Kong – Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is a remake of the iconic King Kong movie, but not the first remake. Peter Jackson had attempted to revive the character in 2005. The original was a low-budget movie and did not have high concept material. But now Kong: Skull Island is one of the biggest releases of the year. Although the creators of the remake prefer to say it is a 'new take' on an old classic, it was a lukewarm performance.5 out of 10 star

“Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast.” This immortal line was spoken by the character Carl Denham in the landmark 1933 movie King Kong. Made under the heavy eye of legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick, it told the story of a filmmaker (Denham) and a group of people who go to an island to find the enormous ape known as King Kong. Through circumstances, the ape falls for a beautiful actress whom he peruses even after he has been brought to New York as an overnight attraction. The film contains impressive motion capture special effects, which to this day are impossible to overlook.

This was what the late film critic Roger Ebert wrote of the film in his Great Movies collection of film reviews: “On good days I consider Citizen Kane the seminal film of the sound era, but on bad days it is King Kong. That is not to say I dislike King Kong, which, in this age of technical perfection, uses its very naïveté to generate a kind of creepy awe. It’s simply to observe that this low-rent monster movie, and not the psychological puzzle of Kane, pointed the way toward the current era of special effects, science fiction, cataclysmic destruction, and nonstop shocks.” Ebert goes on to say that King Kong is the father of movies “in which heroes are terrified by skillful special effects”.

For its time, King Kong was a B movie, meaning it had little budget and was not high concept material. Today, a movie like this is one of the biggest releases of the year, one that dominates the box office and the headlines. It is considered, bafflingly, high class entertainment.

Now, I am not one of those people that mourn the death of movies, because I do not believe movies are dead. But I also believe that cinema is the only art form to have steadily deteriorated since its birth. First we had the Murnaus, the Langs, the Hitchcocks, the Hawks’, the Kurasawas, the Kubricks and the French New Wave. Then we had Star Wars, E.T. and Die Hard. Now we have superhero movies and Mad Max: Fury Road. I rest my case.

Obviously Kong: Skull Island is not the first remake of King Kong. There was Peter Jackson’s aptly made 2005 version, which I should say was pretty fun, and another 1976 extravaganza that paled in the face of the original. The makers of Skull Island do not want us to use the word ‘remake’ though – they prefer the phrase “new take” to an old story. But do not let that fool you; it is a remake, and a cheap one at that.

A crazy old man, William (John Goodman), shows up at the office of an American senator and asks for permission for an exploration to an island never before reached by mankind. This is, one expert explains, because the island is protected by a perpetual storm. With advances in technology though, William, believes they could reach it now.

To do so, William assembles a group of people with different talents and temperaments. Given that no one knows what lies within the island, the explorers need a military escort. Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his squadron are hired. So is the tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), to help map out the island. A photojournalist, Weaver (Brie Larson), also impinges herself, hoping to catch the US military perform another misguided attempt to restore capitalism in a country that does not want it.

Kong Island starts out promisingly. Taking place during the 1970’s, the choice in music, the Vietnam parallels and helicopters over a mighty jungle successfully reminded me of movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon, but only in style, and not in scope or subject matter. The various 70’s hits played casually over certain scenes – from Black Sabbath’s Paranoid to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust – are profound. And the idea of a group of white people who try to defeat a native (Kong) they do not fully comprehend, on its own turf, is strangely reminiscent of the follies of the Vietnam War.

I really liked some of the images the film produces. The first time the characters make it into the island, the juxtaposition of the cold metal surface of the helicopters to the humid greenery of the island’s exterior is a mighty sight to behold. Then there is Kong itself, the monster, bigger and angrier than we have ever seen him. The giant ape holding a female human in its palms has been reproduced several times, but it has never been as striking as it appears to be in Skull Island.

But the ending was terrible. Never before have I ever seen such a sloppy finish, especially for a movie that started out so encouragingly. It is like some studio executive walked in on the filmmakers, paid lip service, and edited the film to meet some climatic cliché. The end result is a disgrace to all involved.

Nonetheless, I am more worried about the sequel, which will probably go down as the worst film in history. I deduce this simply from the title – Godzilla vs. Kong. Yes, sometime in the near future there will be a Godzilla and King Kong buddy movie, something similar to all those superhero crossover movies. I can already tell what the plot is going to be. The two monsters first battle it out, neither of them winning or getting hurt too seriously, and in the process destroy several high-rise buildings. In the third act though, a scarier monster comes along and they have to work together to defeat it. I am not getting butterflies inside my stomach.



By Christian Tesfaye
Exclusive to Fortune

Published on Mar 18,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 880]



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