Thursday, December 15, 2005

I saw King Kong today, and I have to highly recommend it to all of my stinkin' infidel readers.

Uh, Saddam? How is that possible? Aren't you in prison? Besides, the movie only opened today in the U.S. and New Zealand. How could you have seen it already?

Hey, I have friends in Hollywood. Remember Michael Moore, Alec Baldwin, and that whole bunch? Remember how opposed they were to the war? Well, let's just say I called in a few favors, and thanks to some fortunate timing, I was able to sneak into the wheel well of a C117 transport plane. That's all you need to know. Now shut up and keep reading.

I saw the 1976 version with Jessica Lang shortly after it came out and thought it sucked big time. And as for the original 1933 version, well, I only vaguely remember watching it as a kid on Saturday afternoons in Tikrit on my family's black & white TV. I do recall feeling quite unimpressed by it.

This new version, however, is breathtaking on a number of levels. First of all, the photography is wonderful. I had to close my eyes several times near the end when Kong was at the top of the Empire State Building. Then there's the action, at least once things get rolling. While the first hour or so is a bit on the slow side, the movie REALLY grabs you when they get to Skull Island. And since it's a three hour movie, that will be your last chance to hit the head. After that, you're not going to want to take your eyes off the screen. Finally, the characters are great. You really end up caring about what happens to them.

Kong himself is the product of computer-generated imagery (CGI), yet he is incredibly lifelike. Remember Jar-Jar Binks from Phantom Menace, who was also computer generated? Well, forget him. Kong puts him to shame. The technology of CGI has obviously come a long way in just the last few years.

In fact, that brings up another important difference between (Kong director) Peter Jackson and George Lucas. In the recent Star Wars movies, Lucas used his CGI characters to show off his special effects. But in the end, that's all you really ended up with: A series of pretty pictures. Beyond the wow factor, you really don't give a crap about the people on the screen.

Jackson, on the other hand, is able to use Kong to connect with his audience. You're not just looking at a big ape on that screen, but a creature with real feelings. As a result you identify with him an emotional level. Add to that a terrific performance by Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, and you're left with one of the most memorable on-screen romances in years. And most importantly, you end up with a real story with real heart. The end result of all this is that by the end of the movie, as Kong makes his last stand on top of the Empire State Building, you find yourself being reduced to tears.

Er, I mean most people would be reduced to tears. Not me, though. I'm too much of a manly man to cry.... Or at least admit to it.

But even before returning to New York--which only constitutes maybe 30 minutes at the end--there are a number of memorable scenes. One in particular was the fight between Kong and a trio of T-Rexes. It puts to shame anything the World Wrestling Federation has ever come up with. Another wonderful scene is after the fight when Kong takes Darrow back to his lair and they watch the sunrise.

Then there's the ice skating scene. Yes, Kong goes ice skating in Central Park after he makes his big escape and is reunited with Darrow. Not only is the sequence amusing, it's genuinely touching.

Of course, it's also too good to last. The American military soon shows up and everything quickly goes to hell. How typical is that? I guess some things never change, eh?

Of course, we all know how it will end. And as Kong slowly slips off the top of the Empire State Building while Darrow caresses his paw, I was reminded of the final goodbye between Jack and Rose in Titanic.... Especially when Kong says "Grow old, Ann, and make lots of babies."

Needless to say, that was somewhat unexpected.

---------------Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel