Saturday, December 24, 2005

The New Kong

When I was a wee lad I used to love a show called Dr. Shock's Mad Theater that played once a week on Channel 17 in southern PA. Dr. Shock would do hammy intro bits to an eclectic blend of classics like Karloff's Mummy and Lugosi's Dracula, cornball B movies like The Screaming Skull and Let's Scare Jessica To Death, and I loved that stuff even though I spent many a night in morbid dread of subtle sounds in the heating system as a result. Many vivid memories of TV childhood--the awful spider fight in The Incredible Shrinking Man, for instance--still linger from those years when I was 7 or 8 and watching stuff I shouldn't have been.

One day Dr. Shock showed King Kong and I was floored for several reasons, the most powerful being the idea that giant beasts weren't necessarily the villains when confronted by monstrous people, and I cried like a baby (I was a baby!) when the ape fell at the end. I had a King Kong tin lunchbox with the ape straddling the Twin Towers and holding a flaming jet fighter in his fist that I took to Stewartstown Elementary a few times before losing it. How I wish I still had that sucker!

So despite my love of Pete Jackson's stuff I saw Kong's latest cinematic incarnation with a bit of trepidation. This is sacred ground being re-tread, and usually that's a bad thing. I loved the movie however. Jackson makes his Kong an hommage to old Hollywood moviemaking, and though there are moments when cinematic cliches burst in veritable geysers of CGI to unimaginably goofy crescendos, I was exhilerated and moved and didn't notice the 3.5 hours or whatever it took to achieve denouement. There are problems--the movie bears too much resemblance to the Lord of the Rings, for one, but that's to be expected I suppose. There are scenes unnecessarily cluttered with too much digital action, to the point the mind shuts down. The CGI falls apart at some key points and just looks flat and smeary.

But this is akin to watching the original and pointing out the animators' fingerprints in the monkey model's fur. Just enjoy the ride. It's like a classic Disney animation with its humor and romance and fine frights and laws-of-physics-defying spectacle. A lot of children were crying when the inevitable happened--The Senator was full of sobbing wee ones experiencing what I did 30 years ago, and that's just great.

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