Wednesday, 1 September 2010

ThE MonSTer REtuRNs to HaUnt OUr DreAMs!!

Review for Film Ireland - original post - Friday, April 07, 2006

King Kong
DIR: Peter Jackson • WRI: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson • PROD: Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh • DOP: Andrew Lesnie • ED: Jamie Selkirk • DES: Grant Major • CAST: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Jamie Bell, Evan Parke, Kyle Chandler

ThE MonSTer REtuRNs to HaUnt OUr DreAMs!!!PeTer JackSOns' pOst MoDErn RetRo pAEan to his childhood inspiration is a thrilling rollercoaster of a movie referencing everything from Orson Welles's aborted Heart of Darkness to Bahr and Hickenlooper's Hearts of Darkness via depression-era montages and Jurassic Park dinosaur chases, and everything else from hEARTbrEAk through HOrrOr. Jackson has long held this project close to his heart - he first tried to make this as a nine year old, and it shows overwhelming incident and detail. You could carp about the dropped subplots and the disappearance of many interesting characters well before the end (and not always through death by misadventure), but human life is only a small thing in this movie.
There are myriad humans, but only one Kong and the period setting of the film seems to say that Kong (the mystery in the world) is now dead. And whether he is mystery, the id, or spectacle, Kong serves as a great myth on which we can project our preoccupations. For this is not simply an action adventure, but a metaphysical metafiction (if you're going to be pretentious do it wholeheartedly!) After all, a film which largely takes place on Skull Island has to inhabit the subconscious. Carl Denham (Jack Black aka Orson Welles aka Merian C. Cooper/ Ernest B. Schoedsack aka Peter Jackson) is a film producer, so, as he tells Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), you can trust him. Or not as the case may be. He has only one focus (or maybe that's two): to make his film and to make money. He has no qualms about how he gets this done, because he is in the service of a greater good. But, as we are to find out, he has a great ability to destroy the things he loves. Is this where Jackson comes in, finally making the film which has fascinated him since chilhood? Can he stir the imagination of his viewers as the original stirred his? Or will he just destroy it? Is there a point at which hyper-realistic effects lose their power to stir the imagination? Have we, indeed, passed this point? Well, it is certainly difficult to suspend disbelief in the way that early cinema audiences did, fleeing from oncoming trains and gasping at the previously unimaginable wonders of the natural world. But I for one can still enjoy the ride, particularly when it is as self-aware as this one of the fact that it is a fiction.The film opens with an image of wild nature followed by a sequence of nature caged. From the off, our sympathies for Kong are being engaged. After a bravura montage sequence of depression-era New York, we are into a set piece on the hucksterism of the great days of cinema that is reminiscent of Barton Fink. We get a small masterclass in film production which is reminiscent of Jackson's quote about making The Lord of the Rings Trilogy being like "laying the tracks down in front of the train" as it was moving forward. We then get to the meat: many of the sequences from the original remaining in place, although the scale has been ramped up. The film is graced by a strong ensemble of actors, who bring a sense of realism to the sketchiest roles, and there is a constant impetus even when it seems that Jackson can't bear to end some of the set-piece scenes. He has talked in interviews about how much he wanted to redo the Empire State scene, and that this provided the impetus for keeping the film as a period piece.The original King Kong will always remain one of the true classics of cinema, and I feel that Jackson has managed to produce a remake which does justice to the strengths of the original and brings in new strengths of its own. It's made me want to revisit the original, and I'll try to watch this one again before it leaves the big screen. So whether you want to see a postmodern 'movie about movies', or an all-action CGI thriller, this is the movie for you.

(here's some additional notes to the Kong review.)
Subtextual Observation # 1
Sometimes the Id runs totally wild and we see some of the classic horror film sexual subtexts. Two of the crew members on the Voyager swap looks which suggest a relationship deeper that the classically chaste and honourable friendship favoured in boys own adventure tales. Among all the deaths these are lingered over most 'lovingly' and one is eaten slowly by creatures who seem to be part penis, part anus and part mouth* (you'll see). This, coupled with the celebration of the unreconstructed macho that Kong clearly is suggest a dark heart to this tale.
* cf The Alien films

Subtextual Observation # 2
The cabin boy Jimmy carries a copy of Conrad's Heart of Darkness which was of course the raw material of Welles' aborted first feature and the inspiration for Coppola's benchmark for filmmaking insanity Apocalypse Now (as seen in the great documentary Hearts of Darkness). Through the film much is made of Carl Denhams insane attachment to his camera even in the most unfavourable circumstances for film. Thus obsessive filmmaking is the clear subtextual device here. Now, has Jackson made his Kane, his Apocalypse Now, and will filmmaking ever mean as much to him again? We can only hope so.

Subtextual Observation #3
The original Kong starred Fay Wray, who survived from silent screen starhood into talkies. In King Kong she basically plays as a silent star who screams. So is Kong also representing the silver screen itself and how technical advancement can be the enemy of wonder and imagination: for the silent film world was far more a cinema of image, beauty and imagination. Has the hyper-realistic potential of CGI the same ability as the original stop motion to engage us in the fantastic.

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