Occasional thoughts on diverse subjects

Kong, et al

By Dave Menendez
Saturday, December 17, 2005, at 9:47 PM

Summary: Some brief thoughts on Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong. Plus, comments on seven other movies I’ve seen this year and never got around to writing about.

My Sin City post (which, I note with some chagrin, has been on ZedneWeb’s front page for eight months) was intended as the start of a new tradition, where I would post some thoughts about movies after I saw them in the theater. Unfortunately, I immediately fell off the wagon and never wrote any subsequent pieces. I did keep a list, though, so before I get to Mr Jackson’s latest, here are some brief comments on the other movies I’ve seen this year:

  1. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Meh. Higher production values than the BBC TV series (and they got Trillian’s hair color right), but it lacked something. Much of the fun of the books—I’ve never heard the original radio shows—lies in Douglas Adams’s dialogue and digressions; the plot was seldom important, or even coherent, but this version attempts to focus on the plot and work it into the usual boy-proves-himself-to-win-the-girl framework.

    There was funny stuff, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes it felt like they were referring to funny bits, rather than performing them. On the other hand, while the vaguely-Texan interpretation of Zaphod Beeblebrox may not be true to the source material, it did make me smile.

  2. Revenge of the Sith. Better than The Phantom Menace. (I hear it’s also better than Attack of the Clones, but I still haven’t seen that one.) Ultimately, I think Mr Lucas’s decision to center the prequel trilogy around Anakin Skywalker was a mistake. The transition from Anakin the protagonist in the early films to Darth Vader the antagonist in the later ones is going to be jarring. The original trilogy focused specifically on Luke and more generally on the rebellion (the formation of which was cut from Sith for lack of time); I would have had the earlier trilogy tell the story of the anti-imperial faction in the Republic and had Anakin as turncoat secondary character who gradually becomes the familiar dark lord.

  3. Batman Begins. Easily the best of the six live-action Batman movies I’ve seen.

  4. Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw this with a cousin who is a Miyazaki fan and had read the original book. According to her, Mr Miyazaki ended up telling a somewhat different story (of course, he does that even when he adapts his own material; see Nausicaä). Nonetheless, we both enjoyed it.

  5. March of the Penguins. I remember feeling very cold during this movie, partly because we saw it in an air-conditioned theater while dressed for a hot summer day, and partly because it’s set in the coldest freaking place on Earth. Seriously, it is so cold during the Antarctic winter that the penguins can’t let their eggs touch the ground, lest they freeze. The photography is incredible, and the charm of the penguins makes up for the sometimes-corny narration.

    Some have made a big deal about the tenacity of the penguins, who strive in such a harsh environment, but they’ve sort of painted themselves into a corner, evolutionally. If I were an intelligent designer, I sure wouldn’t stick a bunch of birds on an otherwise-lifeless continent and make them take alternate months-long fasts just so they can reproduce.

  6. Serenity. As a Firefly fan, I was happy to see the gang back in action. I would have preferred a second season of the series, but a feature film is better than nothing. You could tell that Mr Whedon was working hard to get as much in as he could, but the need to reveal River’s secrets in a two-hour movie rather than dropping hints over a thirteen- or twenty-two-episode program led to a rushed feeling. Afterwards, despite my satisfaction of a story well told, I found myself asking, “Is that all there is?”

  7. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. For some reason, I rarely retain more than the broad outline of the Harry Potter books once I’ve read them, so I didn’t notice the absence of the major secondary plots like Hermione’s campaign for elf rights. (I did remember the Quidditch World Cup going on a lot longer in the book.) Unlike the adaption of Hitchhiker’s, this one didn’t feel like parts were missing. I’m glad that the style was closer to Alphonso Cuarón’s Prisoner of Azkaban than Chris Columbus’s Sorcerer’s Stone and Chamber of Secrets.

King Kong (2005)

I will admit that, when I heard Peter Jackson was following his Lord of the Rings trilogy with a remake of King Kong, I was skeptical. Another remake of King Kong? Why?

Because it would be awesome, that’s why. I know it’s something of a cliché, but when I was watching a giant ape fighting three Tyrannosaurs, I believed it. By the time Kong started climbing the Empire State Building, I was tense. I wanted to shout, “Don’t go up there!” I wanted to jump into the movie and smack those pilots. (In their defense, Kong is responsible for a lot of mayhem by that point.)

I liked the way the relationship between Ann and Kong was almost entirely non-verbal. I liked the ominous build up from the approach to Skull Island to the first appearance of Kong. I wanted to know more about the lost civilization and their ruins. (I realize there isn’t any more to know, but that’s beside the point.)

Kong himself reminds me of Tatari-gami and Moro-no-kimi, the boar- and wolf-gods from Princess Mononoke. Like Kong, they are giant beasts with great, non-human intelligence. We see the bones of other giant apes, so perhaps Kong is the last of his kind, rather than the only one. Undying, yet mortal. Without him, perhaps that magic that keeps Skull Island a world of the past will pass, and the dinosaurs and giant bugs and creepy, phallic slugs will be no more. Tragic, but probably good for the people of Skull Island, who are currently trapped by fear on the rocks between the ocean and Kong—an environment about as harsh for humans as Antarctica is for penguins.

Worth seeing. Especially worth seeing on the big screen. Just make sure to visit the bathroom beforehand.