Monday, December 17, 2007

Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005)

Perhaps film historians, decades from now, can unravel the mystery of how director Peter Jackson could perpetrate a movie as unwatchable as 2005's King Kong, released two years ago this month and only shortly after his massive creative success with Lord of the Rings. Far from the sort of wild escapist entertainment one would expect from such a remake from such a director, Jackson's King Kong is largely derivative - and not of great films. Rather, its source material appears to be other formulaic action pictures that were themselves derivative of cinematic detritus. Only a few years before this major misstep, Jackson was a daring filmmaker who rescued audiences from exactly this sort of wretched big budget studio film. Such a talented director should have been incapable of such rubbish. What gives?

The plot is well known and unnecessary to dissect in detail. For the ridiculous Skull Island sequences, Jackson cribbed from 1993's Jurassic Park, and all of the films that themselves ripped off Jurassic Park from 1994 to 2005. Was there anything about being chased by monsters large and small in the first half of the film that wasn't done in 1998's dreadful remake of Godzilla, which itself was essentially a plagiarism of far, far better films? The lovely Naomi Watts, playing the Fay Wray role, attempts to calm or distract King Kong by engaging in a silly dance shortly after her capture by him. This sequence was too embarrassing for words. Bothersome also were the heavy-handed references to Conrad's Heart of Darkness, which were forced upon audiences for what reason exactly? There was nothing particularly interesting about the bland performances of Watts or Adrien Brody, and Jack Black, as the Barnum-esque showman bent on commercializing Kong, essentially plays himself (a character which is beginning to wear thin). The only interesting sequence was the ape's climbing of the Empire State Building, which required sitting through the film's first two and a half hours.

The problem: Jackson adored the original 1933 King Kong and desperately wanted to direct his own version since he was a wee lad in New Zealand. However, a film should be remade only if the original (1) surpasses true awfulness and might be ameliorated by a remake or (2) has become outdated in tone, narrative, or special effects and can be effectively modernized. Arguably, Jackson's effort would fall under the second of those two prongs of this test.

Thus, a corollary: No filmmaker should remake a film that he or she truly loves. (Such a rule would also save us from remakes of films which, though dated, are classics which should remain untouched.). To do so blinds that director or producer from the original narrative's inherent flaws. Creative decisions are not made for narrative economy but rather with glee at the prospect of remaking a beloved film that is enshrined in one's memory. That's just not good film-making. Really, only if you loathe a film, or even just dislike it a lot, can you remake it. Didn't someone once say that the only good biographers are those who hate their subjects? Same principle.

3 comments:

The League said...

While I can't support a ten minute brachiosaur stampede, condemning a film for being a remake of the original dinosaur island extravaganza seems unfair.

I would not disagree that the film is not up to the standard set by the Rings Trilogy, but I still find it odd that some condemn the latest Kong film for its dinosaur sequences when it could easily be argued that Jurassic Park was cribbed from the original Kong, The Lost World (which Jurassic Park lifted later for its own name), or any of the myriad stop-action monster and dinosaur films. In fact, if plagiarism is to be discussed, could the reviewer not point to how Jurassic Park is style over substance and that the plot of the original Kong is more than a mere thrill-fest whereas Jurassic Park is a standard sci-fi cautionary tale for modern concerns?

I am not sure what those complaining about the updated Kong expected to see, although surely few were counting on the diabetes-inducing scenes of Ann Darrow and Kong playing on ice.

Calliope said...

Peter Jackson fails as a filmmaker when he starts to take himself too seriously. His films that I enjoy all possess a very tangible sense of fun and awe... through the celluloid, you can almost hear him whispering to himself, “OMG! Do I actually get to DO this?! People are giving me money to DO THIS???” The Frighteners, the Lord of the Ring trilogy, and even Dead Alive.

Where he goes wrong is when he sets out to make Great Art. King Kong and especially Heavenly Creatures, near the top of my personal Most Boring Films of All Time list. I’m willing to lay a whole dollar on the line that Lovely Bones will definitely fall into this second category.

Steven G. Harms said...

I do wonder if ever there was a single remake that actually surpassed the original.