Movie Review: Peter Jackson’s King Kong

Kong 201

When Peter Jackson had such huge success from making The Lord of the Rings books into movies, it’s not hard to imagine that he would have had a virtual blank check to make whatever he wanted after that. Who wouldn’t take that opportunity and use it to fulfill a lifelong dream? That’s exactly what Jackson did when he made his new version of King Kong.

You can really tell, too, how much he loves the original movie and the story surrounding it. He stays remarkably true to the original while fleshing out areas that painfully fall flat in the outdated mode of moviemaking of the ’30s. He adds soul to the characters—including Kong, adds Weta’s masterful special and visual effects, and adds modern sensibilities to otherwise corny dialogue lifted from the original to make it ring true (without resorting to lines like, “What’s your sign?” a la 1976’s version with Jessica Lange).

For the few uninitiated viewers, King Kong is the story of moviemakers who go on a safari-type expedition to an uncharted island hoping to make an adventure movie. What they find is a 25-foot gorilla that is keeping the locals in a state of fear. To appease the beast, Ann Darrow is sacrificed to Kong, who eventually develops a protectiveness of her.

I really enjoyed this movie. I saw it twice in the theater and it’s a really fun ride. It’s essentially a chase film, with some great creature fights. Peter Jackson also manages to make the connection between Ann and Kong believable and touching, something not previously done very well. Except for one part, the special effects are flawless too. The digital reconstruction of 1930s New York is amazing and the Jungle settings are lush and painterly.

As I mentioned in Monday’s review of the 1933 version, I loved all the inside jokes and references to the original. My favorite is the production that occurs on the stage when Kong is presented at Radio City Music Hall. If you see the original, you’ll know that what was on the stage with the costumes and music, was a direct lift from the original 1933 sequence from Skull Island.

There are a few quotes that Jack Black had to deliver as the filmmaker Carl Denham which were direct lifts from the original. It was nice to see them delivered in a believable way, since they were actually very corny things to say. Things like, “We’re millionaires boys, and I’ll share it with all of ya. In a few months his name will be up in lights on Broadway… KONG! THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD!” and then later “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast.” These lines actually work because of how well Jack Black plays this character and the kind of person we end up believing him to be.

Another part that really made me laugh when I caught it on my second viewing (which was embarrassing because I was the only one in the theater who was laughing) was a scene where Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody’s screenwriter character) were working over their script and they start talking about killing off the first officer right at the beginning. Well, I had to laugh, because in the original, Jack Driscoll was the first officer, not a screenwriter at all. So in essence, Peter Jackson killed off the first officer by eliminating him from the movie and making Jack a writer instead. It was funny that they talked about it that way.

The ultimate hat-tip to the original for me was the fight between Kong and the last t-rex. Everything from the wrestling style of fighting, to the jaw-breaking, to the chest-beating afterward was taken directly from the original and I took it as one of those necessary elements that I would have missed if it wasn’t there.

There’s one part of the movie that highly bothered me, though. It might sound silly, but it involves a large herd of brontosaurus-type dinosaurs stampeding through a canyon with the entire main cast running for their lives as they dodge the dinosaur’s legs. So, why did this bother me so much when I’m ok with the thought of a 25-foot gorilla falling in love with a normal proportioned woman? Well, part of it is the fact that it looked like the actors were either running on a treadmill, or just in place. Another is poor compositing of the people and the animals—I never really believed that they were actually there. They should have been knocked around much more than they were. Up until and after this part, everyone seemed to be restricted to normal physical limitations, but here, they were almost super human. Ultimately I think this part could have been fixed by just having everyone climb into cracks in the canyon and narrowly escape the stampede. That would have been better than trying to run with it.

The only other thing that I find distracting in Peter Jackson’s movies is his incessant need to give everyone (and everything) a back-story. This, of course is ultimately so that there is more of an emotional payoff when those characters meet grizzly ends, but it also takes up a lot of screen time that could have been used to focus on the main characters, or to shorten the movie so that it’s more palatable to casual audiences—3 hours and 8 minutes is a long time.

So, would I recommend this movie? Of course. These complaints are literally the only problems I had with the whole movie which otherwise is a spectacular thing to see. I loved it, and if you’re up for a great adventure, you will too!

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Movie Review: The Original 1933 King Kong

Kong 101

I believe that a prerequisite to watching Peter Jackson’s new version of King Kong is to watch the original 1933 version. As is said in an interview on this recent DVD release, the ability to take any story and make it into a fantastic movie using special effects, didn’t really start with Star Wars, but with the original King Kong—I believe it too!

Sure, the movements of the beast are a bit jerky and his fur buzzes around him as if there are a dozen cyclones whirling around him at any given time, but the truth of the matter is, I thought it was still interesting and fun to watch.


The melodramatic acting is fun to watch too (almost a special effect in itself). You can see how sensibilities have dramatically changed over the years about how to act. This movie is a great specimen of acting in a way that is the polar opposite of subtle.

I bought the 2-disk special edition on a whim because Jackson’s version was soon to be at the theaters and it was packaged as a King Kong Collection with Son of Kong and the original Mighty Joe Young. Since Peter Jackson had commented repeatedly about how much inspiration he received from this movie as a child to become a filmmaker, I thought it would be a good idea to check it out. It pays off too, when you watch Jackson’s version, there are many inside joke treats that you’ll only understand if you’ve seen the old one. One quick example is (in the new version) when Carl Denham (Jack Black) is being told names of actresses that could work in his film, one of them is “Fay”, who Carl dismisses as already being busy with an RKO Picture. Well, RKO is the producer of the original Kong and Fay Wray was the original Ann Darrow.

One of the most unexpected twists to this visit to this classic picture is how much my 6 and 8-year-old daughters loved it. I think sometimes that I tend to count out older movies as options for entertainment for my kids because of the lack of ultra-realistic CGI special effects—so unfounded. My kids were tense at the suspenseful points, they thought the funny parts were funny… it was great! If you’re looking to show your young kids King Kong and are worried that Jackson’s version might be a bit too much, check out the old one, it might be just the ticket.

On the DVD, there’s also a documentary titled, “I’m Kong: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper.” Historically speaking, it was amazing to learn more about this man who was the original director of Kong and how the character of Carl Denham was almost autobiographical.

With Peter Jackson’s updated version coming out on DVD tomorrow, I thought this would be a good segue into a review of the new one, which will come later this week.

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Movie Review: Howl’s Moving Castle

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The only Japanese animation that I’ve seen is Star Blazers, back when I was a kid. I really enjoyed it, but I think the advent of Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and Digimon turned me off of the whole genre.

Earlier this year, however, I saw the trailer for Howl’s Moving Castle, and I had to re-watch it two or three times just to take it all in. Every second of it seemed like a work of art. I had also heard some positive things about the movie that made me want to see it.

Well, after searching for it at my local video store and seeing that their one copy was always rented, I grew desperate and went ahead and bought it and watched it with my 8-year-old daughter.

In short, I loved it. I loved just about every moment of it! Every frame of this movie could be framed as a work of art. I’ve never seen a traditionally animated movie with backgrounds that had so much depth and realism as this one.

And the story was great too! It’s a story that could be compared to the fantasy of The Wizard of Oz, with it’s unique characters and surreal vistas. There are a few moments where it’s very clear that many people will interpret what they are seeing very differently.

Howl’s Moving Castle is a fantasy about a young girl name Sophie who has an encounter with a mysterious wizard named Howl. Sophie is soon transformed into a 90-year-old woman by the jealous Witch of the Waste. Knowing that she can’t stay in her home in her transformed state, Sophie sets out on a journey to find some way to break the spell and return herself to normal. What follows is a wonderful adventure.

There were only two things that distracted me initially in this movie. The first was that I didn’t think there was enough of a relationship built between Sophie and Howl at the beginning of the movie. I wished I could have seen more of Sophie before she was transformed, and maybe have seen that there was more of an emotional connection between the two of them.

The second was a technical animation issue. In traditional animation (Disney feature stuff) there is usually one drawing for every two frames of film, which is called animating “on twos.” In CGI animation, it’s usually one new image for every frame of film, or “on ones” which gives the animation a much more fluid look. I was expecting at least “twos” in this feature film, but it was clear at the beginning to me, that this movie must have been animated on “threes” or “fours” which made the movements a little distractingly choppy. I quickly got used to it though and didn’t mind it as much.

Pixar directors Pete Docter and John Lasseter and Disney were in charge of creating the English language translation and dub for this release and the voice cast features such notable actors as Lauren Bacall (Key Largo), Christian Bale (Batman Begins), Jean Simmons (Spartacus—no Bryan, not the one from KISS), and Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents). Never once during this movie did I experience the “Godzilla effect” where their mouths are saying something their voices weren’t.

I don’t believe I’ve ever left an animated movie with such a feeling of wonder as I did with this one. I really want to watch it again to relive the majesty of it and to see if there’s anything that I can understand in a new way from it all.

I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys animated films as a viable source of entertainment and story telling. This is not a comedy—though it does have its funny parts. It is a fantasy with a more cinematic than cartoony feel to it.

By the way, as one of the biggest signs that my daughter liked it, she immediately wanted to play it with me pretending that I was Howl and she was Sophie. She was even doing a British accent. She also kept asking me if she could watch it again, and again…

Now my homework assignment is to check out other Studio Ghibli productions such as Spirited Away, Nausicaa, and Princess Mononoke. Any suggestions?

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Music Review: Rosie Thomas – If Songs Could Be Held

>Rosie Thomas - If Songs Could Be HeldNot since buying my first Crowded House Album when I was in high school have I enjoyed an album so thoroughly as I am enjoying Rosie Thomas’ “If Songs Could be Held”. I hadn’t heard of her until I was checking out of the iTunes music store when I was buying Brandi Carlile’s album, and Rosie was one of the referral links.

Rosie Thomas’ music is unpretentious, non-preachy, gentle and melodious. Every song is full of thoughtful lyrics and wonderful acoustic accompaniments. Some comparisons could be made to some of the softer tunes by Sheryl Crow, or Sarah McLachlan but without the gloominess.

I consider this to be one of my favorite recent discoveries and I’m looking forward to discovering more from her.

Rosie Thomas - If Songs Could Be Held

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When Good Foreshadowing Goes Bad

>A long time ago I heard the following quote that I just found again in Wikipedia:

“An example of foreshadowing might be when a character uses a gun or knife early in the play/film/narrative. Merely the appearance of a deadly weapon, even though it is used for an innocuous purpose – such as being cleaned or whittling wood – suggests terrible consequences later on.”

When I first heard it, it was credited to Alfred Hitchcock, though I’m not sure if he’s really the source. Ever since then, I’ve noticed this done in movies—which is bad because it really shouldn’t be something you notice. There are many times when I see this at the time of the foreshadowing and at that moment I try to figure out how that’s going to come into play later, thus taking me out of the movie watching experience.


My first, most obnoxious example is from the movie Paycheck, starring Ben Affleck. There is a moment when he sits down with his boss who gives him a cigar. Ben Affleck’s character makes a point of looking up at a smoke detector and the camera zooms in close to it as he asks his boss if the cigar smoke is going to set off the alarm. The close up of the alarm and the dialogue about it made me feel like the filmmakers were whacking us over the head with the fact that it was important and we needed to remember that later. It was used later, though not as importantly as I thought it would be.


Another example of when foreshadowing goes bad is actually done in two movies that I otherwise really liked. I guess we can call it the “superior officer pep-talk.” It occurs in the movies U-571 and The Core.


In both movies, the highly qualified and willing junior officer has a moment where the superior officer tells them why they are being passed up for a command position. They are both told that what they lack is the experience making the “hard decisions.” Both of these end up being resolved by the commanding officer getting killed, and then the juniors are put in a position where everyone is going to be killed if they don’t order or allow one crewmember to die.

If you ever see a movie where someone gives someone else that kind of “you’re not good enough because you haven’t been tried” speech, you’d better believe there’s going to be some trials experienced (and overcome) before the credits roll.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate foreshadowing, but I really wish it wasn’t used as a cheap gimmick that sends up a flag as if to say, “Woohoo! Look at me, I’m going to be important later!”


I like the kind of foreshadowing that has it’s own purpose at the time, but you forget about and then it surprises you when it becomes important. An example of this is in The Family Man, starring Nicolas Cage as Jack. In the beginning, the character that starts him on his “glimpse of what could have been” gives him a bicycle bell. Jack thinks that it’s a tool to call this guy back when he needs help, but when it doesn’t work his daughter takes it and thanks him for the gift. It isn’t until the end of the movie when we’re feeling as comfortable as Jack is with his alternate life, that his daughter rings the bell on her bike and our hearts sink because we know that even though it was good, it’s not going to last.

So, have you experienced any intrusive foreshadowing? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised by how something resurfaced in a way that you weren’t expecting? Feel free to leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

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