I’m about a year and a half late to this party, but I finally rented and watched the new version of King Kong tonight. Ashley was reluctant to watch it and wound up sleeping through about two-thirds of it. It wasn’t good enough or shitty enough to inspire me to write a full-length review, but I do have a few observations. For starters, Ashley was right.
Peter Jackson’s modus operandi in remaking Kong is to take the major sequences from the 1933 original and expand them beyond all justification. He’s got a first act that’s too long and a pretty terrific third act, actually; it’s the middle that drags on and on and on well past the point of anyone giving a fuck. The witty, resourceful filmmaker of Dead Alive and Bad Taste is gone, and the fat-headed bore who inflicted three endless Lord of the Rings movies on inexplicably admiring audiences is here to stay.
As with his exhausting Lord of the Rings trilogy, for his King Kong Jackson employs an insistent “More is More” strategy. Why say in ten minutes what you can say in twenty? Why take two hours when you can take three? The original King Kong, with its hammy actors and stiff, clumsy direction, looks trim and agile by comparison. The classic sequence in the original of Kong fighting a tyrannosaurus takes up less than five minutes of screen time and is accomplished through imperfect herky-jerky stop-motion animation — and kicks fucking ass. The analogous sequence in Jackson’s film features Kong fighting off three tyrannosaurs simultaneously, on land and swinging from a tangle of vines over a chasm, while juggling Naomi Watts from hand to hand to foot to keep her out of danger. This sequence runs for about twenty minutes and, besides being the most expensive and explicit nerd-porn produced outside the Lord of the Rings series, is completely pointless. Kong fights off the dinosaurs, saves Ann, and by the end of it we’re right back where we started. This sequence is immediately followed by another long and rambling scene of several of the human characters fighting off gigantic insects at the bottom of a canyon. The movie is more interested in its spectacle than its story.
Like I said, the third act is pretty good. Once they finally get off that goddamn island and get to New York, things pick up pretty good and the climax and ending are about as satisfying as they could be after the mind-numbing ordeal of the second act. Kong climbs the Empire State Building, fights off some airplanes, falls to his death, and the scumbag film producer who brought him to civilization in the first place (played pretty well here by Jack Black) gets to say his contrived last line: “It was beauty killed the beast.” And then it fades out and that’s it — one definitive ending, not 28 consecutive ones, a definite improvement for Peter.
Having found his niche in taking two-hour stories and stretching them into overstuffed, fatuous three-hour epics, I wonder what other projects Peter Jackson has on the horizon. He’s apparently not doing The Hobbit now, so how about a definitive four-hour version of, say, The Graduate, or an epic remake of the first ten minutes of The Fugitive? Just some suggestions. Or how about this: either start making movies that actually need to be three hours long, or grow some balls and learn to edit.