The original King Kong is one of my favorite movies. In the early eighties I estimated that I had seen it over twenty times and that was before it was released on home video. I've never owned a copy for some reason but now that it's finally out on DVD I plan to change that when I have money again.
I had been horribly disappointed by the Jessica Lang remake so I was hesitant to watch this. But hey, it's Peter Jackson and he mostly did good on LotR and he said all the right things in the interviews so we may finally have a good version in color.
The first hour of the film seemed to support that. It was different from the original but in ways I could live with and Jack Black absolutely rocks as impresario Carl Denhen. He is uncannily like my friend Rory when he played Uncle Max in sound of music. Then we get to Skull island and it all falls apart.
First of all an experienced sea captain has his ship go full speed ahead in the fog after they have already spotted the rocks? What? He's going to power his way through? It's not an ice flow for heaven's sake! They make it through and then we get to meet the natives.
The first King Kong takes grief for being racist but it's a product of the times and the depiction of the natives was not any worse than in most other films and as I'll point out in a minute, better than some. The natives probably were fresh off the set from the latest Tarzan movie. After seeing what a really actively racist film of the time was like when I watched Birth of a Nation it's hard to come down too hard on Kong. It's nice times have changed so we can now have a more sensitive and realistic portrayal of an aboriginal culture isn't it?
Apparently times haven't changed that much. THIS movie manages to portray the natives in an even more offensive manner than the 1933 version without the excuse of being the product of an overtly racist culture. They aren't just shown as primitive and superstitious; they are barely human. There were a few shots where I think Jackson got confused about which movie he was filming and slipped in a couple of left over orcs. They don't even have human skin color, but this blueish grayish black tone that should have gotten the make up artist fired.
Instead of an orderly village they live among the ruins of a past civilization with rotting fish and bones scattered about. Instead of an impressive wooden palisade, that they obviously keep maintained against the creatures on the other side, they have a crumbling stone wall, another relic from the past. The people in the original movie are healthy and thriving; these people are the undead dregs of a long extinct civilization not a vital active community surviving in a dangerous environment.
As soon as I saw the villagers I knew that the only black officer, probably my favorite new character, was toast as soon as they went after Kong. There was no way in this movie that he was going to beat the rule that in a monster movie the black character always dies. At least he dies heroically.
Then I completely lost any chance at suspending disbelief when Kong carries Ann through the jungle by grasping her in his hand and then running on all fours. She is whipped about so violently that IF she survived the experience she should have severe whiplash and brain damage. My money would have been on just a broken neck but no, she not only survives but when he puts her down, unconscious, she doesn't have any bruises or scratches. She isn't even dirty. Yet.
The makeup people and the continuity person continue to show their gross incompetence. Even within the same scene Ann goes from dirty and bruised to clean and glowing and back again for the rest of the jungle part of the movie. Every time the shot changes so does her condition. The streak of blood she acquires on her face toward the end changes at least 3 times in the short time she has it. It even shows up after she takes an extended dunking in a rapidly flowing river. It's like watching Igor's hump.
The attention to detail stays just as bad once they return to New York. Ann runs through the streets of New York in winter wearing high heels and a satin dress without slipping or showing any sign of being cold. You can't even see her breath steam. Later she climbs utility ladders on the outside of the Empire State Building up to the dirigible mooring still wearing the heels. The strong winds that one would expect at that hight are just enough to blow her skirt around artistically but nothing that threatens her balance.
Even though they used Andy Serkis and the motion capture system they developed for LotR for Kong there are still several places where the animation looks fake. Slight distortions that probably really looked bad in the theater if I can see them watching it on my laptop.
On the plus side the fight at the Empire State Building is exciting and very pretty with bright yellow bi-planes and a sunset over the city. The whole movie is nice to look at really. The recreation of a 1930s times square is worth seeing if you can catch this on cable or a cheap rental. It's not worth 3 hours of your life to see the nice shots though so maybe rental is best. That way you can do what I did and set the playback at 1.3 or 1.5 times normal speed for a lot of the last two hours so you can get through the worst bits faster. Or even just fast forward a lot. There isn't a lot of dialog that you will kick yourself for missing.