Wednesday, December 14, 2005

KING KONG (2005)

By Reymundo Salao

Briefly after the release of the Lord of the Rings’ third movie chapter Return of the King (which swept the Academy Awards in 2004), Peter Jackson was so eager to announce that his next movie was going to be King Kong. It seems that with such an enthusiasm come confidence, and the suspicion that he may have all dreamed of making this project for a long time now. Which is true, because Peter Jackson originally wanted to make this film immediately after he made “The Frighteners” (1996). When the rights got tied up, he moved on to The Lord of the Rings. Now, it may be safe to say that he’s having his dream project fulfilled.

The story of KING KONG is set on 1933, a time of great depression in the United States when poverty was widespread. Stage actress and entertainer Ann Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) was struggling to find a decent job when she meets and is hired by Carl Denham (Jack Black), a film director-producer who is relentlessly pursuing his plan to film a “masterpiece movie”. In his obsession to finish his film, he flees along with his new actress, his assistant Preston (Colin Hanks), who oftentimes acts as his ignored moral conscience, then there is his self-obsessed, narcissistic lead actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler), his film crew, his writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), and the courageous crew of the ship that sails out into a mysterious unchartered island known as the “Skull Island” where no one dares go to. But that is where Carl wants to shoot his movie. Clearly unbeknownst to them is the horror that awaits for them in the island.

It was an excellent idea for Jackson to set this film in the 1930’s which may serve as a direct homage to the first original Kong movie which was also made in 1933. By capturing the original essence of the first film, with its lavish designs in costumes, vehicles, and set structures, it extinguishes any mundane factors the film may have, and ensures a great adaptation that is fitting of its setting.

KING KONG is more than just a monster movie. Underneath its colossal figure, are subliminal themes about the morals of the entertainment business as embodied by the subplot of Carl Denham, the concept of courage as portrayed by the crewmembers of the ship, and the nature of love as portrayed by Kong and the blond actress he falls in love with. The movie starts out with conversational scenes that give us a close look at our characters, before all the eye candy begins. Just as the film calms down, it then jackhammers you into a mixture of horror, action and adventure. By the time we all set foot on the island, sheer cinematic mayhem commences. You have creepy tribes, dinosaurs, and giant bugs. And of course, King Kong.

Was the entire marvel due because of the CGI? No, the excellence of this film does not even rely much on the special effects. If you rate the special effects of this film compared to many sci-fi films that have come out lately, King Kong’s effects were just even a little above satisfactory. It was actually how Peter Jackson’s production team made it work. How he manipulated each and every sequence to blend into some perfect harmony that evokes scenes of sheer breath-taking action. Each and every scene where the monster-star King Kong is seen is not just a fantastic work of cinematic art, this film makes you forget that and lets you focus on the character; what is Kong doing? Why is he doing it? You abandon the consciousness that he is made up of pixels and you truly become curious of this creature, whose story is being told right before your eyes.

It was quite interesting to note that KING KONG’s relationship with Ann seems to be a symbolic representation of each and every boy-meets-girl love story. Kong falls in love with what he sees, but Ann shows contempt for him to the point that Kong is finally infuriated. But Kong does not inflict any more harm upon her, so what does he do? He lashes out unto the rocks, throwing large chunks of them around. Just like the typical male whose temper is oftentimes childish and is most usually tried by the woman he loves. Many sequences like this may mirror the romance boys and girls have. Halfway through the film, you give up the idea that this is a monster movie, and start to think of it as actually an unusual but wonderful love story between Ann and this giant ape.

Andy Serkis (who is well known for being the voice and motion template for the creation of Gollum from Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies) served as the motion template for the CGI Kong. Basically, the special effects team creates Kong’s motions based on how Andy Serkis moves and acts out the role of Kong. They attach sensors to Serkis’ body and in his face in order to make a digital puppetry that copies each and every acting motion of Serkis. From the body language to the facial expressions. To ensure that it is not just based on some actor’s interpretations, Serkis had to study the behavior of apes to prepare for the role. Serkis has now indeed joined the likes of Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney, as one of the greatest creature actors in film history. His work here makes you wish that the Academy Awards honor him this time.

Naomi Watts’ portrayal of a woman who has gained sympathy for his beastly captor was beautifully convincing. It was incredible how she could evoke some serious emotional interaction with the CGI-generated Kong. But it was a Jack Black’s performance that silently shined throughout the film, as he delivers an excellent portrayal of a somewhat funny obsessive character, but underneath the layers of his comedic charm is really a dark character whose intentions are twisted and wicked. He does this well up until the end, when his comedic appeal runs out and makes you realize that from the very start, his convictions really are wrong.

It was quite understandable why Jackson’s theatrical cut for this film is around three hours. He lets us in on the adventure first-hand. The storyline of KING KONG is also a step forward from the original 1930’s classic and the campy 1976 remake (which many critics have deemed to be a failure). This KING KONG is phenomenal! One of the films that wherein I was able to cringe in excitement, scream in thrills and cheer along with the audience. Surely a movie which can electrify the audience with its intensity. The last time I’ve felt this much audience interaction was when I watched the first Jurassic Park movie, and that was more than ten years ago already.

Peter Jackson succeeds in evoking sympathy from the audience unto his (and actor Andy Serkis’) interpretation of Kong. After his success in the Lord of the Rings saga, Jackson proves that he never fails to disappoint. Jackson comes out with a brand of greatness that is often associated with Steven Spielberg. A great film is one that entertains, is thought-provoking, and emotionally rich. KING KONG succeeds in all these aspects. This remake of KING KONG is indeed a masterpiece. It is cinematic excellence at its finest.

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