Saturday, December 10, 2005

Kong Rules

As we walked out of the theatre, Tristan remarked, "Lord of the Rings wasn't a fluke. Peter Jackson HAS done it again." Jackson's three-hour 2005 version of the sweeping epic adventure of how a giant ape from Skull Island bonds with a New York vaudeville actress is probably right up there for another Academy Award.

Her beautifully expressive face and dancer's lithe body makes the luminous Naomi Watts a major star in her breakout role as Ann Darrow. For most of the movie she looked like she took enough of a beating to put Keanu Reeves to shame (not a scratch in Speed, how about that. Sandra Bullock took more hits). And now and then she has really campy but ethereal and incandescent moments -- especially when her eyes well with unshed tears -- rather like the young Penelope Ann Miller as Margo Lane in The Shadow (also a 1930s adventure). Jessica Lange was also incredibly beautiful in the 1976 version of King Kong... not that I remember much else beyond her beauty.

Comedian Jack Black is also in fine form in his first major dramatic role as the wily and opportunistic filmmaker Carl Denham. Adrien Brody was ok, although he was mostly window dressing.

Two new actors caught my eye. Thomas Kretschmann played the hard-nosed ship's captain and animal trapper Captain Engelhorn (reminds me of a younger, more serious Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson), with a most attractive European accent. Another discovery is Evan Parke, who plays the first mate Hayes, mentor to an impressionable young deckhand (an excellent, very intelligent performance. As a military-trained black man educated in the school of hard knocks, Hayes expresses his astute take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness.")

As for Andy Serkis, what can I say? He wins my vote for Best CGI actor twice running! He really ought to have won for Gollum, never mind that his face was all CGI'd up, he DID act with BOTH voice and body! I read he flew to strife-torn Rwanda on the sly to study gorilla behavior in the wild before Peter Jackson could stop him. Apart from Kong, Serkis also played Lumpy the one-eyed Scottish cook, the one who was slowly consumed by giant killer leeches in a scene that actually gave me nightmares for a couple of days.

It's amazing how as Kong Andy Serkis successfully managed to anthropomorphize male gorilla behavior, to communicate with Ann. Oddly enough, it felt like I was watching Richard Gere and Debra Winger have a spat in An Officer and A Gentleman, only Kong didn't need a Harley to drive away on:

Kong: Mmppfff! What have YOU to say now that I've rescued you from all those pesky T-Rexes? *shows rump sulkily*
Ann: Errr... Wait!!!
Kong: *picks up Ann and nonchalantly throws her on his shoulder for the ride*

Some people I talked to complained that they really didn't need to see the raptor stampede or the duel with the three T-Rexes or the extended giant insect creepshow, which lengthened the film. I actually rather enjoyed the raptor stampede sequence and squealed several times, especially when a character would get either squashed or bit at. You could hear the audience's excitement; you could tell we were all having fun. (One of the best frissons of excitement I ever got from the movies was from Raiders of the Lost Ark, in the scene where Indiana Jones runs like hell away from a rolling boulder. I pit all the exciting movie scenes against that one, and if my nape hairs all stand up that means I'd gladly watch that movie over and over. Witness Gandalf's battle with the Balrog, as well as Eowyn in ROTK telling the Nazgul King, "I am NO man!")

As I viewed Kong's fight scenes with the T-Rexes the following silly refrain kept running through my head: "She's MY Vaudeville Barbie! Mine!! MINE!!!" Hehehe. I also couldn't stop alternately laughing and gasping at Ann's trapeze act with one of the T-Rexes, it had an element of the ridiculous you couldn't miss.

The giant insect scenes were indeed gross and shudder-inducing; I believe I mentioned Lumpy being eaten by a giant leech. Peter Jackson must have dedicated that scene to the inner kid in all of us. If you have never experienced the thrill of playing with creepy-crawlies as a kid, I am truly sorry you could not enjoy that scene in all its horrific glory. And if you didn't get the cinematic pun about the giant crickets... well, in New Zealand they're called WETAs, which is the name of the effects production company Peter Jackson worked with on both King Kong and LOTR (they also worked on the first Narnia movie, which is coming soon in January 2006).

I did wonder about how the crew managed to find each other in less than 24 hours in a rather large unmapped island jungle... and how supposedly cold-blooded saurii could run so fast... and about the pesky giant bats that didn't attack Kong UNTIL Adrien Brody showed up... and about the very convenient root/vine that led all the way down from Kong's perch... But of course I didn't let that spoil my fun.

This King Kong is high camp; if you took it too seriously the joke's on you.