I’ve seen the various prior versions of King Kong several times. I saw both the early version and the seventies’ remake in theaters (this was back in the olden days, kids, when pretty much the only place to see a good movie was in a theater, either a first-run house or a “revival” or “art” theater). The boys loved their videotape of the original (I’m not sure whether they’ve seen the second version), so I know the plot pretty well.
In short, there’s no plausible reason for me to have been startled by how much of this movie played against my (increasing, with the years) fear of cliffs, skyscrapers, steep escalators, and generally precipitous heights. All I could think on my way out of the cineplex was, “I could have told him that nothing good would come of playing on skyscrapers.”
As my adrenalin-fueled state of vertigo has subsided, I detect mixed feelings about Peter Jackson’s remake of a canonical work. I admire the intense mutuality that he brought to the relationship between Ann Darrow and Kong (I don’t think one needs to parse it into tidy distinctions of “true [humanoid] love” or “sympathy for noble animal” or “subtextually sexual attraction” or whatever — the ambiguity worked perfectly for me). Naomi Watts’s Darros and Andy Serkis’s Kong made a great screen couple, and I make no apologies nor mean any joke in saying so. Serkis, with the aid of superb computer graphics effects, played Kong wonderfully. I found the cinematic effects captivating. Jackson ably filled in backstory for the human characters, who in the early version were painfully wooden.
At the same time, some of Jackson’s sequences would have affected me even more with greater cinematic economy. Trim a few minutes off the “search” sequence, a few off the “lost giant spider” sequence, a few off the chase through Manhattan streets, a few off the Empire State sequence, and the movie as a whole benefits. Some of his backstory for characters played too prominent a role in the finished film to be left unresolved; the Jimmy/Hayes/Englehorn characters on board the Venture disappear altogether once Kong reaches New York — all the emotional interest we’ve vested in these figures goes for naught. And Jackson plays with his audience’s suspension of disbelief with a liberty that undercuts any serious undertones with which he might want to imbue his story. (When we started citing plot problems ove dinner, Nate appositely pointed out that any movie that represents native humans, a solitary giant gorilla, and dinosaurs from various eras all living on an unknown island already necessarily has given over its claims to verisimilitude, so we should just relax about, for instance, the carnivorous bats that seem to live in Kong’s cave, but only attack Kong once Jack Driscoll intrudes on the Kong/Darrow couple’s privacy. I taker Nate’s point, but tend to suppose that a director who asks so much of an audience should treat with all the more respect the trust on which he’s gambling).
It’s a magnificent picture, and time may cast the excesses as endearing hallmarks of a directorial film geek’s love for a great movie. On first viewing, though, they struck me as a missed opportunity.
Plus, all that jumping around on the edges of cliffs, on tall buildings, made me burrow into my chair so intently that if I ever return to that particular viewing room, I’ll be able to find a seat with my contours permanently embedded into it. I practically walked home on all fours to avoid falling off the sidewalk.