King KongHoly Harryhausen, the SPECTACLE! Jackson’s King Kong goes so far beyond what has come before in CGI character and action, I’m surprised it didn’t cost $350 million. It will be as daunting to direct a spectacle movie after King Kong as it was to write a symphony after Beethoven. The eye-popping T-Rex sequence alone should make the producers of next year’s blockbusters weep, then beg their studios for another $50 million so their pictures can hold up to the new standard. Alas, the visuals are where praise must end for Kong.

Apparently, I’m one of the very few who thought the 1933 original was trash, and Jackson loved it enough to make his rehash similarly horrid. The dialogue is just as insipid, the editing is just as cliché for its time, the plotting is ridiculous on moment-by-moment and sequence-by-sequence scales, etc. The score was the only interesting part of the original and here it is simply mimicked. Plus, Jackson added more than an hour of superfluous waste developing dispensible characters and rendering pointless action sequences – paramount among them an outrageous creepy-crawly battle wisely excised from the 1933 film. Like its title character, King Kong is big and stupid.

Still, things could be worse. Ann Darrow could be played by one of the multitude of currently popular bimbettes rather than a real actress. The action could be less creative. The dialogue could be of Lucasian abhorability. And of course, the special effects could be merely “impressive”.

There are precisely three good scenes in King Kong. First is the opening sequence, which juxtaposes caged zoo animals with destitute tramps in their shacks, and wanders a stunning Depression-era New York while Al Jolson sings “I’m Sitting on Top of the World.” Second comes after Kong has run off with Ann. He pounds his alpha-male chest, and she wins his heart with a vaudeville act. The emotional progression of Kong here, who out-acts anyone in the movie, is heart-rending. It also gives the romance between beauty and beast the verve lacking in previous installments, which is unfortunately squandered in the scenes to follow. Third is a true landmark in animation and action, where Kong wrestles with three T-Rexes. Return of the King looks simple and puny now.

Is King Kong racist? Jackson accurately represented good vs. evil as white vs. black in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and again chose whites for heroes and blacks (or whites in blackface!) for ugly, mindless, murdering savages in King Kong. Frankly, one would expect those involved in the movie and shipping industries in 1933 New York to be white, just as one would expect indigenous people on an undiscovered South Pacific island to be dark-skinned and uneducated. So, one can hardly fault Jackson for these decisions, especially as they conform to the original film.

Nevertheless, the precedence of special effects to story and filmmaking in Peter Jackson’s monstrous King Kong lends new meaning to its closing line: “Twas beauty killed the beast!”

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