December 15, 2005

"King Kong."

Have you seen it yet? I'm too busy even to have considered going to see it yesterday, but I was resistant to the idea anyway for several reasons. It's 3 hours long, and the prospect of getting bored is way too real. I don't like CGI, and the clips I've seen have especially bad CGI. I especially disliked shots of Kong jumping about weightlessly and of a herd of dinosaurs running straight at the camera. That the human beings can stand unharmed amid the stampede is not surprising: these things are insubstantial.

But Chris saw the movie yesterday and gave it a mixed review. It was too long. It takes an hour just to get to the island, with nothing much happening. Was Adrian Brody good? He had little to do. Was the CGI bad? The close up shots of Kong were great, but the long shots were not. Yeah, that's what I thought from the clips. Everything close up with Kong and Naomi Watts was really good. Naomi Watts was great. And the whole last hour was great.

Maybe I'll stop by and just see the last hour. It's not like I won't understand the story without the two hours of build-up, and that way I won't be stuck dying to leave and looking at my watch during the only part of the movie I have much chance of liking. But I'm not so sure I'll enjoy all those close ups as much as Chris did. I dislike big close ups, especially in CGI, and I already dislike the Kong face I've seen too many times in the magazines. It's so dominated by nose, that crinkly, creased, complicated nose. What's the point of staring into those nostrilly depths for an hour?

And why are his nostrils always so sparkling clean? Does being good somehow serve the same purpose as Kleenex? In movies where a monster is bad -- think "Aliens" -- it's festooned with strings of mucus. I'll bet there's never a trace of snot in those big gaping Kong nose holes.

UPDATE: And then there's the racism question. Does Kong represent a black man? Is there something about the way we live now that absolves the new Kong of that reading?

IN THE COMMENTS: A reader thinks it's "silly" for me to attack a movie I haven't seen. My disagreement includes the assertion that the guys who make movies don't deserve fairness.

MORE: For my response to a blogger who criticizes me for writing about a movie I haven't seen, go here.

40 comments:

Freeman Hunt said...

I saw it, and I loved it. Kept all the elements I loved from the 1933 version.

me said...

I saw some of the CGI junk and it looked horrible. I am surprised that it has gotten such good press. Maybe it will be good, but I think I will pass. I could never bring myself to see Star Wars, either.

Freeman Hunt said...

The CGI overall looked far better in the actual movie than I had expected from the clips.

As for racism: If some tweedy guy is saying that a gigantic ape represents black people, I think that says more about his racism than the movie's.

I didn't think the movie was racist at all.

bill said...

It's not just snot, I'm thinking a giant ape on an ocean voyage would have a number of bodily fluid issues.
If I may, a linkwhore moment: Practical concerns about King Kong.

If I mayn't, please delete.

SWBarns said...

Racist? People who are asking this question don’t get the movie at all. Like Jim, the only decent adult character in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Kong is the only noble and loving character in King Kong, "T'was Beauty Killed the Beast."

When Steven Hunter says "It remains a parable of exploitation, cultural self-importance” he may be right but that doesn’t make the movie racist. Can a movie examine exploitation and cultural self-importance without being racist? I’m pretty sure that Roots wasn’t racist.

David Edelstein’s comment “the implication that Kong stands for the black man brought in chains from a dark island” isn’t evidence that the movie is racist. His comment that Kong has “a penchant for skinny white blondes” is evidence that he may be. Kong is ripped out of his happy life transported thousands of miles, climbs the tallest building in the city, puts down the “skinny white blond” to save her, and in doing so is destroyed and this is somehow ignoble?

Troy said...

I guess they should've sought the huge ape on all those islands dominated by Caucasian tribes wearing loin cloths. Perhaps they could've set it in pre-Roman England or Sacandinavia -- those damn dirty Viking apes!

WTF

Are there gorillas of any size (not in captivity) in Australia, North America, and Europe?

Why does the Western exploitation angle need to be "examined" when the message is alreeady crystal clear to all but the most obtuse? Isn't the very movie itself an examination. Does Mr. Edelstein need his meat cut for him?

chrisburp said...

I thought the movie was pretty good. As far as the clean nostrils...they certainly didn't give him nice teeth. Mr. Kong had some pretty ugly chompers.

XWL said...

The racism issue is a side issue. As far as the Orc-ness of the inhabitants, if you lived there you'd be pretty brutal, too. (humans aren't anywhere close to being pinnacle predators on this island, that would lead to much brutishness, and only witnessing a culture's religious rites would distort an outside observer's view).

the real issue is Prof. Althouse's aesthetic aversion to CGI. It's part of the language of film now, and not just blockbusters. It's a tool and when used by the right filmmaker it serves the story and doesn't overwhelm the senses.

The thing with CGI is that it offers directors a limitless palette of colors and choices. This lack of being constrained by physical realities and actor safety has lead to some excesses, but also has lead to some sublime images and storytelling.

Fairy tales (which this is) require a suspension of disbelief. Either you can and this will be a great experience, or you can't and you will be thinking about all the better ways you could be spending three hours.

(and to each her or his own, I can't watch the Apprentice for too long cause I can't suspend my disbelief at the Donald's hair)

And since I'm not the only one, I'll link to my thoughts on the film (no spoilers, just impressions)

Mark the Pundit said...

Kong is ripped out of his happy life transported thousands of miles, climbs the tallest building in the city, puts down the “skinny white blond” to save her, and in doing so is destroyed and this is somehow ignoble?

You mean Kong dies at the end? Gee, swbarn, thanks a lot for ruining the movie for me! hee hee

DEC said...

Ann: "Does Kong represent a black man?"

Never in my life has that thought crossed my mind. I have spent time with gorillas in Africa. They remind me of Ted Kennedy and Dick Cheney.

tiggeril said...

if you lived there you'd be pretty brutal, too. (humans aren't anywhere close to being pinnacle predators on this island, that would lead to much brutishness, and only witnessing a culture's religious rites would distort an outside observer's view).

Pretty much. Chalking it up to racism is silly. If you take a look at the link below, it doesn't take much for humans to revert to feral behavior, no matter what color you are.
http://www.feralchildren.com/en/children.php?tp=0

As for the movie, I'll likely end up renting it. I have no patience for the theater. More specifically, I have no patience for the other people in the theater. Talk about feral.

miklos rosza said...

Boy this just goes whoosh! right past me. Couldn't pay me to watch it. Utterly incurious about any aspect.

Marghlar said...

I don't understand why Peter Jackson gets so much critical love. I thought he needlesly butchered a well-crafted story in Lord of The Rings -- not by cutting it down, which was great, but by adding additional material which was nowhere in the books, and which was both badly written and boring. (Think Aragorns bizarre Lady of Shallot sequence...) I think he may have made one good movie in his carreer. Why does he get fawned over?

And now, he is remaking a not very good movie at great expense. And its going to be very long. But for some reason, many of my friends are excited to go see it. It's like Stockholm syndrome or something...

Ann: LOL re: snot as a signifier in modern movies. I personally can enjoy CGI sometimes -- it's bad and overrused CGI that I find to be a problem. Models need to be used to, for some shots, and directors forget that.

paulfrommpls said...

I somewhat agree on Jackson and LOTR. It's enjoyable, many of the characters are pretty accurate, but the way he cut the 1st book - the best book, even in Tolkien's estimation - managed to obliterate the sense of awesome distance and looming, gradually emerging evil on the edge of consciousness that made it so great.

In the book, the greatest vivid image (I believe) is the Black Riders glimpsed at a long distance in the Shire, and their eery wailing; in the movie, before you know it the hobbits are being trampled by a group of large draft horses.

Plus, it takes 'em about three days to make their way to Rivendell, which in the movie timeline makes it maybe five days after Bilbo's party, rendering the joyful reunion with Bilbo (which in the book would be 17 years later) somewhat bizarre.

He also made a couple really odd story changes in the first movie. In the book, the decision to try to get through the mines of Moria is Gandalf's. He's the on urging it, even though his confrere Aragorn understands the danger Gandalf in particular would face. In other words he's heroic.

In the movie, Gandalf doesn't wanna do it, he's terrifed; then the group turns the decision over to Frodo, who has no idea what he's talking about, and he says, screwing up his face into a simulacum of concentration, sure what the hell, let's try the mines. Gandalf says "oh crap" and heads off to meet his fate. I think I actually saw him bump Frodo peevisihly one time while brushing by him.

Pooh said...

Considering the discussion we had a few days ago concerning the upcoming Stone-9/11 movie I had a question. (linked due to light spoliers)

Basically, why is one more ok than the other? OK, aside from Peter Jackson being better than Oliver Stone.

Simon said...

Racism?

Uh...

It's an ape!!

It's not even a member of the human race!!

Mark said...

I saw it and loved it. A few things bothered me - such as them being able to run amid the thundering feet of a herd of brontosauruses without every single one of them being trampeled - but there were moments where my eyes were wide open at the spectacle and I thought Whoa! I've never seen that before! Several moments where I got a chill up my back, several moments where my eyes were watery. I loved the part at the end where Kong is on the Empire State Building...what a scene! Whew, I get a chill just thinking about it again.

And I loved it that the evil natives were allowed to be both black and evil with no redeeming characteristics at all. For once in the last forty years we were able to have a movie where black characters were bad guys and there didn't have to be some liberal b.s. where one of the saves the white person, or gives them sage advice, or something else. Now that is real equality - when black characters can be evil, period. (If the liberals had their way they probably would have made the natives a tribe of neo-nazi Eastern European thugs, like they do in all the espionage movies nowadays.)

A little more CGI than needed at times, but the great moments more than make up for that. Really an enjoyable time...and you get to see $200 million worth of movie for less than ten bucks. An astounding bargain.

ShadyCharacter said...

Pooh, I don't quite follow you. You're asking what is the difference between Stone making a film about the WTC attack and Jackson making a film wherein a Great Hairy Ape causes destruction in Manhattan.

It's the difference between aliens blowing up the white house in Independence Day (Fiction, even Science Fiction - like Kong) and some America hating conspiracy nut lauding the terrorists who killed 3000 innocent Americans, while casting Americans (an potentially the Israelis) as evil conspirators.

So to the questions, how is one better than the other, I'll say: Stone's film is likely to be at least an excercise in moral equivalency and at worst a pro-terrorist/anti-American/anti-Semitic conspiracy rant. In contrast, Kong is not.

Simon said...

"For once in the last forty years we were able to have a movie where black characters were bad guys and there didn't have to be some liberal b.s. where one of the saves the white person, or gives them sage advice, or something else."

Well, it's made by an Australian, isn't it? White guilt is something unique to America, so far as I know; people who don't live here, weren't raised here, or whose families emmigrated here long after the thirteenth amendment don't carry (or at least, feel) the burden of collective guilt for slavery. I feel bad that it took place, but I feel no sense of personal responsibility or guilt for it, because neither I nor any of my ancestors had anything to do with it.

Pooh said...

shady, if you assume "some America hating conspiracy nut lauding the terrorists who killed 3000 innocent Americans, while casting Americans (an potentially the Israelis) as evil conspirators." then the difference is clear. I was more responding to the not-specific-to-Olver Stone "we're not ready for a 9/11 movie" part.

RWB said...

Surprises me that some people would accuse others of racism because they draw a connection in their minds between a monstrous hairy ape and a black man.

I'm not going to see KONG, only because I just can't take seeing him get killed. Why would I volunteer for an experience that I know is going to leave me emotionally decimated? Memories of seeing the original are bad enough. Even the 70s remake broke me up. I can take seeing any number of humans killed, but great big lovable misunderstood Kong? I get teary-eyed just seeing the ads on TV!

Which reminds me - I think the real secret design of KING KONG may be to turn children against capitalists (they kidnap Kong to bring him back to America make money) and the American government (they riddle Kong with bullets and send him plummeting to the street).

Worked with me: I was liberal till my mid-twenties. (What if seeing this re-make changed me back?? SHUDDER)

Freeman Hunt said...

I was more responding to the not-specific-to-Olver Stone "we're not ready for a 9/11 movie" part.
Pooh, what do you mean? What does King Kong have to do with 9/11?

Bill Millan said...

I saw Kong and Narnia yesterday. Enjoyed them both. But see Narnia first. The CGI is outstanding. And the story is great.

Pooh said...

Freeman,

Nothing directly. The link I thought of was the 'commercialization' of mass destruction in New York City. I'M NOT SAYING THAT THEY ARE EQUIVALENT, I just thought it odd considering the dismay many expressed the other day at such an commercial use of 9/11 imagery. Again the images are not the same, but (spoiler)Kong does fall off of the Empire State Building(/spolier). Yes, one is obviously fiction and the other not (or maybe, with Stone directing, it is...) Maybe I'm just being hypesensitive to 9/11 resonance myself.

Of course, I'm probably just thinking way too much over what amounts to an exceptionally well-done popcorn flick and should leave the intellectualizing to others.

chuck b. said...

"Festooned with strings of mucus."

Mmm. Good times.

Anthony said...

I have much difficulty sitting through a lot of current movies with significant CGI anymore. Not that most of the CGI is particularly "bad", but it goes to the general trend over the last several years of blatantly defying the laws of physics.

This really hit home to me when various reviewers were raving over how wonderful the stunts were in "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon". One thought they really looked like they were jumping through the trees. No, they looked like actors on wires pretending to jump through trees. I blame The Matrix for this, but not the film itself since that one took place in a virtual world where physics need not apply. Thank heaven for Mike Myers in Goldmember when he had Fat Bastard yelling to see if his wire-fighting crew were ready.

The weightless CGI characters are especially annoying, probably as irritating as the old stop-motion effects. Those were obviously too jerky and restricted by the actual physics of the physical models to be very realistic; the current CGI characters have the exact opposite problem. No, something that massive just can't move like that.

I saw CGI Yoda from the current Star Wars movies referred to as Superball Yoda due to his proclivity to bounce around off of walls and ceilings and such. This doesn't sound that much different.

Oddly, I rather liked Jackson's use of it in the LOTR movies. For the most part, those creatures moved rather convincingly for their mass. OTOH, the bit that ruined it for me (also in the final Star Wars) was their utter abandonment of thermal physics in the lava scenes near the end of both. Err, ever heard of radiant heat? Yes, sitting on a little nub of rock surrounded by molten magma is not just like sitting next to a bubbling brook. You.Would.Be.Fried.

Enough ranting. I'll probably wait for the DVD.

Freeman Hunt said...

No, they looked like actors on wires pretending to jump through trees. I blame The Matrix for this, but not the film itself since that one took place in a virtual world where physics need not apply.

"Wire fu" was around well before The Matrix. Watch more Hong Kong movies with "wire fu" in them. That's where the creators of The Matrix got it. I recommend Once Upon a Time in China.

zerlesen said...

Well, it's made by an Australian, isn't it?

Well, a New Zealander, I think. (Not to nitpick, but it's a meaningful distinction down here.)

White guilt is something unique to America, so far as I know...

No, it isn't. White guilt over slavery in the US is US-specific, but other countries certainly have their own share of historical issues to contend with.

Pancho said...

Give the big ape a break! After all he succumbs in the end. [ooops didn't mean to give the ending away].

Jacob said...

"I don't understand why Peter Jackson gets so much critical love. I thought he needlesly butchered a well-crafted story in Lord of The Rings -- not by cutting it down, which was great, but by adding additional material which was nowhere in the books, and which was both badly written and boring."
I thought I was the only one who thought this. :)

"You mean Kong dies at the end? Gee, swbarn, thanks a lot for ruining the movie for me!"
Penny-Arcade did a funny riff on this

Mark said...

Saw it tonight...I give it a 9.3 out of 10; overly long, Adrien Brody is wasted, hits the emotional buttons a bit too much - but still, what was good wasn't good, it was great, and the second act was perfect...

Craig Ranapia said...

Um, for all the whining about the CGI in the trailers - Peter Jackson himself has already done it at mind-crushingly tedious length. He wasn't happy with it, but he was contractually required to deliver the trailers to Universal by a certain date. Even The Mighty Kong gets his arse kicked by Hype-zilla in the marketing department.

And, to be perfectly blunt, I don't care how good the CGI is. Very few film justify a three hour plus running time, and Peter Jackson hasn't made any of them.

Finally, I'll answer the question "Is Kong racist?" with another question: Can the culture wars get any more stupid? Methinks there's a few film critics who've been getting rancid butter on the popcorn.

Finn Kristiansen said...
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Finn Kristiansen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Finn Kristiansen said...

Mark:

For once in the last forty years we were able to have a movie where black characters were bad guys and there didn't have to be some liberal b.s. where one of the saves the white person, or gives them sage advice, or something else. Now that is real equality - when black characters can be evil, period.


Darn right Mark. If only we could go back to around 1930, when black people were really evil.

But no evil black people in films since 1965?

Hmmmm. Despite your "must be accurate and not totally delusional statement", the roles we are given, and what we are permitted to do have not been, on the whole, too great. Yes, perhaps we are not purely "bad" as in Hitler or Saddam bad, but we don't really get to be normal or the hero either.

We are allowed to be any number of other things: drug dealers, hoods, criminals of all kinds, pimps, happy sidekicks, angry sidekicks, rapists, unwed mothers, crack whores, hitmen, buffoons.

Rarely do we get to be businessmen, scientists, sexual leading men, non-angry heroes, non-funny heroes, cerebral leading men.

We don't get to eat Chinese with George and Jerry, or sip coffee at Central Perk. (Indeed the character on King of Queens is practically the only well adjusted black on tv, neither virtuous or goofy, or the center of the joke, albeit, still a sidekick).

Sometimes Blackey wins Oscars when she is bold enough to do a movie naked and let Billy Bob do her from behind. Sometimes Blackey falls for Giovanni Ribisi in the boiler room, instead of hunky Vin Diesel, proving that any Whitey male can get the hottest Blackey female.

Often, while saving Whitey's ass Blackey has to be funny (Beverly Hills Cop)...and really Mark, how often does Blackey ever save Whitey's bum? (Yea name the movies). Whole movies on Africa have been done with Whitey at the center of Blackey's story. Also, in those films where Blackey is helping Whitey, he never, ever gets laid, though Blackey may help Whitey get laid (despite Whitey being a 40 year old virgin).

Sometimes Blackey gets to even lead in a film, and star with Julia Roberts, but Blackey is usually too involved in solving the mystery to notice a hot chick in same film ("Julia, what are you doing in this film with me. My what big lips you have!)

Sometimes Blackey is evil (like in Pulp Fiction), and Whitey comes along and literally saves his ass. Like literally! Thank you Bruce Willis! For what? For saving ass, and literally! (Review the film).

Mark, as you mention, often Blackey has to give wise advice while driving Ms.Daisy, or while helping "the One" (yea, Blakey trusts Keanu to save humanity) or while doing anything that Woopie does in her serious roles (Woopie being a wise maid- housekeeper-mother to your annoying motherless child or helping people to do pottery, talk to ghosts and get laid).

Sometimes Blackey gets annoyed at this, but that's all that Whitey writes. (Cause Whitey does not hire Blackey for non-"Blackey" script work).

Blackey often has to be funny or angry, but nothing in between, unless Blackey is Denzel, in which case, he can be or do whatever, at slightly less pay than Whitey gets to be or do whatever.

Sometimes Blackey appears in movies, but disguised. Like in any Disney cartoon, Blackey is a crow, or a donkey. "You don't seeeee me, but here I am, being funny and with an accent, and also, of course, side-kicking it yo!"

Sometimes a gorilla is a gorilla, but sometimes, Blackey wonders about Whitey's fascination with gorillas, and has been called gorilla. Sometimes Blackey remembers history, but realizes that history cannot possibly affect today's Whitey, and that Whitey would surely not bat an eyelash if Blackey appeared at the doorstep to marry Whitey's daughter, or just bang her.

This might be crazy, but I think that in the last 40 years Blackey has been more evil than Mark's vision allows him to see, although I would agree that there should be more "naked dark skinned people in the forest being evil" roles to restore equity in how races are represented. (Okay, not really).

LoafingOaf said...

You're attacking a movie before you see it. That's just silly.

My recommendation is you should go see another movie instead. If you'd only walk in at the halfway mark, and you already dislike it before seeing it, it's not like the movie stands much of a chance in pleasing you. Go see a movie you want to see and post your review on it after you've actually seen it.

Ann Althouse said...

Loafing Oaf: "Go see a movie you want to see and post your review on it after you've actually seen it."

You think it's silly to try to figure out in advance if you're going to like a movie? How else could one be a competent moviegoer? There are hundreds of movies. I need to judge in advance. Or do you just think it's wrong to blog about it? I'm not "posting a review." I'm blogging, which means I can write about my thoughts however I see fit. I try to make it interesting for myself and for readers. Dutifully seeing movies and reviewing them -- why would that be better? Because I ought to be fair to the guys who make movies? They don't deserve fairness! They try to con us into going to see junk that we end up not liking -- and they get our money all the time for that.

AMB said...

Wow. All this over a big ape.

I actually saw the movie last night. Naomi Watts is great. Kong is great, more so in close ups (though not nose only close ups) with Ms. Watts.

The movie is too long...far too many creatures attacking everyone on the island. We could have cut an hour out, easily.

But, I do recommend the movie. I did not get so emotional that I cried (as some reviewers have talked about), but I found the interactions between Ms. Watts and Kong well done.

By the way, I've heard some discuss how gross it was...a cross species love affair? Yea, that would be the case if it was a sexual love affair, I suppose, but I viewed the love between Ann and Kong kind of like that between a dog and a human.

Yes, the dog is just a dog, but as any dog owner knows, the dog is much more than just an animal. The dog loves you and you love the dog back (you cat people wouldn't understand).

So, Ann, see Kong, but skip the first half.

Freeman Hunt said...

Finn, I get your point, but I think it's a bit too sweeping. You seem to forget people like this, this, this, this, this, and others who have played strong leading roles portraying admirable characters.

Freeman Hunt said...

And one other point: A great number (maybe most?) of leading roles in general are angry, non-cerebral, non-sexual, and/or funny. Think, for example, of just about every cop drama starring a white guy: pissed off, cracking one-liners, and doesn't have time to get laid because he's hunting down bad guys.