Tuesday, November 4, 2008


You would think after making the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy—surely the most gargantuan undertaking in Hollywood history—that Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson could be relied upon to produce a superior remake of the legendary, 101-minute classic adventure movie "King Kong" (1933) than director John Guillerman's 135 minute, modern-day "King Kong" (1976) remake. Sadly, what should have happened does not! "King Kong" (no stars out of ****) the third time around amounts to the biggest pile of monkey shines since the hilariously outrageous Kong parody "The Mighty Gorga" (1969) with Anthony Eisley. Although Universal Studios will undoubtedly recoup their bucks from this blatantly bad banana peel of a movie, they will have to keep their public relations people scurrying like baboons 24/7 to ensure that this time-consuming 3-hour & 7-minute, $300 million slip-up turns a profit. Indeed, Jackson retains the Depression-Era setting of the original, but he wastes at least 90 minutes on stuff that could have been cut without harming the dramatic impact. Worse, the remake does not fix lapses in credibility that the original "King Kong" got away with because audiences in the 1930s were not as savvy as today's moviegoers. Transporting King Kong from Skull Island back to New York was the chief problem that the movie ignored. In the modern-day "King Kong," the oil company locked the giant ape up inside a supertanker and shipped him back to New York. Essentially, the story remains the same: a band of adventurers take a tramp steamer to an uncharted island. They discover primitive islanders who sacrifice virgins to a humongous 25 foot ape. When the islanders catch a glimpse of the nubile white maiden among the while men, they kidnap her, offer her as a sacrifice to King Kong, and our heroes plunge into the interior to rescue her.

Basically, Peter Jackson's "King Kong" collapses under the weight of too many characters, too much plot, and second-rate special effects. Not only do the actors clearly appear green-screened into scenes featuring stampeding dinosaurs and elaborate miniature sets (the integration of live actors with artificial footage is far from seamless), but also the special effects background shots resemble those cheap, paint-by-the-numbers, watercolor kits. While Guillerman's "King Kong" (that starred Jeff Bridges and launched Jessica Lange to stardom) took a critical drubbing, it stands head and shoulders above Jackson's ape-solutely awful rehash. Even the campy Japanese movies: "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" (1963) and "King Kong Escapes" (1967) are more entertaining. Surprisingly, despite several scenes of intense violence, the Motion Picture Association of America gave the new "King Kong" a family friendly PG-13 rating. Mind you, adolescent boys have always loved dinosaurs duking it out. Nevertheless, one scene teems with antennae-twitching, creepy-crawlers that would send anybody off on a super bug-spray shopping spree. The most reviling scene in this mind-numbing marathon of mediocrity occurs when enormous earthworms attack a sailor. These long slimy, egg-roll brown mutants sprout large bubble-gum pink heads wreathed with razor-sharp white fangs. In a graphic long shot, one icky earthworm attaches itself to the head of a man and sucks him up inside its mouth. Nothing like this happened in either the original "King Kong" or the 1976 modern-day remake and its 1986 sequel "King Kong Lives."

Jackson and co-scenarists Fran Walsh & Philippa Boyens of "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy violate the first rule of remakes: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. First, they convert action hero Jack Driscoll (Oscar-winner Adrien Brody of "The Pianist") into a Federal Theater playwright. Second, they add a surplus of new unnecessary characters. One pointless subplot involves an adult African-American ship's lieutenant and a young white sailor. The new "Kong" also adds matinée-idol movie star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler of "Mulholland Falls") and turns the Skull Island natives into scary "Lord of the Rings" type cannibals. These bloodthirsty primitives are especially disgusting with their mutilated faces and milky-white eyes. Third, Skull Island itself looks like something from a surreal comic book with giant rocks shaped like gorilla heads while thousands of skeletons litter the landscape like something out of the 1984 movie "The Killing Fields" that depicted the carnage in Cambodia under Pol Pot's murderous regime. Jackson shoots all this in a semi-documentary style to sicken us. The phony-looking mammoth wall that separates the village from the island interior here looks like a poor poultry-wire model. "Ring" horror movie beauty Naomi Watts takes over the role of Ann Darrow created by Fay Wray in the original. Watts has a different kind of relationship with Kong. She cannot figure out whether she fears Kong or pities him. In two scenes, she performs vaudeville routines, juggling rocks and turning cartwheels, to amuse the big ape. Not even the fabulous Empire State Building finale can salvage this overripe remake. Despite its primitive movie-making effects, the original "King Kong" proved a magical experience for bewitched Depression-Era audiences that had never seen anything like it. The long-winded, unwieldy, new remake focuses more on mayhem than magic. The dinosaurs pale by comparison with those in the "Jurassic Park" trilogy. Altogether, you'll have more fun watching the black & white 1933 original or the Technicolor 1976 remake than Jackson's bloated, over-hyped hokum.

This comment refers to the theatrical release.

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