King Kong Musings

I saw King Kong —twice— theatrically, in the "standard" auditoriums of the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood (not the Cinerama Dome where it was also playing, for reasons I described in an earlier blog, "King Kong: Peter Jackson's Production Diaries," below). It was, without question, the best theatrical film presentation I've seen in years. I wrote about the DVD in our most recent e-Newsletter, which will show up in your mailbox in a few days. (You do subscribe don't you? It's free, just go hereto sign up.)

Space limitations in the newsletter (which included reviews of two other DVDs as well) prompted me to save a few additional comments on the film for this blog.

Kong looked far better in the theater than did any of director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings films. It was sharp, crisp, and nearly three-dimensional throughout, but particularly in the early New York sequences. Those close-ups of Naomi Watts' gorgeous eyes in the first act's restaurant scene are impossible to forget—though I later read somewhere that they were computer enhanced.

The DVD isn't up to that level, though it's still very good. But I've seen dozens of films that actually looked better on DVD than they do even in some of the best LA theaters (apart from sheer size and scope). Not this one. Hopefully, we'll see it on a high definition disc before the cows come home. The absence of a few key extras (trailers, commentary tracks) almost guarantees that a more complete version is in the works, though considering the sputtering launch of both HD DVD and Blu-ray, there's no guarantee it will be in HD.

I viewed the DVD on both Yamaha DPX-1300 and SIM2 C3X projectors on both 96- and 78-inch (wide) screens. It looked much better on the smaller screen; as with many DVDs, once you blow it up much larger the image takes on an artificial look that I don't like. It's undeniably more immersive on the bigger screen, but it no longer looks like film. Viewing it on the bright SIM2, even on the smaller screen, also made many of the CGI effects and matte paintings look fake, something that was not immediately obvious with a less bright projected image, either in the theater or at home. (OK, I know about the bronto stampede and yes, it was the least convincing CGI work in the film.)

I don't address the controversy over the film's score in the newsletter, but it's no secret by now that composer Howard Shore's work was rejected. Shore wrote the score for director Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy—the single most significant accomplishment in film scoring in the past twenty-five years, perhaps ever. But Shore's Kong score apparently wasn't what Jackson wanted for the movie. Perhaps we'll see the controversy addressed in that inevitable, Super Deluxe version as soon as this fall, though I doubt it. It isn't even hinted at in this set. James Newton Howard, Shore's replacement, did do a yeoman's job in writing a new score at the last minute.

In a fascinating bit of irony, it's Howard Shore you see directing the orchestra in the theater scene. The score flap must have been amicable; otherwise Jackson could have digitally replaced Shore with James Newton Howard!

Spoilers I do love this film, one of my five best of 2005. But like all fantasy films, it does have its head-scratchers. The granddaddy of them all is in the spider-pit scene, when Jimmy (who has no apparent experience with weapons) shoots the giant bugs off of Jack with a machine gun, leaving Jack untouched. There are also more bugs in the scene than would be possible in any ecosystem this size. They would be feeding on each other, reducing their population to a fraction of the numbers shown here.

More? Kong gets chomped-on by three Tyrannosaurs but seems merely tired afterward and barely scratched.

And I've always wondered how they got him on that small ship, restrained him, and brought along enough food to sustain him on the very long voyage back to New York. The only possible place they could put him would be the top deck. There's a comedy skit in there somewhere about passing through both the Panama Canal and New York customs. (If you're a King Kong fan and haven't heard comic Bob Newhart's riff on Kong and the new night watchman at the Empire State Building you must. It's on one of his CDs).

But getting Kong back to New York was also glossed over in the 1933 original (the otherwise execrable 1976 version at least made an attempt to explain it by using a supertanker).

Kong also escapes the theater during an evening performance. A half hour later, in film time, the army is out in force and it's dawn. I guess we missed a lot. Why didn't Ann at least throw on a coat before running out into the cold NY winter night in that slinky dress? I guess she wasn't planning on a visit to the top of the Empire State Building. And it must be a brutal winter in the Big Apple for that frozen pond in Central Park to support a 20 ton (??) gorilla!