Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Why aren't there more movie theaters on Randall Road? I know movie theatres are having a tough time right now, but you'd think that with all those new subdivisions there would be a healthy market for movies around here. Unfortunately there's no Randall Road equivalent of South Barrington's AMC 30, as far as I know. That means the options are pretty limited. I've avoided Marcus in Elgin because their sound always seemed to be poor in comparison to the Sony/Loews or AMC theaters in the area. But rather than drive to South Barrington last weekend on a freezer cold night, we opted to see Peter Jackson's King Kong on Marcus's UltraScreen. The sound turned out to be outstanding. I could both hear and feel wind, drums, grunts and roars. It was worth the extra 50 cents to see it on the UltraScreen. The only problem is Marcus has only one UltraScreen, but if they're using it to screen a movie you want to see, make sure you give Marcus a chance before you head over to South Barrington or wherever.

If you were thinking about seeing King Kong though, you might want to reconsider. I had high expectations, because I have a high regard for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unfortunately, King Kong didn't meet my expectations. I'm no movie critic, and this is just my opinion, but I didn't think this was a worthy effort from the director of the Lord of the Rings. Length is not in itself something I would complain about. I've seen long movies and enjoyed them. But when a movie is long for no good reason, then I feel resentment at the end of the movie for my time wasted. If you see sections of King Kong, it can be intriguing, visually and stylistically--primarily in the first act. Taken as a whole though, the movie fails on different levels. First of all, there's genre confusion. Was this a comedy, a parody of a Hollywood B movie? Was this a romance, or an action adventure or a horror movie? I mean, what was up with that white girl painted black in some sort of a trance who could call forth rain with a flick of her fingers? It was both bizarre and horrifying, far more horrifying than the picture otherwise justified. When you combine this with the comedy and the other stuff it just doesn't make sense.

Sure, you often want to have elements of comedy in a romance movie or romance in an action adventure movie etc., but in this case, the B-movie comedy was just pervasive to the point that it undermined the film--though I suppose the film was meant to be in the style of a B movie. I would say that it violated audience expectations, except for the fact that Jackson cast Jack Black as Denham, which should have given it away. Then there's the dialogue that was too often deplorable--much of which did nothing to advance or enrich the story and lead to dead ends.

And then the dinosaurs...It's a sad day when I have to complain about dinosaurs. But in using dinosaurs, Jackson sets his movie up for comparison with Spielberg's Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park has oustanding dinosaurs, realistic, terrifying creatures that have personalities. To make up for the fact that his dinosaurs are devoid of character, Jackson uses a large number of them, substituting quantity for quality. Furthermore, in my opinion, Jackson's CG creatures approach but do not equal Jurassic Park's in realism. Realism of the creatures themselves aside, some of the scenes involving them were just too unbelievable. Imagine a dinosaur (brontosaurus?) stampede down an alley-sized canyon that lasts seemingly forever. Would you expect to survive that? In any case, the stampede lasted three times longer than it should have.

And then there's the battle between Kong and the T-Rexes. In the trailer it looks great, but in the movie, it comes only after a very long sequence of fights with yes, other T-Rexes. Why? Why couldn't the T-Rex fight be the ultimate fight? In other words, it would have been better if Kong fought with lesser dinosaurs (but please don't make it last forever) and then finally, the ultimate fight, T-Rex shows up. Who will be king of the jungle? But that's not what Jackson gives us. As a result, the final dinosaur fight lacks excitement. But even then, even if it was done properly, it would have been little more than an Alien vs. Predator spectacle. What's the point?

I thought it was odd that at the end of the second act, the captain of the ship disappears. Where did he go? It's like he doesn't exist any more. It's like he didn't matter to the plot, never mind that his [SPOILER WARNING] two--or was it three?--miraculous rescues of the doomed fools amount to deus ex machina, representing the worse of filmmaking. They could have brought him back and had him kill King Kong. I would have preferred it that way. I would have much preferred that to Driscoll riding around in a cab. What was the point of that? He might as well have picked up passengers and dropped off sandwiches while he was at it.

So Kong rampages through Gotham, and is this supposed to horrify us or are we supposed to fear for his safety? I don't think the audience knows. Which is why they don't feel anything. They just see a cheap spectacle of an ape manhandling blondes and then swatting at biplanes from his Empire perch. They might not even see this though, because at this point the audience is either yawning or fast asleep. And then that silly ending, with Denham declaring, "It was beauty that killed the beast!" That's the kind of line that makes you wish you'd walked out the theater an hour earlier.

In short, there's no meaningful arc, the characters are flat as pancakes, and Jackson thinks he can substitute long monkey gazes for the stuff of real romantic drama. Take a pass on this one.


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