It’s my day off, and it’s cloudy and a bit cool, almost my favorite weather ever. So what do I do? Double feature, of course.
I trekked to Blockbuster and rented “King Kong” (2005), which I neglected to see in the theater (although I did want to), and “War of the Worlds” (in an amusing coincidence, also 2005), which a friend of mine once told me was the worst movie ever made.
I do think she was exaggerating there, but let’s get to KONG!
Boy, that movie was a total mess. Too long, way too in love with CGI monsters and way, way too long. However, it may be a mess, but I still liked it.
The original 1933 version was probably the pinnacle of special effects for that era (which means they totally suck by today’s standards), but it was such a rollickin’ good adventure story that I didn’t notice when I watched it. It’s a short, fun film with an iconic, but righteous ending. Sure, it’s not Kong’s fault he was brought Stateside, but he did kill a bunch of people for no reason, so down he goes and we all feel good at the end.
But Peter Jackson takes a different approach here, and when the big guy has his climactic fight at the end, I wasn’t sure who I was rooting for. Not bad for a monster movie.
It was a bit distressing to lose that adventurous spirit of the original, but Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” has a lot more focus on the characters, which means back stories, which means lots of setup. The first hour of the film is all setup, but it does pay off. When people start dying, you feel it. When they arrive at Skull Island (you just know that place is going to be a blast) and are thoroughly creeped out, you feel it. And when the men go traipsing through an otherworldy jungle to save Ann (Naomi Watts) from the beast, you get why.
Watts has the most challenging role of the film, and she carries it well; at first, she’s terrified of the big ape, and who wouldn’t be. But she manages to win him over, and when she’s confronted with the other dangers on the island, she picks him and he saves her, over and over. She falls in love with that ape, because he shows that he will do anything to protect her.
A love story, a beast/human love story, in a monster movie?!?! And yet, it works.
“King Kong” is still an overproduced, bloated mess, but Jackson pulled off the impossible here; a convincing love story between woman and beast. Nice job, even with all the excess.
Man, I wish I had watched that second.
“War of the Worlds” is a simple tale; aliens attack, and we watch the survivors try to live through it, until humans inevitably save the day for our species. Nothing new here, but some obvious missteps really tank the film.
The first one was casting Tom Cruise as the lead; the guy has fairly minimal range, and no matter what’s happening to his character, he has the same face and the same emotions. Granted, it’s not his fault Ray is so unlikable (not only is he a horrible father, he’s also a total ass), but Cruise’s monotone style doesn’t help.
The other misstep that ruins the flick is that while there is a lot of violence, and a lot of death, there is no emotional cost for it. Yes, we witness nearly two hours of death and destruction, and it means nothing. The plot is flimsy, the characters are mostly annoying, and I didn’t care a bit what happened to them.
Bad form there.
I remembering reading that Steven Spielberg used pSeptember 11 imagery as a background for his film, and David Edelstein gave a passionate defense of the practice. I don’t have a problem with tapping into cultural fears and anxiety to make a larger point in a movie like this, but I appreciate if it was at least a good movie (or series).
Is emotional resonance too much to ask for? It wasn’t for Jackson.
Now comes the fun part; every double feature should be linked, by obvious choices (directors and/or writers) or less clear ones (themes, settings)
What links these movies, other than the year: they’re both invasion pictures. What do you do when something comes into your land and mucks about with your world? You protect what’s yours. You fight for what matters: what you love, be it a woman or
your children. You don’t give up, even when all is lost.