Lowdown: An entertaining special effects laden flop.
Watching Peter Jackson’s King Kong made me think of this theory I have recently read about, attempting to explain why more men than women achieve the highest echelons of the academic world. The theory’s starting point is that men are different to women, and I fully concur: even though making such a statement could easily get you tagged as a chauvinist, it is obvious to me that women are way better looking than men. The theory further goes to say that due to evolutionary causes, women have higher intelligence than men on average, but the standard deviation of men’s intelligence is higher. The implication of this higher standard deviation is that while there are many more males that are complete morons, there are also the very few that are stupidly smart and therefore have more of a chance at securing the top spot at Harvard.
This theory doesn’t have much to do with King Kong, but its lesson about standard deviation does. Standard deviation is the factor I would use to explain the most interesting question posed by King Kong, which is this: How can a director fresh on the success of the incredibly good Lord of the Rings trilogy come up with such a flop?
Not that the phenomena is uniquely Peter Jackson related. He is in the good company of plenty other directors that seem to be capable of manufacturing masterpieces countered with duds. Take Ridley Scott, for example: Next to the brilliance of Blade Runner and several others he also directed the average (1492) and the flop (Hannibal). My point is this: If you want the utter brilliant, you should be prepared to take some of the crap that comes along with it. I therefore fully forget Jackson for King Kong, a film that feels more like the indulgence of a digital special effects specialist than a proper coherent work of art.
OK, now that my opinion on King Kong is well established, it is up to me to explain why I consider it a flop. Well, first and foremost, King Kong is a rather tedious affair. At approximately three hours of length, it takes its time introducing the human characters in a recession inflicted New York. It takes us about an hour to get to know Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody, and even then we are not really in a position to say we know them. On its own, that’s fine; Titanic has done the exact same thing. The difference is that Titanic works while Kong flops; everything feels tedious, too contrived, and rather uninvolving.
Then comes the second act in which our characters stumble upon the island on which Kong lives. Only half way through the film do we first catch a proper glimpse of the title hero himself, and shortly afterwards we learn that he is the king of an island stuck with a Jurassic like environment. Don’t ask me how a human can share a habitat with a T-Rex and survive, but the main point of this middle part of the film has nothing to do with logic and all to do with unleashing a tremendous concentration of special effects upon the viewer in what seems to be yet another Jurassic Park sequel. One scary monster encounter follows another as the plot staggers along; sure, it’s entertaining and you won’t feel bored, but it’s also meaningless. Amongst the superb special effects are a few that are an insult to the eye; I’m pretty sick of films’ over reliance on CGI.
Then we get to the third act which involves the captured Kong running amok through the streets of New York and the famous climax at the top of the Empire State Building. Slight reliability issues aside (how can Brody get all the way to the top of the tower without waiting hours in the queue or without handing over a small fortune to the greedy building?), that is probably the best made part of the film. It still leaves too many questions unanswered, though.
Chief of those questions is Jack Black: Just what did Jackson see in this guy when he cast him to a lead on such an expensive flick? Black is one of those cases where I can confidently say even I might do a better job. His arid performance in The Holiday was already mentioned, but Kong eclipses it by far. On the other hand, Watts, who as I have repeatedly stated is a very talented actor and one of the best female leads around, seems to have had an obvious hard time acting against the blankness of the blue screen. The attempt to act through facial expressions, as would be required when addressing a “dumb” animal (I’m not talking about Black now) simply fails to cut the mustard.
Best scene: Kong and Watts go ice skating on a frozen Central Park lake. More originality along these lines is exactly the type of ingredient King Kong is missing so badly.
Picture quality: Very good, technically speaking. However, Jackson has a tendency to wash different scenes with certain specific colors, thus rendering a very unnatural look to many of them. For example, New York looks too yellow – people and faces included, while the angry sea looks navy blue. It’s just that I think it’s too much for the film’s own good; again, it feels like the case of a child who had been given with too many toys for their own good.
Sound quality: We had to watch this one at a low volume, but it felt like it had the potential to be truly awesome had we watched it properly.
Overall: You might ask why I bothered watching Kong on DVD after watching it at the cinemas before. The answer is simple: Walking around town, I saw enough King Kong Blu-ray demonstrations to make me think about giving it another go.
Kong deserves it: it is entertaining. It is, however, not even half as good as Lord of the Rings. I’ll be very generous and hand it 3 out of 5 stars.