King Kong, American Idiot

by J.D. Roth

Will and I saw King Kong yesterday. It sucked. The biggest thing on the screen wasn’t the twenty-five foot ape, but Peter Jackson’s ego. The trip wasn’t a complete loss: Will introduced me to a fantastic remix of Green Day’s American Idiot; and, of course, we walked out of the theater to a world shrouded in snow.

First things first: I don’t know what kind of kool-aid you people are drinking, but Peter Jackson’s exercises in digital masturbation are not quality filmmaking. My complaints about his bastardization of Tolkien are well-documented; now he’s decided to “improve” a cinematic classic.

How does Jackson go about “improving” his source material? He changes things that don’t need to be changed. He adds subplots that contribute nothing to the film. (In King Kong, there are scads. My favorite: the wizened black man who serves as a sort of mentor to the young white sailor. What the hell? Why is this in the film?) He throws as many digital images on the screen as possible. He s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s running times to the breaking point. He discards reason for spectacle.

Many critics and viewers have complained about how bloated this film is. I watched the original King Kong last Tuesday, and it, too, owns a similar structure. In the original, it takes forty-five minutes for Kong to appear, then there are forty minutes racing around the island fighting dinosaurs, and finally there are nineteen minutes during which the ape rampages through New York. In the original, the first forty-five minutes seemed overlong, but that’s nothing compared to Jackson’s re-imagining. God, the first act drags as he tosses in subplot after subplot, “money shot” after “money shot”. I didn’t time it, but I’d guess it takes seventy-five minutes before Kong appears on screen, after which there are about six hours of running around the island (though it feels like sixteen), followed by half an hour in New York.

Here’s a scene that sums up my frustration with the film: Kong has stolen Ann Darrow and taken her deep into the jungle of Skull Island. Our heroes are in pursuit. When they stop to rest in a narrow canyon, they are startled by a stampede of brontosauri. Not one, not two, not three, but a dozen (or more!) brontosauri come flailing down the canyon pursued by a few small ambiguously carnivorous dinosaurs. The next five minutes are a dizzying mess of visual effects: flailing brontosaurus legs, snarling meatasaurus teeth, falling rocks, etc. As our heroes race along beneath the mammoth creatures, avoiding death by inches again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again, the viewer grows numb and disinterested.

“Suspend your disbelief!” you will cry. Hey — I suspend my disbelief all the time. (My main hobby is collecting comic books, for god’s sake.) I have no trouble buying into the universes imagined by competent creators. I can suspend my disbelief on a macro-level, and for a few times per story on a micro-level. (Meaning I can buy a few hairs-breadth escapes or violations of physics, etc.) However, when a story asks me to suspend my disbelief on a micro-level several hundreds times an hour, it loses me. I can’t do it.

As with the Lord of the Rings films, King Kong has garnered fair praise. Why? I have no idea. I didn’t understand it for the Rings films, and I don’t understand it now. These are not good movies. (The Rings films aren’t necessarily bad; Kong is.) Despite the critics, it seems King Kong may not do well at the box office. “Wednesday and Thursday were slower than any of us expected,” a studio executive has said. (Another article here.)

King Kong is major suckage.

I was shocked — shocked! — by how many people had their cell phones on during the movie. When did this become acceptable? Little shiny screens popped up all around the theater. Worse, I heard at least six phones ring. Worst of all, the woman next to us actually answered her phone and carried on a conversation. This is deplorable. Fortunately, she and her husband left. I suspect that most of the calls were related to the early arrival of our little storm.

It’s been cold and dry for the past ten days. A wet weather system finally moved in yesterday afternoon, arriving a few hours early. We walked out of the theater to a about half an inch of snow. It was fun to watch how pleased everyone was by the stuff: kids threw snowballs at each other; one man slid around the parking lot, using his shoes as skates. A father led his daughter out of the theater, holding his hands over her eyes. “Don’t peek,” he told her. “Keep walking. Now look!” She opened her eyes and gasped in delight.

Will and I sat in his car, shivering, as we waited for all the high-tech heating devices to kick in. Gradually the seats got warm, and then hot. The snow on the windshield melted away, succumbing to a network of heated wires. While we waited, we listened to American Edit, which is a mind-blowing full-length remix of Green Day’s American Idiot album (which you’ll remember was my favorite CD of 2004).

King Kong may have sucked, but the rest of the outing was good.

Updated: 19 December 2005

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