Karen Presents a Review of King Kong, aka "How Many Goddamn Dinosaurs Are on This Island?"

by Karen Gsteiger

Spoilers? Probably. I can't remember right now.

King Kong was probably one of my more highly anticipated films of 2005, as I have grown accustomed to a three-hour-long cinematic delight from Peter Jackson every Christmas. However, some stories are epics, like, say, Lord of the Rings and can keep you glued to your seat effortlessly for 1/8 of your day. Other stories, like, say, King Kong, will require a lot of padding to reach the same level of spectacle.

That King Kong delivers a lot of high-quality spectacle is not in question. The CGI and special effects are top-notch, and Andy Serkis' arduous motion-capture acting really brings the beast to life and makes him more human than many of the bit players. It's all very exciting and beautiful, but it's all just a bit much. If, when hiring everyone in New Zealand to work on this picture, Peter Jackson had found time to appoint an editor, this would have been a perfect film. As things stand, I found myself squirming in my seat--not out of boredom but more out of a sense of being overstimulated, especially during the excruciating Skull Island sequences.

I mean, there was flab all over this picture that could have been cut or saved for the "Extended Edition" DVD. It's not that I don't have the attention span, but if I'm going to watch a three hour and seven minute movie, I want to have a pause button, a bathroom, and a full refrigerator at my disposal. Jackson takes a looooong time to establish that we're in the Depression, that actors like Naomi Watt's Ann Darrow are starving, and that Hollywood producers (Jack Black as Carl Denham) were as shady then as they are now. Then Jackson takes a loooooooooong time to transport his characters to Skull Island, establishing back stories for characters who won't even survive the next thirty minutes. Then Jackson takes an even looooooooonger time getting Kong transported back to NYC for his iconic moments wreaking havoc and scaling the Empire State Building. And it was during the Skull Island sequences, as impressive and exciting as they are, that Jackson really lost me.

First of all, how big is this island and how can its ecosystem support so many big-ass animals? All the creatures we encounter there are big-ass--the gorilla, the dinosaurs (?!), the centipedes and scorpions and other creepy crawlies, the bats--are there no normal-sized fauna to be found here? How many goddamn dinosaurs are on this island? I mean, even Spielberg knew to limit himself to one T-rex in Jurassic Park; here we have about five. And why, when the island appears to be crawling with dinosaurs, do they suddenly disappear when it is convenient for the plot?

Same with "the natives," whose treatment left me feeling pretty uncomfortable. Fortunately, we have some beloved--if doomed--token minorities among the ship's crew because the dark-skinned indigenous folk on Skull Island seem to just snarl and hiss and roll their eyes into the backs of their heads and generally act like murderous, cracked-out zombies when they aren't sacrificing pretty, screaming white women to big, black hairy apes. There were some people who found racist subtexts to The Lord of the Rings, which, I'll grant you, can be a bit problematic in the books, but I wouldn't say that Jackson would intentionally introduce that element into his films. However, it's a lot harder to defend here. Once again, he's working with older source material, when the general public was a little less sensitive and critical, but personally, I don't think he would have committed some form of unforgivable betrayal by cutting out the natives entirely. I mean, it's not like there's any shortage of threats to our heroes on Skull Island. Also, after the natives deliver their human sacrifice to Kong, they are never seen again, even when our protagonists return to their home turf to get back on the boat. So what nonracist purpose do they serve? Maybe Jackson knows; maybe it all gets drowned out in all the bombast.

Just like poor Adrien Brody, who does his best playing an idealistic man-of-the-people playwright/screenwriter but who can't quite make an impression in the middle of a brontosaurus stampede or a ginormous cockroach attack. In fact, I would say that pretty much every actor in this picture except for maybe Naomi Watts either looks lost or as if they stumbled onto the wrong movie set. Watts has the opportunity to bond with the eponymous gorilla, and her relationship with Kong does create a three-hankie pathos at the inevitable tragic end (although, to make what is probably an unfair comparison, it wasn't nearly as emotionally devastating to me as Frodo departing from Middle Earth, the single most wrenching film experience I have ever had).

Most of this review probably sounds as though I absolutely hated the film, which I would not say is true. It's not bad--just overwrought and at times completely implausible (Jamie Bell killing bugs with a machine gun, anyone?). It definitely did not need to be over three hours long, but it's not unwatchable by any means. It's just a little disappointing in comparison to the greatness Jackson has achieved in recent years with a smaller budget. I just pray that he doesn't go the way of George Lucas, where you can't even tell what is happening with the plot and the main characters for all the busy special effects in the background.