Updates & miscellaneous musings!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and from that day it was as one dead.

I'm mostly just writing this now instead of in the morning in the hopes of scooping people, but I just saw King Kong.*
It's really cool and it's kind of encouraging when you think about how in the last 7 years we've stopped seeing movies like Godzilla (1998) and started seeing movies like this.

I love the original King Kong (I just got the DVD on my birthday), and I was more than satisfied with this one, which is exciting, moving, and looks great, from the creepy beasts on the island to the theaters and slums of New York.

But what really struck me about it was how Peter Jackson could be both incredibly obsessed with the original King Kong, and so very critical of that movie's values.
(minor spoilers ahead)
Single shots and lines are taken verbatim from the original, and some of the action sequences (like Kong's fight with the T-Rex, which he kills by forcing open its jaw) are very similar, and it's obvious that Jackson knew the original backwards and forewards.

But a lot of that material is recontextualized in a really weird way--the film revels in the spectacle, but also seems critical of it.

The difference is most evident in the scene of Kong's capture and display.

Carl Denham's line after the capture is the same as before--"We're millionaires, boys. I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World."
But this time we've just seen, from Ann's point of view, the cruel treatment of Kong by the sailors at Denham's behest, as well as the carnage that proceded it.
In the original film, Denham's words were still cavalier, but they were more or a rallying cry--here, he just seems opportunistic and wreckless.

When Kong is revealed to the paying audience, Jackson uses elements from the earlier film in a really bizarre way.
The natives in this movie are creepy and emotionless, unlike the dancing bushmen of the original.
But in Denham's mock-up of Kong's home, we get actors (apparently in blackface!) doing the exact dance from the original movie. The orchestra plays the original's 'native' music. Here, Jackson seems to be commenting on the exploitive nature of the earlier film.

But what's coolest about all this is that by alienating us from Denham and bringing us closer to Kong (he has some wonderful bonding scenes with Anne to the point where his biplane death really feels like a tragedy), the two are made to be equally human, and Denham becomes Kong's dramatic foil.
Denham destroys what he loves, while Kong is destroyed by them.

I think it's really cool that Jackson could take an awe-inspiring but rather stupid movie and turn it into something poignant and thought-provoking. I remember thinking before how fun it'd be to remake King Kong, but I'm really impressed that he could elevate it in the way he has, in a way that would never have occurred to me.** He played perfectly to its strengths while improving on its weaknesses, and while you could argue it's a less monumental achievement than the stop motion spectacle of 1933, it's just as awesome an experience.

Also, it has dinosaurs. DINOSAURS!

*My stepbrother Colby has a friend who manages a movie theater in Atascedero, so we got to see it two hours before it opened legit. But since it's over two hours long, it opened while we were still watching. Wah wah.


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Location: Oakland, CA, United States