Thursday, December 29, 2005

King Kong As A Dirty Old Man

During the Xmas holidays, I and some of my relatives went to the cinema. My sister and her hubby went to see Disney's NARNIA movie, while me and my old mother went to see Peter Jackson's KING KONG remake.

Mom walked out halfway through KING KONG, saying out loud: "This is ridiculous."
(That was a bad sign. Normally she loves science fiction films.)

When the heroine started climbing after Kong up the skyscraper, I was tempted to walk out, too.

And just before Kong fell off the skyscraper, when Kong and the heroine exchanged looooooong teary-eyed looks, I thought: "If they start French-kissing, I'm OUTTA here." But, having paid good money (and being a cheapskate) I stayed through the entire film. It didn't improve.

Why does this remake fail as a coherent piece of storytelling? The easy answer is, it's too badly pieced together, overlong, and full of inconsistencies. (For example, how did the natives suddenly disappear from Skull Island?)

But personally, I reacted most strongly to the significance of making Kong an old, aging gorilla instead of a monster-as-primal-force-of-nature. Briefly put, Peter Jackson's KING KONG is a "Horny Old Man" plot.

Look: here you've got this hot young thing visibly and explicitly falling in love with a grumpy, scarred old gorilla with a human personality. This is a completely different Kong from the 1933 and 1976 versions. Both previous versions made Kong a beast in his prime, a larger-than-life figure.

Also, in Jackson's version, the young heroine is more in love with than she's sensibly afraid of a giant hungry monster who might kill her just as well as play with her.

In other words, when you ask yourself "What's it all about?" you think "It's about an ugly old man needing the love of a much younger and prettier person, and how to make this seem noble, romantic and rebellious - despite the fact that it's so overwrought, self-righteous and downright perverse."

It's the kind of plot that Bernardo Bertolucci did in LAST TANGO IN PARIS, or perhaps Thomas Mann with DEATH IN VENICE.
I loathe "Horny Old Man" plots! They pander to dirty old men, and I'm not one.

Also, the ending of Jackson's KING KONG is a big stinking lie. It wasn't "Beauty killed the Beast" in this version. It's the director Carl Denham - a metaphor for the director of KING KONG if there ever was one - who, against the forceful protests of the heroine, captured Kong and brought him to New York. And yet he says "It was Beauty killed the Beast" and we're supposed to believe it. I didn't.

So what went wrong?

Well, it appears the scriptwriters and the director got confused about what their story is "about"... and precisely for that reason, because they didn't really know the meaning of the story they wanted to tell, it turned into a "Horny Old Man" story. How exactly this came to pass is beyond me (Peter Jackson isn't that old) ... but maybe they took the "Kong" character too literally - he's supposed to be a monster, not a real person.

And what are monsters? Emblems of fear and guilt...
When you miss the point of a metaphor and interpret it literally - "he's this big gorilla, and there's just one of him, so logically he must be old and lonely"- you get fundamentalism, shallowness and ultimately stupidity.

Now go see the original version. It makes more sense - and it's less racist, too. Yes, it's true. Watch that scene in the 1933 version, where the Skull Island natives and Denham's expedition work together to block the gate that keeps Kong out. It shows, without the need for lofty speeches, that the natives and the "whites" are in the same boat.

But in Jackson's version, the natives are monsters - mindless, vicious murderers, totally without redeeming features, barely human - and so Jackson tacks on an idiotic, phony "message" bit just at the end, and thinks he's taken a stand against racism.

(Yeah, it's the scene where a bystander says Kong pointlessly climbed the tower because he was one of those dumb animals who can't think... while a single African-American man walks past to imply that the bystander is "really" talking about him. The pot calling the kettle black, eh, Mr. Jackson?)
Lucius Shepard has a very good (negative) review of the film here:
"Everybody Loves-a Da Big Monkey"


Anonymous said...

I've watched all 3 different versions of the King Kong films. I think each were good in their own ways.

A.R.Yngve said...

The 2005 version has very good special effects, I'll give'em that. But FX alone does not a good story make.

Ancrene Wiseass said...

I absolutely agree with everything you've said here. This one's a stinker.

It's got some good points, but not nearly enough to outweigh the bad. And it's just plain nonsensical. It's as if Jackson and Co. didn't have the guts to do a really thorough revision, so they kinda did a half-assed one. The result is a film which is potentially *MORE* offensive than the 1933 original and which makes little, if any, sense.

Jo said...

I totally agree with you, couldn't have said it better myself.

A.R.Yngve said...

And on the site, K.C.Sierra points out a huge stonking plot hole:

"The New York scenes take place in winter, on a day cold enough for the lake in Central Park to freeze hard enough to hold Kong's weight. Despite this, Anne Darrow shows no hint of cold or discomfort, despite wearing a sleeveless gown. Kong takes her to the top of the Empire State Building, where it's even colder. Still no discomfort. In fact, she's able to climb a metal ladder, which should have frozen her poor little fingers off.

"By the time Driscoll reached her, Darrow should have been a block of ice. The effects of adrenaline would never have lasted to keep Anne warm for that long. "