Long and Mostly Entertaining

The Peter Jackson remake of King Kong is what the Onion would call a “least essential” movie. It is entertaining, generally quite well-done, and entirely pointless. As I understand it, the original was a mixture of completely ridiculous hoke and occasional moments that achieved a resonance transcending camp. The remake offers the same loving tribute to both.

Some parts are pure popcorn fun. Kong has an extended fight with some dinosaurs that goes well beyond what the normal action blockbuster delivers. Kong is convincingly monkeyesque; the acting is generally top-shelf. These parts aren’t just good for their type; they actually are good.

Even more than that, some parts are genuinely memorable. The buildup to and arrival at Skull Island is truly creepy. Little bits of horror-director flair that showed up here and there in the Lord of the Rings movies get full treatment here. I enjoy unsettling movie-making but have limited patience for the feeling; I also very much dislike pure horror. King Kong gets the balance right—most of the time.

The problem is that these entertaining and more-than-entertaining parts are embedded in too much movie. Getting it down from three hours to two and a half would have been trivial. You’d have had pretty much the same movie, only without the lugubriousness. Reaching two hours would have involved some painful choices and would have produced a movie with a quite different overall sense, but wouldn’t have been entirely outside the realm of possibility.

Everyone has mentioned the stereotypical token kid and the stereotypical token black guy. You could do a Phantom Edit on their dialogue without affecting the rest of the movie at all. They’d both be stronger characters for it. The worm pit was too much and lingered far too long on the gruesome. (The only way I’ve been able to deal with one particularly unpleasant image is to think to myself, “flobberworms.”) Each and every of the action sequences had redundant subsections. There’s not really a need to show people running and being chased by someting N times, when N - 1 or N - 2 or maybe even N/2 times would do.

And oh, those long sequences of shots of people looking at stuff. I swear, when the ship runs aground, we get an individual five-second shot of every single person on board looking out into the mist in awe and fear. Once Kong enters the picture and the interspecies bonding picks up, it’s endless. Kong looks at Ann. Ann looks at Kong. Kong looks at Ann. Ann looks at Kong. Naomi Watts and the Andy Serkis-Weta Digital team are good, but not so good that they can carry this stuff that long without dialogue. I don’t know that anyone could.

Also, watching a movie such as this with a bunch of medical students is an interesting experience. The anatomy chatter was almost nonstop, especially for a movie with this many skulls. Also, falling from the top of the Empire State Building should have splattered any living creature that large, Ann Darrow must have no pain or temperature nerve fibers, and one of our company thought that she saw testicles on the dinosaurs. For my part, I noted that after Kong’s rampage, Carl Denham is going to be facing some pretty serious tort liabilty.