King Kong (2005), dir. Peter Jackson:
Kongtech divides up nicely: stop-motion for the 30s, guy in an ape suit for the 70s, CGI for the 2000s. What's it gonna be in 2040?
The three Kongs are a good example of music in movies becoming more understated over the years. These days the original score suggests emotions; fifty years ago the music told you how to feel.
Great quote from Jack Black's character: "Defeat is always momentary."
Making Carl Denham more of an antagonist, and Ann Darrow more immediately empathetic with Kong (not to mention, expanding greatly on the Kong/Darrow relationship), is one of the great successes of Jackson's version.
Not sure how much the juggling and trickster persona adds to Naomi Watt's character, although it does give her something to do to interact with Kong--after all, the two of them weren't going to get a running-on-the-beach, eating-cotton-candy, buying-each-other-sweaters montage set to Foreigner.
Too many violent skirmishes were added, the most glaring example being the giant-insect encounters. This has been pointed out ad naseum, I think.
In the 2005 version, the boat captains happen to be trappers, which is too much of a coincidence (Kongicidence? This could get old quickly). In the '33 original, the crew brought along explosives for the express purpose of capturing Kong, which is more believable.
Jackson adds too many unresolved subplots and characters--the young character on the boat, played by Jamie Bell, seemed like he had a dark secret. The kind of secret that stays hidden for the whole film, only to come to the fore during the denouement, changing everything ("he's been dead the whole time!"). But his character went nowhere (maybe the twist will make the 5-hour special edition DVD release).
The racist overtones of the film are obvious and have been widely discussed--although they try to make up for it at the end by having the gleaming, ultra-white, Aryan girl not capture Kong's attention--but did they have to kill off the black and Asian guys so early and easily? Certainly changing the natives to be white pigmies would lessen the contrast between Naomi Watt's ultra-pale skin and the tribe's superethnicity (it would seem every tribal practice known to man was put to use at the WETA workshop)--but still. You'd expect them to take a more revisionist approach to the film, this being the new millenium and all.
An applicable quote I remember from a local radio morning show, years ago: "if there's monsters and black people in a movie, the brothers are going down."
All of that said, King Kong's dealings with race bothered me for a total of about 30 seconds during its three-hour runtime. Academy Award Winner Crash, on the other hand, bothered me for the full two hours.
In these Hollywood tales involving primitive cultures, it's the historical superstitions and myths of the tribes that cause our modern-day heroes problems--for example, let's say the primitive people believe that the devil and his minions have white skin. When our clean white protagonists waltz in, ala King Kong (Indiana Jones is another good example), they're in a world of hurt by default, because of these myths. As the audience, we see the primitive tribe as the bad guys, and root against them acting on their firmly held beliefs. But isn't our own culture doing the same thing today? Our myths today are the Bible, Qu'ran, Torah, etc., and we perpetrate violence through these closely-held, revered, and too-little questioned "stories" in the same way. It's no coincidence that the wars being raged against, and by, Americans today are being led by religious extremists: Bush and Bin Laden. Sure, each twists his respective scriptures to suit his own purposes, but each also believes in his heart that his war is a just one... In the same way that the tribal leader stringing up Naomi Watts believes that he's doing what his God wants.
This point is highly debatable, which is why I'm not going to get into it any further. Apologies to anyone who's offended that I just referred to their sacred text as a myth. I can only refer you to some information about the etymology of the word "myth" here.
Some terrific moments in the film--I understand why this is the text that got Peter Jackson interested in making movies.
More so than most films, Kong warrants a couple of different ratings. If I had to rate this movie at its best I'd give it five stars, but at its worst it is probably one-and-a-half. Most movies don't have that kind of range, I think--a three-star movie, for example, would probably be between two and three-and-half, typically. Kong is really hit or miss. Thankfully, I don't have to rate movies using stars, numbers, thumbs, or anything of the like (and I even seem to have abandoned my Actual Movie ratings system, which was a mockery of ratings system in the first place).
Kong is a brilliant vessel for telling this story, but some of what makes him great also makes the story come across as overly simplistic. At times he appears to be a 50-foot incarnation of some of the frat guys I knew in college, in terms of his destructive belligerence, his superficial view of relationships, and his visceral appeal. To prove this last point, I can imagine Kong at a pool party (wearing a pair of flowery board shorts), pushing a girl into the swimming pool and thus igniting her attraction to danger and raw strength (and effectively scooping me). Would there be a way to tell a story of a mythic beast who represents the opposite? An intellectual creature without physical prowess that wins hearts through emotion or intelligence? Something beyond skin deep?
There's a blockbuster idea. Here's another one, which would also have very little chance at financial success, but appeals to me a bit more:
In all three movies, the natives are complete throwaways. Ala Grendel, Wicked, etc., it'd be interesting to make a movie from the native's perspective--about how these white people randomly show up and steal their island's most-feared beast, only to throw their society into chaos. It'd be a post-Cold War scenario: the single enemy the natives always feared actually provided some stability in their lives, unbeknownst to them. So once Kong (the former Soviet Union, in this case) is removed from the equation, the natives are attacked by the dinosaurs and gigantic insects all around the island (Al Qaeda and the Taliban). They no longer know where the threat is coming from, and suddenly the removal of their archenemy is seen as not merely a blessing but also a curse.
Unfortunately I'm not sure that this film would pull in enough of an audience to justify what it would cost to make. Story of my life.