by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - January 30, 2006) Round about the fourth tussle between the grunting, oversized gorilla and the roaring pterodactyls, I wondered how I might best express my bristling contempt for Peter Jackson's asinine remake of "King Kong." It would not suffice simply to seek out the manager of the cinema and ask him to refund the price of my ticket. Perhaps if I clogged all the urinals in the Men's Room with numerous rolls of toilet tissue or set fire to the front two rows of the balcony I might, to some small extent, convey my anger at being hoodwinked into sitting through this overzealous attempt to wow me with computerized graphics, digitalized bluster and sentimental twaddle.
Merian C. Cooper's original "King Kong" in 1933 was a naïve, character-based yarn about a zealous filmmaker who, having encountered a pilferous primate on a remote desert island, resolved to capture the beast in something like the way Captain Ahab went after the monstrous white whale. It had all the simplicity of early movie mythology and the advantage of being one the first -- if not the first -- experiment in full-scale, filmic horror. The "beast" had just enough human characteristics to make us regret its captivity and the "love story" between Kong and the terrified Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) was wryly suggested with "winks and nods" to an early 1930s audience who found the incongruous courtship somewhat touching. Almost throughout the film, the screeching young captive expressed the Freudian horror of being consumed by the primitive lust of a lecherous appetite that knew no bounds. "Kong" seemed to stand for the monstrous, prelapsarian instinct to sate our desires before civilization taught us to repress them.
Naomi Watts's victimized screecher, a kind of all-American girl, gradually succumbs to "Kong" as a campus queen might to an irresistible college jock and, to prevent him from too easily "getting his way," diverts him with juggling and somersaults as if she were the captain of a delirious cheerleading squad. As we suppress barely irrepressible laughter, Kong is charmed by her monkey-shines and, before long, the nascent lovers are romantically watching sunsets and sharing quiet moments of rustic contemplation. Atrocity has dwindled into absurdity and a fairy tale has become an object lesson in how to tame rambunctious males who, being antisocial and uncouth, need the tender loving care of an understanding woman.
Let us assume that the courtship of Kong and his shrieking ingénue was allowed to develop along conventional lines. Would the couple dine out, go to the movies together, eventually marry and then divorce because of irreconcilable anatomical incompatibilities? Or would it simply become a triangular affair with Ann Darrow cheating on her hairy hubby, perhaps with Carl Denham (Jack Black), the prestigious filmmaker who first brought them together? The cinematic relationship as depicted gives birth to preposterous speculations of this kind and simply underscores the fatuousness of the choices made in reviving "King Kong" for those dippy moviegoers weaned on series such as "Sex In The City" and the kind of lovelorn advice one finds in copies of Cosmopolitan.
To fill the gaps between the touching moments of love's awakening between Beauty and the Beast, Jackson pelts us with deafening battles between Kong, fire-breathing dinosaurs, and flying reptiles -- all of whom seem to represent anthropomorphic manifestations of our most belligerent inner selves. But the director is so enamored with these cacophonous combats, that he cannot resist going from one to the next. Here, the film delivers some much-needed comic relief because, after two or three such aggrandized cock fights between gorillas and gibbons, fire-breathing dragons and masterful apes, one can only settle back and let laughter soothe the repulsion engendered by the film's excess.
The monstrosity of the movie issues from the monstrous lack of taste of its makers -- the director, screenwriters and special-effects mavens -- who persist in believing that people go to the movies in order to sample the latest developments in computer animation and that traditional virtues such as those that enriched films of the early 1930s where wit, language and irony often combined to make movie-going a pleasure, are things of the past.
What can one say about the record-breaking success of movies like "King Kong" except that, over the years, bad taste has been so deeply entrenched in the esthetic palate of American moviegoers that nothing can cure the addiction. Criticism of this kind must appear to many as grouchy, misconceived crankiness and if so, tant pis. But there is today a depressing trend to celebrate virtually every blockbuster that makes it into national release. There isn't a movie in America that doesn't solicit a set of upbeat blurbs or garner an award from some institution or another. It would seem, judging from drooping box office takings, that the only people disappointed by modern motion pictures are the public.
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