Thursday, April 06, 2006

Kong is King

With raising a child there isn't a lot of free time to spare, so when Peter Jackson's remake of King Kong appeared in theaters last year, I helplessly watched from my busy life as it came and went from the big screen. The Lord of the Rings trilogy is my favorite set of movies since the original Star Wars trilogy (movies that are pretty much directly responsible for my career as a camera operator and editor) so I surprised even myself that I didn't rush off to see the new Kong on opening day. A busy life will do that to a person, and you realize that you've actually become (gasp!) an adult with the corresponding responsibilities.

Well I finally saw the flick last night at home and I must say I enjoyed it thoroughly. My favorite kinds of movies are ones that take me someplace else, and while I always want as much realism as possible in the story telling, nothing thrills me more than escaping from the banal evils of the real world. Movies like "Boys Don't Cry" or "Shindler's List" may be great films, but they are so depressing as to be disqualified as entertainment. Watching a poor young girl getting raped and murdered is not my idea of an enjoyable evening, nor is a painstakingly detailed account of the 20th centuries worst crime of humanity. Important films yes, enjoyable movies no.

King Kong is everything that serious films are not, yet I couldn't help but be awed by Jackson's vision. From a stunning opening montage of depression era New York City (mind bogglingly detail rich and heavily researched) to an incredible journey into the heart of darkness - Kong never falters or missteps in telling a classic tale with reimagined vigor and stunning special effects.

Critics universally raved, the nerds and the public were less forgiving, citing a three hour running time and subplots that didn't pay off. I thought the various smaller stories actually worked quite well, though they didn't dovetail neatly or spectacularly, there was a lot of subtext that I think the fanboys missed. Three hour running time? Didn't bother me in the least, because everything I was seeing was interesting and moved the story along. In fact, once the action kicked in I was shocked at how quickly the remaining two hours blew by.

The geeks also bitched about uneven special effects. As I get older this becomes an increasingly lesser concern of mine, any major studio can pull off great optics and CG work these days - the tricky part is a gripping story and characters that work. But judged merely by it's FX work, I'd have to say Kong was pretty incredible and groundbreaking in almost all it attempted. There was a ton, repeat a ton, of green-screen work which normally takes me right out of a film - but here, as with Lord of the Rings, it was so well done and seamlessly integrated with practical sets and actors, that I hardly noticed. When I did notice, I was amazed at how good it looked.

It may be because I didn't see it on the big screen, but all the problems I heard about in the Brontosaurus chase were not readily apparent to my eye, save for a handful of brief shots - the close ups of our heroes running between the Bronto legs. But these shots were so quick, and the editing seamless that I never got taken out of the moment - the chase was a thrilling ride from start to long middle to end. It was over the top in a good way.

Over the top really says it all. Like the carnival rides we enjoyed as kids, this movie was bigger and louder and longer and better in the most positive sense. The creepy crawly bugs were unrelenting, my wife groaned repeatedly "Oh come on!" as the scene got more and more extreme. This fanboy was in geek heaven.

But the key to this film was the wordless dialogue between Naomi Watts, our heroine, and the entirely computer generated Kong. I never thought I would be moved by a computer generated character until I saw gollum in Lord of the Rings. I never thought I would cry over a computer generated character until I saw King Kong. What the filmmakers have done is nothing short of true movie making magic. They have succeeded in getting the audience emotionally involved with an object that only exists in pixels of light; a perfectly crafted and rendered 25 foot gorilla that strikes exactly the right balance between pure animalistic terror and gut wrenching sadness.

From enormous, and extended fight sequences of dinosaurs and Kong to the heart wrenching finale atop the empire state building - Peter Jackson's King Kong is a magnum opus of both excess and beauty. It is extreme and extremely touching. For the modern film goer and genre enthusiast, it is the best recent example of a movie that simply cannot be missed. I can't wait to watch it again!

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