Sunday, April 30, 2006

Jackson bollocks

So I finally see King Kong, albeit on a DVD. (I have a kickarse home theatre system, and given that Kong is long, nearly three hours, my recliner at least doesn't give you numbbum.)
It begins entrancingly, with Depression-era New York summoned up in lavish scenes of deprivation, and Naomi Watts being a brave little trouper off Broadway who queues at soup kitchens for her dinner. Indeed, her fortuitous meeting with Jack Black as the grandiloquent bullshitter and movie director (same thing?) Carl Denham convinces me I am in for a tale well told and I snuggle down happily. But this euphoria is to be crushed before the hour is out as the Ringmaster hurls wave after wave of CGI at the viewer, seemingly having conceived of a three-hour movie in advance and having to use great wodges of dinosaur filler to eke it out.

It follows the bare outline of the original Kong movie, and Naomi Watts copes exceptionally well to simulate falling in love with greenscreen. But it isn't a coherent movie, it's a few sparsely linked action sequences:

1, The tramp steamer falling foul of the glistening black rocks of Skull Island and the locals, a cross between voodoo shamans and refugees from Michael Jackson's Thriller (hmm, Jackson).

2. The encounter of the brave little trouper and Kong, who subsequently run off together. He's
a lovable bastard type, well rendered by Andy Serkis, who has grown a lot since being Gollum.

3. The dinosaur hoohaa, which is where I finally subsided into resentful endurance mode. It is not being believable even in the context of fantasy, with human beings running between the treetrunk legs of stampeding saurians yet somehow not all being squished. Or a man being cleansed of giant cockroaches by machine-gun fire without catching a few bullets.

4 The capture of Kong. I started laughing when the first bottle of chloroform was hurled. I doubt it woult take just three pints to KO a 25-foot ape, even if he inhaled all of it. Another sequence without credibility.

5. The escape of Kong and the trashing of New York as he is reunited with his very durable beloved. The biplane attack on the top of the Empire State building is clearly all model stuff. Thank God, the big lug finally succumbs to lead poisoning. Naomi swiftly gets together with playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), who is remarkably sanguine about being picked up by a girl on the rebound from a giant simian.

All things considered, I found this more disappointing even than Lord of the Rings, which was based on some fairly crappy novels and never rose above the material. It fell way short of the savage innocence of the original King Kong, which I am fond of.

CGI has a place in films, but I think the capacity of the audience to suspend disbelief has long been exceeded. No matter how lavishly it is used, it cannot hide the paucity of story and character, and the law of diminishing returns is now being applied; Kong's box office fell well short of projections, and there's a message there. Of course, DVD sales will put a better face on the figures, but the fact is that the film cost $207m to make (and would have cost about $100m to market). It has grossed $218m in North America in a total of $519m worldwide (latest available). Spider-Man, in contrast, cost an estimated $139m to make (add $80m for marketing) and took $115m opening weekend alone, going on to gross $403m in North America and $827m worldwide (all 2002 figures). Even allowing for inflation, there's only one dog in that fight.

But will Hollywood learn? Not if the trailer stuff for Mission Impossible III is anything to go by. $150m shelled out so far (marketing, I'd guess another $100m). Expect this to be front-end loaded (huge number of theatres, maximum opening weekend push). And then we'll see -- well, those of us who enjoy watching Hollywood throw its money in the air and dance around trying to catch it, that is.

2 Comments:

Blogger First Nations said...

cgi should be used sparingly, with taste and subtlety. it completely ruined lotr for me-namely, the scene where the ents attack. never went back after the first one.
(but the books were BRILLIANT! theyweretheyweretheyweretheywere. so there!)

4:13 PM  
Blogger DavetheF said...

To each his/her own. I didn't take to that whole Middle Earth thing and his prose is etiolated. Sorry!

8:09 PM  

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