A Resounding Thud

Quick review of Peter Jackson’s new King Kong movie: for God’s sake, somebody introduce this guy to a competent film editor and screenwriter.

Longer version (although not nearly as long as the movie): It’s not very good. Jackson is an incredibly gifted production designer and producer; he has to be to get movies of this scope made at all, but the sad truth is, he’s not a great director. The images are beautiful, but the story, which was stretched thin in the original’s 100 minutes, just can’t hold up to the three-hour torture test.

This “King Kong” is a monument to self-indulgence on Jackson’s part. He and his creative partners weren’t able to ruin “The Lord Of The Rings” with sophomoric screenwriting (although they gave it a hell of a try), but lacking Tolkien to fall back on, every story seam shows in “King Kong.” Making things worse, Jackson falls back on the lazy director’s crutch of slow motion about two dozen too many times in this badly-paced film. There are plenty of sequences to increase the heart rate in “Kong,” but the ‘serious’ scenes are deadly dull, and extended to painful lengths.

Remember the end of “Return of the King,” when it didn’t seem like the damn movie would ever be over? It’s ten times worse here. Not far from me in the theater, somebody said (quietly), “Just fall off the damn building already,” and the big ape lasted another ten minutes after that. I’m not exaggerating by saying that you could cut out an hour from the 180 minute marathon of “King Kong,” and not only wouldn’t the audience miss it, you’d make the movie immensely more entertaining.

Much of the acting is bad (yes, Jack Black, I’m talking to you), and while the big set-piece effects sequences are indeed eye-popping, we’ve already seen most of them before in various “Jurassic Park” features. Certainly, the monsters and scenery are tremendous visually. Jackson’s digital artists are at the top of their game… but like those employed by George Lucas, they’re laboring to pretty up a script written by hacks, and for a director to whom nobody has the power (or nerve) to say, “This is a really weak scene.”

Eh, that’s enough. There’s no point in going on for hundreds of words here. Like I said, it’s just not a very good movie. Rent it for the pretty pictures, but get ready to use that “skip” button early and often.

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36 Responses to “A Resounding Thud”

  1. Ed Driscoll.com Says:

    Beauty Didn’t Kill This Beast!

    Will Collier of VodkaPundit, who presumably, should be one of King Kong’s biggest fans, just buries the film:Quick review of Peter Jackson’s new King Kong movie: for God’s sake, somebody introduce this guy to a competent film editor and screenwriter….

  2. Pursuit Says:

    Dude,

    The commercials give away the over indulgence and cheesy special effects. Good Lord, I expected to hear that Elvis shows up somewhere!

  3. Lileks Says:

    As long as it doesn’t end with little monkeys jumping in bed, it’s not as bad as the last third of LOTR.

  4. Peder Says:

    Thank you thank you thank you for helping me miss this movie. And I couldn’t agree more about the end of Return of the King. I wanted to stand up and shout “Roll credits, damn you!”.

  5. Ed Driscoll Says:

    I’m sure I’ll see the new Kong (why does that sound like New Coke to me?) eventually. But in the meantime, I’ll happily stick with Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong in the new DVD package, which I still haven’t worked my way through, other than the film itself.

  6. Lou Minatti Says:

    You saw a different movie. I think you stumbled into Bareback Mountain by mistake.

    King Kong is a great movie, even though I didn’t buy a fugly Adrian Brody gnoshing on a fabulous babe like Naomi Watts.

  7. hey Says:

    the numbers bore this out… everyone sniffed it as a stinker, though $50M is still not bad for the weekend, or 66M since Wed.

    I loved Return of the King. It’s playing on my cable fairly frequently, and this way I can just switch the channel when I feel like it, rather than being forced to watch the 15 endings like I was in the theater. I thought my but was going to fall off when I saw it when it came off.

    Peter Jackson is way too successful for his own good. He needs to have a director and a producer above him that can make things flow better and faster. Now granted ROTK had 15 endings as a book, so you the story ended and you still had 200 pages to slog through, but he was responsible for editing things down, and since he took out the harrowing of the shire (aka the only action in the last 9 hours of the movie) he could have axed most of the rest, or done a montage, MONTAGE!

  8. Joshua Says:

    When the LOTR trilogy came out on DVD it had special extended versions. I wonder if Jackson will take the hint and go the opposite route with King Kong (i.e. edit the movie down further for the DVD release). I also wonder if that hint won’t just be coming from filmgoers voting with their feet, but also from studio execs who’d like to recoup as much of their investment in this movie as they can through DVD sales.

  9. richard mcenroe Says:

    I’ll probably just go see it out of solidarnosc with the oppressed apes of the third world, but I’m perfectly prepared for it to be not a patch on its old man, as Carl Denham says in Son of Kong.

  10. doug quarnstrom Says:

    Haven’t seen it yet, but if I calibrate to your praise of the wretched star wars film, perhaps I really should avoid this one. Too bad really, becuase I was excited…

  11. Kevin Says:

    Jackson’s style reminds me of late 80s & early ’90s comic artists who wanted to turn a 23 page book into one continuous splash page. Result: the story goes nowhere fast, fans leave the books despite the pretty pictures. Maybe this is an indicator of why the original Kong played so well despite the lack of Jackson’s beloved spider scene – maybe it wasn’t cut for technical reasons, but to keep the pace of the movie going. One can all but guarantee, however, that Jackson has another, oh, 45 minutes of unused film in the can for the Extended Director’s Edition. Joshua’s hint won’t be taken because Hollywood assumes we want to see everything. I don’t. Jaws still plays great despite the fact that Spielberg could add in a CGI shark for those scenes he planned on using the robotic shark. Why? Because it made a better movie. Less is more, sometimes. Oh, and Jackson’s great battle scene at Helm’s Deep? Lifted almost verbatim from Army of Darkness.

  12. Pat Patterson Says:

    There was a steam-powered car in Two Towers?

  13. physics geek Says:

    I respectfully disagree with your assessment of King King. Yes, it did drag at times, especially during the drawn out combat sequences. But I thought it was very well done. I also laughed out loud at the little homage to the original King Kong:

    Carl Denham: Fay! Fay! What about Fay? She would be perfect!
    Preston: She’s already filming something for RKO.

    I think that I was the only person in the theater who knew that RKO Radio pictures produced the first King Kong, starring Fay(Wray).

    I thought that Jack Black was actually pretty good, although I was comparing his work in this film to that in his previous movie roles, most of which sucked arse, so it’s probably not a fair comparison. He might take Olivier’s advice and try acting once in a while.

    I did think that Naomi Watts was tremendous, and not just because she’s a hottie. She was just good.

  14. Kevin Says:

    OK, so no steam-powered car. or chainsaws. Or extra-large chins. But the battle sequence is strikingly similar. My wife -not exactly the action film queen – was the one to note it to me.

  15. angelhair Says:

    Not only was there a reference to Fay Wray but in the same scene they mention that she’s working with Cooper, clearing referring to Mervyn Cooper, the original director. I got a kick out of that.

    Saw it with the family this past weekend – the 11-year-old thought it was boring, the 13-year-old though it was pretty good and and my husband and I thought it was too long, too slow, a bit boring but had its moments. If you have any interest at all in this it’s worth seeing on a big screen just for the visuals. Much of the impact would be lost on a small screen.

  16. William Young Says:

    Jesu Christo! LOTR was awesome all the way to final frame and I can’t believe there’s any complaining about it. What is this? Schadenfreude?

    I haven’t seen Kong, and Kong might suck, but LOTR doesn’t suck at all, so please stop the carping and pretending that it does suck. Just because the dude nailed it out of the park is no reason to piss all over him because you’ve got a nit to pick about how he didn’t do LOTR exactly the way you would have done it.

    And the extended editions are the way to go with LOTR, too, so stick that in your pipe.

  17. Will Collier Says:

    Happy to give credit where it’s due here: The “What’s Faye doing?” line was great. My only laugh-out-loud moment of the whole movie (but I was the only one in the theater who laughed).

  18. phil Says:

    Yes, I agree 100% about the Lord of the Rings–I thought that movie would never end!!! Unfortunately, that’s what I also thought about the book–Tolkien could’ve dropped the last 100 pages where everyone says “Goodbye!” and no one would’ve noticed.

  19. zombyboy Says:

    I decided to skip King Kong because of the LOTR movies. Jackson overdoes the maudlin, lingers too long on the studiedly sad look in his actor’s eyes, and has no idea how to pace an epic-sized movie so that I don’t get bored.

    I never regretted seeing the LOTR flicks, but I know that I never want to sit through them again. King Kong didn’t have that much of a pull on me begin with–knowing that it was going to indulge the worst of Jackson’s directing flaws just ensured that I wouldn’t see this one in the theaters.

  20. Mike Says:

    All who dare criticize JRR the magnificent shall be eternally cursed!!!

    Peter was almost worthy to the noble task of translating the greatest piece of literature of the 20th century into a movie.

    It was ‘Titanic’ where I almost shouted, “Hit the iceberg already!”

  21. GHelton Says:

    I agree with your assessment of the new King Kong movie.

    I saw a couple of shows where media critics were raving about the movie. So I went to see it. Now I believe they were simply begging the public to see the movie in order to save their own jobs.

    My wife got her money back and went shopping half way through the movie.

    Man, I hope the Johnny Cash and Narnia movies are better than this!

  22. NukemHill Says:

    I, too, disagree with your assessment of Kong. The action scenes were tremendous. They had me literally twisting in my seat–which I haven’t done since Jurassic Park. The ravine scene with the bugs/slugs/spiders was over-the-top horrifying–and my wife had her eyes closed and her ears covered until the end. She don’t go fer dat stuff much.

    Naomi Watts completely made the movie. She literally glowed, even when she was covered with dirt. She is almost preternatural in her beauty, and her ability to act against the blue screen, or against a stand-in for Kong, was unearthly. Instead of being just camp (which much of the movie was–intentionally), she was able to elevate it to a tremendous love story.

    Could it have been shorter? Absolutely. Should it have been shorter? Nope. It paced well, everyone played their roles properly (yes, even Jack Black–he’s supposed to be an over-the-top melodramatic putz–c’mon now!), and the action was unbeatable. And the CGI for Kong was spooky-good. They did a brilliant job of humanizing him. I had so much empathy for him, within the first 10 minutes, that I could hardly stand the thought of him dying at the end.

    It was a tremendous movie. I think you’ve missed the mark on this one, Will.

  23. Anachronda Says:

    Jesu Christo! LOTR was awesome all the way to final frame and I can’t believe there’s any complaining about it.

    Except for that bit in ROTK where the flags are fluttering backwards and smoke is going into the chimneys. I saw it on a giant screen and couldn’t help but laugh.

  24. bb Says:

    I like Kong more than you did but then I saw it in Russian and my Russian skills are so jacked up… Anyway, I loved it with reservations.

    As said above, Jackson needs a strong producer looking over his shoulder in the editing room. Perhaps the disappointing BO will result in that. Forgot to mention this in my recap of the movie.

    Jack Black’s performance was terrible and his final line, which I interpreted as a repeat of original’s (which is a classic) fell flat. Arching eyebrows can be hilarious except when giant dinasaurs are attacking you.

    CGI overuse is providing diminishing returns. When you resort to CGI for a sequence with a boat rowing to shore, you really are stretching.

    I agree completely with your assessment of Jackson as a director. He simply isn’t very good in action sequences. Some are so frenetic that you have no idea what is going on. Just because you can put a camera anywhere you like doesn’t mean you should. This was true in the LOTR movies as well.

    Finally, I rewatched “Return of the King” recently and was surprised at how good it is. The final 30 minutes or so are so bad that after my initial viewing of it, I had forgotten how good the previous 3 hours were. The LOTR trilogy got a pass because all the LOTR fundamentalists were demanding justice. King Kong is just too long. Did I say I loved it? Yeah, I’m chockful of contradictions.

  25. 667 Says:

    The final word on Kong ’05?

    Damn. Not only does Vodkapundit have on point comments about law and great recipes, it now posts a great review of King Kong. See A Resounding Thud: Remember the end of Return of the King, when it didn’t seem like

  26. The Moderate Voice Says:

    Could King Kong Have Used A Nice Film Editor?

    King Kong so far isn’t killing ’em at the box office, but some experts…

  27. Dave F Says:

    Yes, the dialogue in the LOTR films was ghastly leaden stuff — and a lot of it was perpetrated by J R R Tolkien, one of the most execrable prose writers ever to beat his readers to death. Get over it fanboys.

    King Kong was a B picture and now I guess it’s a B picture with top-of-the-line CGI ballooning it out into a flatulent fatso (did someone say Peter Jackson?).

  28. John Says:

    Hah! That “Inside the Dark Lord’s Office” was great. I thought the same thing, “How is that Nazgul guy going to explain this to Sauron?”

  29. Frankie Sumatra Says:

    Gotta agree with Vodkapundit on this one. This was my review:

    Peter Jackson should have listened to Woody Allen’s joke about speed-reading War and Peace (“It’s about Russia”). For much of its, seemingly interminable, duration the audience could be forgiven for forgetting that King Kong is about a monkey. After squandering 200 million dollars on this unfocused mess of a movie, Jackson should be denied similar absolution.

    Jackson, surfing on a swell of sycophancy after his Lord of The Rings trilogy, has delivered three movies in one this time round. The stress of updating his “all-time favourite film” saw (the now streamlined) Jackson shed the pounds, but he diverted all the excess calories into the movie. Each pumped-up segment of this terrible triptych weighs in at around an hour, but seems infinitely longer. The titles attribute to Jamie Selkirk the oxymoronic accolade of “editor”, though his primary duty seems to have been “caretaker of a fastidiously tidy cutting room floor.” Either that or he ended up, like most of the rest of the tediously over-elaborated minor characters, as Kong bait.

    This movie wasn’t so much in need of cutting as disembowelling. Jackson should have hired Jack the Ripper rather than Jamie the faux-Snipper: I’m just glad he had the cajones to cut one sequence (the return journey from Skull Island) or I might have had to lodge an application for parole from Kong Pen after 4 hours of incarceration.

    The 3 segments can be broken down pretty much like this:

    1- The milieu is Depression-era New York. Al Jolson crooning I’m Sitting on Top of the World is used as an ironic counterpoint to the images of hardship. Good girl vaudeville actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) loses her job, decides she’d rather steal food than work at a burlesque club and is “rescued” and recruited by unscrupulous movie director Carl Denham (Jack Black). As Jackson parsimoniously propels the tale forward at a couple of gears below “leisurely”, I have to be restrained from shouting “Show me the monkey!”

    2- This is the part where Denham, Darrow, scriptwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), the movie within the movie’s male lead Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and a boatload of bait sail to Skull Island and, after some Titanic-style shenanigans, end up at “Isla Mordor”, a genetically modified Jurassic Park/Lord of the Rings hybrid. The natives aren’t just restless; they’re damned ugly too. I’ll give Jackson the benefit of the doubt and assume that he intended these sequences to be an authentic recreation of the original (including it’s relatively “innocent” — in the context of the era in which it was made — approach towards racial stereotyping), as I can’t believe he intended to produce material that makes D.W. Griffith look like Spike Lee.

    3- Kong on Broadway. I fell asleep during this part, so I’ll continue describing the “Isla Mordor” bit instead. It doesn’t take long to figure out why Jackson’s natives look so care-worn: the rest of the fauna of Skull Island are predators on physique-enhancing drugs. The movie loses focus here and it’s not entirely clear whether the emaciated natives built the giant wall to keep out the aggrandized ape, the distended dinosaurs, the steroidal spiders or the massive maggots. It seemed pointless speculating upon such minor incongruities as “How on Earth, or indeed any habitable planet, did the Brontosaurus stampede cost a mere four lives?”, “How did Miss Darrow survive being tossed and twisted like a trout in a tsunami during Kong’s face-off against the trio of T-Rexs?”, “What exactly did Jackson think the Attack of the Omnivorous Arachnids/voracious maggots et alia added to the proceedings apart from an additional 15 minute of unmitigated, CGI-enhanced tedium?” & “Surely the kid blindly blasting the bloated bugs from Jack Driscoll’s body with a rifle might just have caused some collateral damage to the scriptwriter?” — maybe he took out the real scriptwriter instead and blasted the director’s brains into the bargain? — as absurdity is heaped upon absurdity until Jackson erects an Everest of Imbecility.

    I dreamt I awoke, briefly, during the final segment, but the vision of the giant monkey ice-skating with Naomi in Central Park must surely have been a product of my fevered imagination rather than Jackson’s. Sadly, I did wake up in time to hear Jack Black utter the “immortal” line, “Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

    I just wish Naomi had taken that job in the burlesque club: that’s the movie I wanted to see…. with David Lynch directing.

  30. Brian Says:

    I thought the movie was too long, but still pretty enjoyable.

    Let me say this about Fay Wray: I watched the 1933 King Kong again last week and thought about how beautiful she really was. I mean, a timeless beauty. Her great look fits in any era, unlike may so-called beautiful woman who I thought were hot in 1988 but when I look at the movie again today, I wonder what I was thinking then.

  31. Bunny Slippers Says:

    You’re review of Kong is dead on. I think Jackson’s mantra was, if its worth doing, its worth overdoing. I will admit, though, that the scenes of 1930s New York were fun to watch.

    Save the money and see Narnia. Excellent movie.

  32. Daily Pundit Says:

    Stinko

    Daily Box Office – Wednesday, December 21, 2005’King Kong’ Mighty But No Monster…Apparently this should not be considered a major…

  33. Just Passing Through Says:

    I agree about Kong. More ‘character’ development than necessary – odd to say that but true as far as having the screenwriting play to the actor’s perceived(?) strengths. (Jack Black being scripted to play Jack Black for example. He’d have made a good hobbit though).

    Shame Jackson confused Kong with an epic story like LOTR though. Less is more for a movie that has to change virtual venues as drastically as this one did – tropical island to NYC. Jackson needed to decide which was the more important venue for the story and stress that one instead of deciding to hammer both to death. The cumulative effect left the last 30 mins a task to get through.

    Now – LOTR. That movie had to be long and drawn out to stay minimally faithful to Tolkien’s story. The written word and movies are not the same medium – reflection has a great role when reading at one’s own pace and movies can’t mirror that. Jackson should have recognized that as great directors do when adapting literature to film and taken more license than he did in moving LOTR along. On the other hand, it was not Superman I, II, II, where each movie/story was standalone and the only continuity the characters. LOTR had to flow movie to movie and return at the end to the beginning just as the books did. The job Jackson did on LOTR wasn’t perfect, but a marvel nonetheless.

  34. Just Passing Through Says:

    Just a followup – for those aged or knowledgable enough – consider Dr Shivago. The book is long, convoluted, and really does necessitate some knowledge of the story backdrop of the Russian Revolution. The book (and the movie) changed venues multiple times. The book developed each venue in detail. The movie director established them, worked them, and moved on to the next – the key to translating epic literature to film. It should not be all that relevant to Kong – the story was not an epic any more than Jurassic Park was – but Jackson made the error of treating it as one by reversing the process. He took the several venues of a medium length novelette and stretched them.

    The director’s version of Kong will be excruiating except for any additional and clever CGI scenes.

  35. AlphaPatriot Says:

    King Wrong

    Against my better judgement, I got talked into going to see King Kong. But after only ten minutes I thought that maybe I had been wrong. The cinematography was brilliant and Aussie actress Naomi Watts was sweet and compelling.After twenty minutes I set…

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