep harping on the special effects, because I honestly am willing to forgive the technological and financial limitations filmmakers are bound to. (Although for $200 million, I expect just a little more, uh, visceral entertainment value. 3D glasses at a minimum.) The thing is that King Kong lacks any serious, empathetic characterization and its campy plot and dialogue made it feel like Mystery Science Theater 3000 fodder with production value, so its only reason to be is as a special effects extravaganza, and King Kong is just plain disappointing.

Last week, I saw the film Primer, which also has a B-grade sci-fi premise and was shot on a B-grade budget of $7,000, and I believe that Peter Jackson might find a comparison of the two films, the ostentatious and the austere, enlightening. Primer is about these two men who wear ties and their invention, and I hesitate to say any more about the film because it does a beautiful job, through the acting, the editing, and especially the abstruse and impenetrable dialogue, of conveying the characters' confusion and forcing it upon the viewer. Something important is happening to these people, and Primer invites you join in the puzzlement. With King Kong, you're just a passive viewer, and you might as well be in the audience of a baseball game or watching a dryer tumble or something. For example, in the scene, like nine hours into the movie, where they finally subdue and capture Kong, I recognized all the silver screen conventions informing me that I was supposed to be dismayed by man's heartless and unnecessary triumph over nature, but I honestly didn't care one way or the other.

In fact, that's my other big gripe about the movie: that Jackson expects me to care about Kong. Ladies and gentlemen, Kong might be a million-dollar special effect, but he's also an asshole. I sort of blame Andy Serkis here, because there are times (like the delightful "ice skating" scene) where he gives a genuine simian performance, reacting to the other actors, mainly Naomi Watts, in that semi-anthropomorphized fashion we see in monkeys and dogs and dolphins that makes us believe they've got some true human affection we could make a big-budget movie out of. But there are other times, such as most of the time, when Kong is just a plot contrivance who smashes things and makes hot blonde showgirls scream. I really hate this split personality Kong, but I thoroughly disdain Jackson's oblivious treatment here. I don't see Jackson with the balls to create a human hero who blows up buildings but is (eventually) nice to his girlfriend.

So, the final review is: Go see King Kong because all your friends have seen it, and they'll make fun you if you don't. Frankly, that's the only reason I'm not too upset over spending six bucks — matinee price — on the film, although I would've felt cheated at one of those $10.50 New York City theaters. Still, by seeing this movie, you'll get nothing but contempt from me, because I just know you haven't seen Grizzly Man or The Squid and the Whale yet.