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Monday, December 12, 2005

King Kong

I have always thought King Kong was a guy thing ever since I saw the original, and, no, I did not see it in 1933. Contrary to popular opinion, I may be old but I'm not that old. I did not sit in a field with my popcorn back in 1933 waiting for someone to come build the Essex Outlet Cinemas around me (though I did practically wet myself with excitement when I saw it being built five years ago). Okay, so I'm already digressing and we haven't even gotten to the movie yet. Sorry. The doctor says there is medication for that, but it takes time to kick in. Let's see.... Oh yes, I always thought the original King Kong looked a lot like Gumby with a hormone problem. I'm sorry, but it's true. So I approached this remake with a certain trepidation. I was sure that Peter Jackson would do a terrific job with the special effects as he had done with his Lord of the Rings trilogy, but when you come right down to it King Kong is still a movie about a big ape, and I never even cared for Marcel from Friends. Monkeys, simians, whatever you want to call them remind me a lot of liquored-up frat boys looking to get laid, and, in essence, that is the basic plot of King Kongs past and present. At least this version had to be an improvement over the Dino deLaurentis '70s version that featured Jessica Lange as "Dwan" the dyslexically named object of the big guy's affections.

So here it was, opening day of the new
King Kong and I braved the cold to make it as usual to the first showing at the Essex Outlet Cinemas. I like my movies and my popcorn fresh, and I figured if I was going to be hanging around a 10,000 pound gorilla I definitely wanted him to be fresh. A ripe gorilla is just not my idea of a good date. So, armed with my yummy fresh popcorn (with the cheesy topping, of course) and my swimming pool sized Diet Pepsi I wandered off to Theater 2 at the Essex Outlet Cinemas to meet the Gorilla my dreams.

I doubt there is much one needs to say about the plot of King Kong. Everybody over the age of ten must know the basics. Ape meets girl, ape loses girl, ape gets girl back, ape makes a bad choice in relocating to a high rise. Okay, so it is a little bit more fleshed out than that. Jackson, in fact, fleshes it out to three hours and seven minutes, but not a second of it seems forced or drags the story down. His movie is a quintessential three act play, with each act lasting approximately an hour.

The first hour introduces us to Carl Denham, a just-this-side-of-insane filmmaker played by just-this-side-of-insane actor Jack Black, who manages to capture the exhuberence necessary to lead the excursion that will take our film crew to Skull Island, this mysterious uncharted place where Denham expects to find something worthwhile for his movie. As his leading lady, Denham is forced to settle on Ann Darrow, (fetchingly played by Naomi Watts, more gorgeous than I've ever seen her) after he realizes that Fay Wray is busy in California making a movie with Merian C. Cooper. Get it? Yuck Yuck, a clever inside joke for those of you in the know. Along with Ann is Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody playing against type as our action hero), Colin Hanks as Preston, Denham's assistant, Kyle Chandler as Bruce Baxter, Ann's narcissistic leading man, and John Sumner as Denham's rotund cinematographer. The trip itself includes introductions to as colorful a crew as would be expected on any rusty tramp steamer, including German actor Thomas Kretshchmann as the Captain, Andy Serkis (who doubles as the body movement actor for Kong himself) as the ship's cook Lumpy, Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell as Jimmy, the young whippersnapper kid who wants desperately to be seen as an adult, and Evan Parke as Hayes, Jimmy's father figure and the most level-headed of the crew.

Once the players have been sufficiently introduced and their relationships to one another are established the action is non-stop. The steamer's unexpected approach to Skull Island in foggy seas begins a frightening adventure that will definitely have the viewer swaying along with the crew as the tiny ship is lashed against the enormous jagged rocks that meet the shore. By the time the boat is secured you'll feel as if you had been through an entire disaster movie without ever needing to meet the 25 foot star of this movie. But before you can say "I've got to go to the bathroom" you realize that this is not the time.Our band of filmmakers along with a smattering of the crew not working on repairing the Venture have set out to explore the shoreside ruins of one of the creepiest looking villages in cinematic history. Seconds after Denham declares it to have been deserted for "hundreds of years" they (and we) see otherwise as they meet what must be the grisliest group of island dwellers this side of Night of the Living Dead. They are bloodthirsty, hygiene-challenged, and generally lacking in dental care. Leading the pack is an old woman who instantly sees the potential in Ann as an offering for that big guy behind the wall that separates their village from the rest of the island. Now frankly, I think I'd rather take what's behind door number one than spend much time with the tribal queen. She looks like what you know Joan Rivers would if she hadn't had all that cosmetic surgery. I'm sorry, but it's my obligation to only be truthful with you.

Fortunately, an intervention by the ship's crew, armed with guns, saves the lives of most of the soon-to-be-dinner cast and they retreat quickly to the Venture and what they think is safety. Wrong. These natives really are restless, and the Sharpei Queen sends one of her loyal subjects to kidnap Ann, prompting the men on-board to form a search party. Naturally, they are just a few seconds too late as Ann is whisked away by our star, finally making his entrance in hour two, fashionably late, but worth the wait. Kong is magnificent. All 25 feet of him. Unlike previous incarnations of the beast this Kong is fully realized, a downright gorgeous silverback gorilla. He will take your breath away, just as he does to poor Ann, who is galloped through the jungle in Kong's paw as he runs, jumps, and swings his way quickly back to his home perch. I kept thinking that if it was me I'd have vomited by now from all that bouncing about, but Ann is a trouper and not a crouper. Sure she screams her lungs out, but that's to be expected. After all, this is a blind date.

It doesn't take long before Kong and Ann have bonded, and the miraculous computer work that has created him is so realistic that as a viewer you forget that Naomi Watts is really interacting with a bit of air. Kong's majestic roars, his chest thumping, even his kinder and gentler movements are so blended into the scene that he never appears to be anything less than 100% real. I even felt empathy for poor Naomi having to smell his gorilla breath day in and day out, forgeting the truth. Yet, despite thinking of his halitosis, I also found myself liking this creature. I never even go to the monkey house when visiting the zoo, and I was never too keen on The Planet of the Apes movies either, so I certainly didn't think I'd be looking into the eyes of an animated gorilla and finding myself caring about his feelings, but I was. His tenderness towards Ann is obvious from the start, and it is definitely put to the test through a series of battles with not one but three Tyrannosaurus Rex determined to make her an hors' douvres.

Meanwhile the rescue party is having problems of its' own, avoiding a stampede of brontosauruses through a narrow canyon as they flee a pack of hungry raptors. Shades of Jurassic Park! Before the rescue is complete there is an invasion of gargantuan insects, more dinosaurs, human-sized bats and a stand-off with Kong himself. Fortunately for all concerned, the ship just happens to be carrying a cargo of dozens of gallon-sized bottles of chloroform. As the Church Lady would say "How con-ven-i-ent."

By hour three poor Kong has been captured and is put on display in New York and I felt that this movie should have been picketed by PETA for the graphic violence it displayed in hapooning Kong and chloroforming him. When I told this to my husband later he reminded me that Kong was a fictional animal and no gorilla was actually harmed, but I still found it disturbing since I knew what was coming next. Maybe there could be a PETAA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animated Apes). Of course you all know the next part of the story: Kong reacts poorly to being photographed and being put in front of an audience. He breaks loose and goes on a rampage in Times Square, in search of his Ann. The sight of New York circa 1933 is impressive enough, but to see Broadway under siege by an angry, confused, and vengeful Kong is a sight to behold. It's hard not to empathize with the ape on this one. After all, he didn't ask to be taken from his island to this one, and all he really cares about is the girl he wants to monkey around with.

When he does reunite with Ann, which she does willingly, Jackson includes a scene in Central Park that is right out of a 1930s romantic comedy. It really is a beautiful respite from the action and it cements the "humanity" of Kong, making his predestined end all the more tragic. The interlude is short, however, and it is interrupted by gunfire, signaling the coming finale.

As Kong snatches up Ann and runs through the streets I felt the urge to scream to him not to go towards the Empire State Building, but, of course, predictably, he does, and the prolonged scenes between Ann and Kong atop the building are heart-wrenching. Okay, I admit it. I even teared-up a bit at the end.

And speaking of the end, most remarkably Jack Black manages to utter the signature line from the original with a conviction that makes it as fresh and as touching today as it was in the 1933 version. Who would have thought Jack Black had it in him?

As I said at the beginning of this post, I did not have much interest in King Kong, but after seeing Peter Jackson's take on the story I can't imagine it ever being surpassed. It is epic in its' grandeur and storytelling. He has expanded upon the original and made it remarkably better, more human through the eyes of his simian star.

I can't begin to tell you how much I think you need to take a paws in your day and hairy on down to the Essex Outlet Cinemas to see King Kong. I think you'll be like me and go apesh*t over the giant monkey!

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