King Kong (2005)
|Genre(s): Action / Adventure / Drama / Mystery / Thriller|
|Universal || PG13 - 187 minutes || December 14, 2005|
|Reviewer: Andy Hoglund || Posted On: 2005-12-25|
Writer(s): Merian C. Cooper (story) & Edgar Wallace (story), Fran Walsh (screenplay) & Philippa Boyens (screenplay) & Peter Jackson (screenplay)
Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell, Kyle Chandler, Colin Hanks, Thomas Kretschmann
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Note: This is not a review, more film commentary, using King Kong as an example...
This contains some spoilers so beware.
“Kong” as a critique on the state of entertainment:
What is of significance regarding Peter Jackson’s King Kong is not how faithful Jackson remained to the original’s story and characters, but the changes he made. Beginning to question “why?” these specific changes were made is an obvious consideration and a right one, as well. Behind the changes made in character and scenes is a revealed sharp commentary on the honesty with which creative persons follow in action the “truth” they pontificate over in painting, song or writing. As opposed to the everyday patron, the creative mind lays claim to possess a monopoly of disclosure on “beauty” through humanity’s lens, only to hypocritically contradict and rescind any claim to a higher ethical code given the correct circumstances.
With what is an otherwise cheeky, lethargic first act, Peter Jackson introduces his three central characters (all artists of some sort) and also a wide variety of secondary characters. Some of these minor players are themselves entertainers, or connected to the entertainment industry in some facet. Another type of secondary character are the sailors aboard the ship that travels to Skull Island. These men are in stark contrast to the lofty romantics seen on Broadway—they are disgruntled, sobering figures of a writer’s imagination. To be sure, they are purely a writer’s invention—Peter Jackson and his clan, to be exact. Jackson has written this voyage to Skull Island and their interactions with the horrors there as a means to “cross pollinate” two distinct breeds of social classes (cinematically speaking, that is… never assume Jackson intends for these sailors to be more than the well-developed caricatures of past B-films made in homage). These sailors have seen grit, they have experienced the pain and suffering Jack Driscoll writes about. Two sailors invented by Jackson are Hayes, the ship’s first mate, and Jimmy, a young stowaway Hayes has took pity on and is encouraging to find a better life for himself. Hayes is Jimmy’s accepted father figure aboard the ship and they maintain a symbiotic relationship, very much in line with Jackson’s theme of two characters relying on one another for emotional support (Kong, Darrow; Preston, Denham etc.). Jimmy is a novice to the world and is constantly being protected by Hayes, who provides monologues on the virtues of decency, when preconceived notions of “bravery” need not apply in the face of death, as well as a soliloquy, of sorts, off of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Despite the triteness of these two characters and their relationship to one another (they are cardboard transplants of past B-films, after all), they serve as excellent foils to the intellectuals and the cowardly filmmakers who make up their company. It is Hayes who gallantly defends his mates against Kong, in keeping with his general attitudes as a dutiful sailor and father figure to Jimmy. Hayes’ values are the preservation of human life, duty and decency, as well as many other virtuous handles that need not be mentioned.
Jack Driscoll is a man who certainly admires virtue, particularly the heroism demonstrated in average men such as Hayes. Hell, he writes about it for a living. It is the Depression and the Federal Theater employs Driscoll. From what little background information we are given on Driscoll (thanks Peter Jackson… eh, I guess all one-dimensional characters are more simply in tune with the era of filmmaking Jackson is attempting to emulate), we know Driscoll is a bookish man. He reads, he writes. His world is the theater—he lives for it. That is an important distinction. He does not live for the people, or even for himself—but for the cold abstract of the theater. As Jackson visually articulates several times, Driscoll is a man who lives in a cage (remember his typewriter scenes in the ship’s lower storage deck) and, as an artist, is successful in so far as he has limited himself—his prison of an environment, the world of ideas, make little impact on the world.
Driscoll is a romantic, an idealist. On Skull Island, the cute musings Driscoll has been exploiting for profit in his existence as a playwright are finally put into application. But, the bubble of imagination permeates throughout Driscoll’s actions. He is not acting humanely, or even as the noble knight to Darrow’s fair maiden, but rather as a character in one of his plays. And then, the illusion concludes. Driscoll is reunited with Ann—he has faced the monster, the villain in his mind’s production. It did not occur to him that this giant beast may be a manifested version of many of the noble ideals he has gone to bed musing over.
Darrow and Driscoll return to the rest of the crew and Driscoll has, in his mind, already written his idea of what will next take place—they will sail off into the sunset. But the situation is trickier than that. The men attempt to subdue Kong. Driscoll is conflicted, as he sees Darrow paradoxically upset over the harm of her former captor. Kong is not the villain, as it would appear—they are. They live through deceit, treachery, falsehoods. Kong is able to gain the upper hand with brute force and instinct—they must calculate and smash a glass jar of gas into Kong’s cheek before knocking him out. Hayes and the Heart of Darkness monologue, while heavy handed, was absolutely correct, especially to an intellectual such as Driscoll. Kong is the threatened, the intruded and Driscoll’s reaction? A return to his meek interior of before. Indirect public approval, introverted repulsion. He had concluded his heroic escapade, his version of the story was close to finalization, so the exploitation and cruel defacement of an innocent creature would have to be the sacrifice. Not Driscoll’s sacrifice, but a sacrifice generally, to be sure, Darrow’s views be damned.
Conveniently, the reflective writer that he is, Driscoll realizes the error of his ways. It is important to understand that Driscoll rewrote his version of the story to reincorporate himself with more heroic standing. He had to feel guilt and remorse afterwards. Ann Darrow was no longer speaking to him, after his silent participation in the disgusting, cruel emasculation of Kong. This is a common tool for individuals who do something knowlingly wrong—they forgive themselves by feigning contrition inwardly, then express this contrived notion of spontaneous regret outwardly. To a certain extent, this only justifies the theory Driscoll is a man of to himself—a caged creature, an introvert whose place is to write silly little words without consequence. He did not love Ann; he loved the opportunity to finally cast himself in the romantic lead. Driscoll was a man who was a beacon of light to people like Ann Darrow as a writer, a hero to himself on Skull Island, but ultimately a failure for his calculated measures to preserve the illusion between fictional Jack, reality Jack and the selfish underpinnings that lay in between. Remember that Ann initially mistook another man for Driscoll—there is no real Driscoll. He is the epitome of the writer, the novelist, the playwright. They are faceless aberrations, who yield to the internal gratifications exuded through their protagonists and noble themes.
And for a while, Ann Darrow had Jack Driscoll figured out. Sure, she idealized the man as the caged producer of romantic works, but as a man, Darrow was quick to size up his character. Even after their romantic relationship began, this only serves to annihilate the idealized version Ann had for Jack, and the beginning for Jack’s own idealized version for himself. As Darrow said, it was all words… there was no real meaning behind it.
Disgusted, Darrow disassociates herself with Driscoll and Denham following the capture of Kong. And yet… she does NOT leave the entertainment business. The allure, the temptation was too strong. Ann is conflicted—she is upset at Jack, at the real Jack, but still maintains a hope for the Jack she had concocted in her brain for herself. She needed THAT Jack to be there and never leave. And once Kong abandoned her (abandoned being the operative word for dying), the idealized, heroic Jack reemerged, conveniently. To Ann, it was never about being alone. Even when alone, Ann had herself as an entertainer, as a vaudevillian to keep herself occupied. Now, even before Kong had hit the New York street top, she was in the embrace of Jack. Nevermind the cowardice, the flakiness. Ann had succumbed to the entertainer’s compulsion: the desire to be wanted. But where would this critique be without Carl Denham? Like Darrow and Driscoll, Denham forfeits his inclinations for truth in order to maintain a better image of himself. More significantly, Denham’s infidelity, unlike Darrow and Driscoll, causes more than just personal damnation and self-loathing, but wide scale destruction. To make his film, men die—lives and careers are put at stake. To save his own skin, Kong is kidnapped, tortured and inserted into a new climate of a jungle—chaos ensues. On the galla opening of Kong’s appearance on Broadway, Denham is seen taking photos with the very men who had written him off as a hack, attacked him and sent out a warrant for his arrest. Now, they together were all a part of the same success story. Thus is the nature of Hollywood, is Jackson’s message. One day they will try to get you arrested, the next they are smiling and introducing you to their whore wives.
Like Driscoll, Denham maintains an uneasy alliance and double identity. He is both the sincere artist, the idealist… and the conniving coward, the cynic who betrays the noble causes he stands for. Simultaneously. Denham is a guerrilla filmmaker and Jackson cynically mocks the great lengths Denham is willing to degrade the environment and the people around him in order to preserve the integrity of this “pure” filmmaking. After all, its all better with CGI, right? Denham is both a maverick filmmaker who hijacks across the ocean to Skull Island, and the corporate scum who lets a man die in order to save his tripod. There is tension between the two and Denham visibly displays conflict throughout the film. Nevertheless, tragedy is placed at Denham’s feet. He is ultimately a hypocrite in ways Driscoll only writes about.
And after all the mayhem caused by Kong in New York City, as the result of Denham’s greed, it is DENHAM, ironically, who is still passed the gold key line: “It was beauty who killed the beast.” Why? Why would Denham (or even Driscoll) get to say that line? Why not Preston (one of the few entertainment-based characters who do not openly betray their own sense of ethics)? It is this duality between idealist and coward that Jackson is highlighting when he STILL allows Denham to state that beautiful line—a line that, in the original, conveyed so much more coming from Robert Armstrong than Jack Black. Of course Denham still says THAT line in question—he is STILL the maverick filmmaker, with the glass eye of truth. By the same cynical logic, Driscoll STILL gets the girl, though undeserving wimp that he is.
While millions of individuals lay no stake on high-minded insights into life’s mysteries, poets, artists, filmmakers claim to hold a portal into a more lucid perception of gravitas and beauty. And yet, still, turning on the news, what judgments can one make? Are these shallow, bumbling buffoons truly our culture’s prophets? As if this banal decadence was not enough, it now conveniently has infiltrated the very institutions who once fought so diligently against it? Pure souls, who speak through action, like Hayes and Kong, die in triumph, while the naysayers, hucksters and narcissists live amongst the Denham, Driscoll and Darrows of the world.