Sunday, April 18, 2010
The biggest problem with Peter Jackson's King Kong is that it feels like a 187-minute epic. When a movie is entertaining, especially one of such substantial length, I tend to forgive some of its faults. But this Jackson spectacle is not easy to sit through. I can't imagine how the director, as well as Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens (his two co-writers), could possibly justify this running time as essential to the story. This could have been a two-hour film and neither important plot points nor crucial scenes of character development would have been left out. Cut an hour from this thing, and it may be worth a recommendation.
The film starts off on a positive note with Jackson's masterful recreation of 1933 New York. The director is at his best at the beginning when he has a sense of calm and when he is letting his impressive performers do their job. Naomi Watts, in particular, is quite an actress. Here, she stars as Ann Darrow, a recently laid-off vaudeville actress who stumbles into a producer in desperate need of a leading lady. This producer is Carl Denham (Jack Black), who has recently had some of his footage rejected by a few high-end executives. Unwilling to let the project go, Carl brings Ann on board the SS Venture in attempt to discover the mysterious Skull Island.
On board the ship is not only Denham's capable crew, but one of Ann's heroes: playwright Carl Driscoll (Adrien Brody). The two embark on a brief and promising fling during the early stages of filming, but things begin to go downhill (for the film itself as well as the characters) when they indeed reach Skull Island. Jackson's visual presentation is again extraordinary on the island, highlighted by a chilling sequence in which the crew struggles through a field of fog.
But is it after the crew begins exploring the island that Jackson's vision falls apart. He thrusts a series of painfully repetitive action sequences at the audience, almost all of which feature the brutal deaths of supporting characters compared to the scarless faces of the main stars. I acknowledge that there has to be a significant suspension of disbelief here, but some of these sequences get ridiculously out of hand. Since when can lanky screenwriters such as Driscoll climb mountains while carrying people on their backs; or big-boned directors run from enormous creatures without denting their camera; or leading ladies run barefoot through rocky forests without so much as spraining an ankle?
I wouldn't be harping on this subject so much if Jackson didn't repeat it again and again. The film's second and third acts hardly let you breath. Instead of maintaining the sense of calm he had in the beginning, Jackson creates set piece after set piece until there is practically nothing else to the film. A better move for Jackson would have been to take a step back and let the audience savor the visual brilliance of the film. When dinosaurs and bats and scorpions are jumping at us time after time, it is very difficult to take any time to actually appreciate what Jackson and his team have created. It's almost as if his enormous ambition is actually his own undoing.
The actual Kong character itself, brought to life by actor Andy Serkis, is quite mesmerizing. The film attempts to create an emotional effect during the scenes between Kong and Ann, but they are too few and far between to amount to anything by the time the film ends. The film's most touching moments include a scene where the two characters share a sunset, and a later one in which they slide joyously on Central Park ice during Christmastime. It is a shame that these sensitive scenes are forced, rather relentlessly, to take a back seat to the maniacal action.
Watts is pitch-perfect for the role of Ann Darrow, and it is sad to see such a unique piece of work get lost in such a misguided film. Jack Black and Adrien Brody are both good towards the beginning of the film, but once they hit Skull Island and are asked to play a game of survival, I had trouble believing in the abilities of their (and Watts', to an extent) characters. It is not because I don't think any of these actors could star in an action film; it's just that I can't watch a gangly writer climb up the side of the Empire State Building without questioning the verity.
It would be remiss of me to not reinforce the impressiveness of the visual effects. Jackson's visual and sound teams rightfully took home three Oscars in 2006, and I have to admit that it is rather interesting to compare the experience of King Kong to that of Avatar. Both are primarily effects-driven motion pictures, but what makes Avatar a better experience is the fact that it builds and builds, and James Cameron's aesthetics never get old. He knows when it is time for a full-blown set piece, but he also knows when to take it down a notch and give the audience a chance to soak in what is on the screen. Jackson, at least in this film, doesn't seem to realize that three hours of burning buildings and crashing cars, no matter how well-conceived, can get tedious after awhile.