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12/13/2005 - KING KONG

KING KONG by Tom McCurrie

KING KONG is a great movie...at two hours. Unfortunately, it's only a good movie at three.

With both the seminal 1933 version and the totally campy 1976 version under our belts, as well as the mega-buck advertising campaign Universal is waging on the movie-going public, I assume everybody knows the plot of KING KONG by now. Basically, it's 25-foot ape meets girl, 25-foot ape loses girl, 25-foot ape gets girl back again just before biplanes blast him off the Empire State Building (this "modern" version is set in 1933).

Now writer-director Peter Jackson, along with co-writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, has set out to top his predecessors in every way. He certainly does with the dizzying action, including an astounding sequence where Kong battles two T Rexes as he plunges down a canyon webbed with vines, all the while holding onto his "girl" (Naomi Watts) with his foot! This sequence alone deserves a Best Visual Effects Oscar. And the CGI-recreations of Depression-era New York are so dazzling, so meticulously detailed, that you wish Jackson could have freeze-framed the picture for a few minutes so you could appreciate them like you would a Rembrandt. Finally, by patterning Kong on actor Andy Serkis through motion capture technology, the animated ape comes across as extremely "real" in his movements, helping to suspend our disbelief.

Unfortunately, Jackson also tops his predecessors in length, and that hurts the picture considerably. While the 1933 and 1976 versions are 104 and 134 minutes respectively, Jackson's version is a bloated 187 minutes. We don't even get to see Kong until 70 minutes into the story, meaning there is over an hour of set-up till the main conflict (Kong vs. Man) begins. If the characters were on the captivatingly complex level of a Scarlett O'Hara, this elaborate introduction would be fine. But the characters in KONG are disappointingly one-note: Jack Black's shifty producer, Adrien Brody's nice-guy writer, Thomas Kretschmann's stern captain are all paper thin. The more time spent with characters like this, the less interesting they become, and without a Kong to liven things up, this early section grows sluggish. Jackson wastes more time fleshing out irrelevant supporting players like Evan Parke's first mate and Jamie Bell's young sailor; their father-son relationship is completely extraneous and should have been kept for the Director's Cut DVD. Only Naomi Watts comes off with any complexity as Kong's significant other. She nails her character's inner conflict, her simultaneous fear and love of Kong, all the more remarkable since she is acting to nothing more than a green screen. Comic Jack Black, on the other hand, is unable to find the layers in his devious character, stumbling in his first "straight" role.

Once Kong arrives on the scene, things pick up nicely. The movie becomes a series of thrilling action set-pieces juxtaposed with a touching love story between girl and beast. But because the first hour was spent on unnecessary set-up, by the climax we're not thinking about how exciting it is to see Kong scrap with some biplanes, nor are we thinking about how tragic it is for the girl-beast love story to end so horribly, we're thinking that with our posteriors aching and our bladders bursting we want someone to shoot that ape and end the movie so we can go to the bathroom.

As both the LORD OF THE RINGS movies and KING KONG show, Peter Jackson has plenty of talent. But in the future, I'd like to see less of it in one sitting.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is currently working on his first novel.


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