Friday, February 09, 2007

PeaceBang Finally Sees "King Kong"

I'm supposed to be working on a sermon on communal grief and the cost of repressing it, but I can't stop thinking about Peter Jackson's "King Kong" starring Naomi Watts, Jack Black and Adrien Brody. It was on HBO last night and although I had intended to go to bed early, I wound up watching the whole thing until 11pm.

Some of you may recall that I originally inquired about the meaning of "KK" here:

After having actually seen it, I can only say that I wouldn't be at all surprised if there's a graduate student out there working on a thesis called something like, "King Kong: Images of Otherness in Contemporary Cinema," or "King Kong: A Study of Symbiotic Relationships
In Racial and Gendered Experiences of Oppression" or "King Kong: The Futility of Maleness in the Creative Imagination of Peter Jackson." The internet is absolutely loaded with articles on the racism inherent in the picture.

Was it racist? Oh my Gods, yes. I can imagine Peter Jackson, in all earnestness, saying, "We've got to make the natives of Skull Island really aboriginal and scary, but we can't make them African. I know! Let's make them South Sea Islanders. That won't seem so racist. They'll just seem to be... I don't know... Horrible Mud-Covered People of Indeterminate Racial Heritage."

Oh, Peter. These characters are unbelievably offensive throwbacks to what one commentator called "the ooga booga school of thespian arts."

Here's what I thought: the Skull Island natives are apparently in the habit of feeding female sacrifices to the great 24-foot gorilla, Kong. Did these aboriginal lasses go willingly to their deaths to appease the beast? Did they too struggle to survive, but unsuccessfully? Because the way the film plays, it takes a scrawny white American chick (Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow) in a silk camisole and pink skirt to have the spunk and strength to stab Kong in the paw with part of the sharp bone necklace she's been forced to wear, and to escape from him. Oh, those enterprising white Americans! Can't keep 'em down!

The same scrawny white chick later enchants her simian captor by dancing and juggling for him and by teaching him sign language for "beautiful." They have a lovely relationship. I mean that; it's very touching. But clearly they don't make skinny white chicks the way they used to, because I noticed that at the end of the film, when Ann is running around on top of the Empire State Building in the midst of winter in nothing but a white satin negligee-type gown, she manages to totally avoid hypothermia. Or even shivering. Way up high like that. It's fantastic.

Why wasn't this film protested by anti-racism organizations? You know why? Because it's a really, really stupid movie and they had better things to do.

In fact, although this movie is offensively racist, it cheerfully and rather grandly mocks everyone's intelligence. "King Kong" was unintentionally hilarious in that way that action/adventure films are always hilarious, which is that ordinary human beings can get shot at, flung sideways through the jungle at a velocity that would break every bone in the average body, hurled off cliffs, and attacked by hostile insects the size of Marlon Brando in his later years, and still walk away unscathed. This always delights me. In fact, "King Kong" was the best movie I've ever seen for this sort of silliness.

The best part was the Attack of the Dinosaurs sequence, which went on forever and ever in this manner:

"Oh my gosh! We have just stumbled on a grove of very enormous dinosaurs! They seem to be nervous and agitated! Let's get closer to them!"
"Ack! I'm being chased by a very scary Brontosaurus! Or maybe it's a T-Rex! But I am outrunning him, because I am an important character in this movie and it's very important that I not die yet!"
"Whoaf! WATCH out! I thought that Brontosaurus was bad, but here comes a Brontomegalasaurus and it's trying to chomp my butt! Run! Run!... WUH-OH, now there's a Brontorexolaubadassasauraus on the scene!! My life sure is in danger now!!"

You get the idea.

All of the characters are really stereotypical and dumb, so you don't care about any of them. Adrien Brody has the distinction of playing the most pointless romantic interest of all time, running around trying to save Ann as she's mooning about with her gorilla boyfriend and clearly doesn't give a fig for him. I mean, any woman who would clamber around on the top of the Empire State Building in the freezing cold while war planes are zooming all over the place and shooting in her general vicinity in order to scream "NO! NO!" is just not regular girlfriend material. You can eat all the bananas you want, feller, but you'll never capture her heart like the big hairy guy. I'm sorry, but I don't blame her, either. Any date who can hold me in the palm of his hand while we slide gigglingly all over the ice on a Central Park lake is going to be a tough act to follow.

Anyway, Andy Serkis (who "played" Gollum so marvelously in Jackson's "Lord of the Ring" pictures) does a fantastic job playing Kong, and the special effects are gorgeous.

And really, for all its monumental silliness, there is something about this film that stays with you. At least it's staying with me. There is something ineffably sad and haunting about it.


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