Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

King Kong

King Kong desperately wants to be an epic, but all it is is an epic failure.

Set in 1930s Depression era America, the film unfolds in three acts: the film crew sailing to Skull Island, the adventures on Skull Island, and the dramatic finale back in New York. At over three hours in length, it moves slowly and painfully through this tapestry.

The first hour is taken up with Carl Denham (Jack Black) somehow getting an entire film crew to accompany him on a voyage to a secret filming location. Director Peter Jackson makes absolutely no attempt at explaining why half of America is prepared to follow this man to the ends of the earth. As the journey progresses to Skull Island, we are subjected to huddles around crinkly old maps and hushed references to evil goings on in their intended location. The steamer they sail on is a floating cliché There is the rusty, one-eyed old sea dog, the macho captain and the mischevious but earnest young cabin young, Jimmy. An aside here is the appallingly sketched relationship between Jimmy (Jamie Bell) and the wise, experienced sailor Hayes (Evan Dexter Parker). Jimmy is offered such advice as, “You need to get yourself educated, give yourself some options”, the sort of tripe sprinkled all over dozens of overly-sentimental Hollywood movies.

The other human characters are all introduced. There is Denham, apparently an artistic and foolhardy film director, but in reality basically just Jack Black squeezed into some 1930s clothing and acting slightly less unfunny than usual. There is the script writer, Jack Driscoll, who is meant to be aloof and mysterious, but simply comes across as a wishy washy dull sap, probably because he is played by the wishy washy dull sap Adrien Brody, who seems to think whispering and frowning by themselves makes one a serious actor. There are a few other actors and ship hands who emerge but offer nothing to the development of the story. The one saving grace, and I do mean one, is Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), the struggling young actress who will capture Kong’s heart. She manages to light up the screen, although this is not hard when she is surrounded by driftwood.

The core of the film is, of course, the encounter with King Kong on Skull Island. However, because Jackson attempts to racket up the tension by taking almost half the film to introduce Kong, and because everyone has seen the trailer, it’s an incredible anti-climax when he first appears. The film then descends into a series of action sequences, which more or less blend into one fairly numbing blur. Kong’s friendship with Ann, and pretty much any seen involving the giant gorilla, are the only watchable parts of this film. In between we’re subjected to dreadful actors nattering nonsenical, cliched pap to each other whilst fighting dinosaurs, giant spiders and rowdy natives. Eventually Kong is captured and brought back to New York, where his prolonged death scene is played out.

King Kong has so much wrong with it as a film that it beggars belief that it goes on for over three hours. The plot is plodding. The script is clunky and forced. There is absolutely no humour, which is disastrous, as there is absolutely no drama either. The acting (apart from Watts) would not be out of place in Fair City. There is no character interaction, just inane fumbling between the various human shapes Jackson has transplanted onto our screen. The love between Ann and the drippy Jack Driscoll has no basis and just suddenly crystallises to suit the film. Some of the action scenes are too much like computer graphics. I mean, are we watching King Kong or are we playing Donkey Kong on the Super Nintendo? The close-up camerawork is frustrating; there are continuous zoom-ins on scary things like human skulls AFTER the camera has already swept over them once. And the music? It sounds like the Lord of the Rings score composer rustled up some B-sides and popped them in here.

The pluses? Well, King Kong himself is impressive, and his fight scenes with the local dinosaurs are quite exciting, if only to watch a giant gorilla get a Tyrannosauras Rex in a headlock. Some of the panoramic shots of the ship and island are beautiful, as it’s shot on New Zealand like Lord of the Rings. However, this just makes you pine for that far better set of films, and every so often you hope some hobbits will appear over the horizon and take you back to Middle Earth. King Kong stomping around New York at the end isn’t bad either, but even here Jackson takes twice as long as is necessary to end the film.

King Kong is a dreadful film. If, on the final analysis, one has to hazard a meaning from it, there is none. Sure, there is whatever Jackson may have intended, but that doesn’t actually come across. If it’s an action film it’s too dull and overplayed. If it’s escapism then by all means take me back to the real world. If it’s a serious drama about man’s ability to destroy everything he loves, blah blah, then Jackson should be ashamed of himself. How can the film attempt to narrate this idea when the cast orbit around the film likes electrons without ever actually becoming involved in it? King Kong shows what can happen when there remains an enormous gulf between the film premise and the final production.

Leave a Reply