Sunday, December 25, 2005

The beast looked upon the face of beauty. Beauty stayed his hand, and from that moment he was as one dead

[December 16, 2005]

largesse: The sense of size in Peter Jackson's ode to the simian version of Beauty and the Beast comes not from the marvellous all-digital ape created from motion captures of a wonderfully nuanced performance from Andy Serkis but from its gargantuan length. At 3 hours and 7 minutes, this film was destined to confound marquee scheduling algorithms and even box office takings.

SFX and such: The film overtly follows the path-breaking 1933 original and on occasion the weak laughable 1976 version (aah! memories of the dress circle at West End in Pune). The greatest tribute comes not from the props that occasionally pop up on screen, not from the in-jokes, but from the SFX. The dinosaur stampede, the enhanced duel between Kong and the T-Rex (now there's more than one), and especially a gory uncomfortable sequence involving a pit and hordes of bugs that missed out on the evolutionary memo of extinction. That last sequence is a tip of the hat to an excised sequence from the 1933 original featuring giant spiders. And it also puts this film safely out of the reach of a family audience. Which is probably just as well, because any exploration of the sexual politics of the tale would have been difficult otherwise. While the Skull Island sequences are lush with great SFX and production design, the most heart-warming sequences are the ones between Fay and Kong.

Orson Welles: Jack Black's Orson Welles-ian take on filmmaker Carl Denham feels like a wry reflection of Peter Jackson -- you don't see Kong for almost an hour. And Jackson doesn't bother with devices to tickle your curiosity. He knows that most of his audience knows what to expect. And he lets just plays with that expectation as he embarks on an introduction to depression-time New York, and an introduction to our principals. The editing in these opening moments, until perhaps the scenes on the boat when love blossoms between Driscoll and Darrow, is inspired. There's a sense of pace that one wishes had survived till the closing credits. But all is not lost. The sequences introducing Skull Island -- the fog-covered craggy rockscape, the battle against the elements -- are wonderfully scary and eventful.

The use of Conrad's Heart of Darkness seems to serve two purposes: it provides a literary complement to the goings-on, and it adds another Welles-ian angle to the film. Not much is made of the angle though, so it survives only as an embellishment like the rest of the in-jokes and references (including the ones to Merian Cooper, RKO, Fay Wray).

the cast: Jackson scores another ace with a top-notch cast. From Naomi Watts (who manages to punch in some acting smarts to make Ann Darrow just as memorable as Fay Wray's original) to Jack Black's Orson Welles-an take as Carl Denham, to Adrien Brody and Thomas Kretschmann, both seen in The Pianist, and even Andy Serkis, doubling up as the one-eyed Lumpy.

coolest cameos: Watch out for Rick Baker (SFX man on the 1976 version, and the guy in the gorilla suit in the same film) and Frank Darabont (who featured in the notorious production diary post that also featured Bryan Singer lending a helping hand) as the flying gunners.

the technical department: The technical achievements don't stop with Kong. Check out the production design for New York City, the vistas during the trip, the entire Skull Island chunk. A mind-blowing team effort.

wishes, horses: If only Fay Wray had been alive to utter the immortal line at the end. And if only Jackson had run the scissors on the opening hour and shaved off some fat. This would have been a more satisfying filmmaking achievement.

elsewhere: all sorts of Kong candy

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