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Mythical Beasts

December 15, 2005

It’s been a busy two days of movie watching.  On Tuesday, for my birthday, the wife and I went to the Alamo Drafthouse and saw The Chronicles of Narnia.  Then, yesterday, I took the day off (we get our birthday off at work – I took it a day late) and caught King Kong.  Jamie didn’t want to see it, so I went by myself to a morning showing.

Without anything else to post about my birthday – I’m saving the "year in review" for New Year’s – I figured I’d offer my thoughts on the two films instead.

The Chronicles of Narnia

With its enchanted land, epic battles, and the friendship between its author, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia draws comparison to Lord of the Rings.  Many have made the comparison already, and found Narnia wanting.

Narnia

I do not see it that way.  Narnia was always written for a younger audience than Lord of the Rings.  The Lion, the Witch, & the Wardrobe, the book, is lighter fare than Fellowship of the Ring.  Thus, I don’t see Narnia as an inferior Lord of the Rings, but rather as something like Lord of the Rings Lite.  As such, it was enjoyable, though it does not possess the depth and grit of the Jackson trilogy.

That in no way means it is a bad movie.  In fact, if I had seen this at six, eight, or even ten years old, I am sure I would have proclaimed it my favorite movie.  I mean…a fantasy world filled with mythical beasts, a world where kids are respected…revered even.  A world where a boy can become a knight, and a king, even.

I read a review about a week ago that proclaimed that those who still have an inner child and a sense of wonder will love the film, while those who have long given themselves to cynicism will laugh at it.  And it’s true.  It’s a movie you have to watch through the eyes of a ten year old.  If you can do that…or if you have children that age…you are in for a treat of a movie.

King Kong

Just like Narnia, King Kong will invariably be compared to Lord of the Rings.  After all, it is the film Jackson chose as his follow-up to the epic trilogy.  And I think it was a mistake.

King_kong_trailer

Why?  Because Peter Jackson loves King Kong.  Because, for him, this became a fetish film.  And it suffers for it.  It suffers for needing to explore the pointless "Jimmy" plotline.  It suffers for its succession upon succession of hyperbolic "harrowing adventure" sequences.  It suffers for pointless camera tricks.  At one point onboard the venture, a radio message is received.  A simple thing to show, but Jackson has to do his slow-motion-blurry-camera effect to show the radio officer pick up his pencil.  Why? 

Though, in fairness, I must praise the beauty of the film.  Jackson does have an eye for epic shots.  And for creating CG characters.  Gollum was amazing in Lord of the Rings, but Kong is better.  He doesn’t look like an effect, even during the hyperkinetic fight with the three T-Rexes.  And, in the quieter scenes, you actually discover that the big lug has some personality in him.

The environments are well done.  Skull Island is creepy and haunting and beautiful and New York is…well…gorgeous and brightly lit and highly saturated.

Now comes the kicker.  Reviews have been praising the characters in the film.  How Jackson has improved their development and whatnot.  They must have seen a different movie.  Naomi Watts goes from being sad and alone and believing that anything good doesn’t last to, well, being sad and alone and having that belief reinforced.  Adrien Brody goes from having the hots for Naomi to, well, having the hots for Naomi.

But its Jack Black’s Carl Denham that pisses me off the most. Not because of Black’s performance – which I thought the movie’s best beside Naomi Watts’ Ann Darrow – but because of Denham’s character.  He’s the showman, the conman, always working an angle.  The one who emerges as the closest thing to the film’s bad guy when he captures Kong and brings him back to New York.  The one best set up for an actual character arc and redemption.  The one who speaks the film’s last line…where better to display that redemption.  So what does he say?

"Twas beauty killed the beast."

No, idiot.  It was you that killed the beast.  By, in your greed, capturing him and hauling him to New York to make a fortune exploiting him.  There is a powerful lesson in Kong, about how human greed invariably destroys what is natural and unique and mysterious in this world.  Denham, as the personification of that greed, should have been the one to understand.  Something to the effect of "we killed be beast…our greed…".

But no, "twas beauty killed the beast."  Weak.  Just weak.

Overall…it was good…but it was no Lord of the Rings…and shame on the production studio’s hype machine for setting the bar so high.

If I had to choose one of these two films – Narnia or Kong – to see with my family, or to buy on DVD, I would choose Narnia without hesitation.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 26, 2005 4:59 pm

    While i agree that better editing might make the film run tighter (deleting the jimmy stuff which went nowhere would be tops on my list) and that the whole film is a fetish film, the film was never (in the original or two subsequent remakes) meant to be a redemption film. It is supposed to be an edge of your seat spectacle (which it was in the original and Jackson recreates in this remake… the 70s remake was just plain misguided in every possible way).

    I still list Kong as the best film released in 2005, but because I don’t expect much from a cgi laden film… it is escapist entertainment and when you try to make it something that it isn’t, you’re bound to be disappointed.

    As for the chronicles of narnia, having read the books, i think it was an admirable adaptation and as you point out, one that is essentially aimed at children. I wouldn’t consider it worthy of much more than saying it does what it is supposed to, but not much more beyond that.

  2. December 29, 2005 1:48 pm

    We’ll have to agree to disagree, then. I’m sure my expectations were set too high – almost impossible for them not to be after weeks of fawning praise.

    But my expectations were high for Return of the King, as well and, though I thought the theatrical release was a bit rushed, I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie. And I didn’t come away disappointed…more baffled at the critics bemoaning its length.

  3. December 29, 2005 4:17 pm

    I think with most films that are made from beloved books you’re gonna get people who are disappointed. I loved LOTR, but hated Hitchhikers Guide. Narnia wasn’t all that special since the actors weren’t all that impressive and the graphics wasn’t either. So what can we expect from the DVD? Not much, but King Kong on the other hand…

    I wasn’t belittling your assessment by the way, just offering a different opinion. I think we agree more than we disagree. I found the same things wanting in KK, but I was willing to overlook it because it DID (at least for me) improve upon the original. Narnia on the other hand didn’t do the book justice in my opinion.

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