Recently on a hot friday night, packing and sorting my life’s work in Australia, looking for something to watch in the background, I found the latest version of King Kong. Having not heard anything great about it, I thought it would be the perfect backdrop to a hot night’s work. And it was. It was actually much better then I thought it would be.
Having never seen it before I was quite surprised to recognise the entire story. All the most famous elements of the original were there, from the cannibals, to the fight with the dinosaur, to the Broadway show, to the most famous of all, the fight at the top of the Empire State Building in New York. The biggest difference being that, at over three and a half hours, it was much longer then the original. Peter Jackson has been very reverential with the story, and has basically treated the new version as a chance to update the CGI graphics (the original used stop-motion puppetry, revolutionary for the time), and give the old story the usual ever so slight feminist update (Ann Darrow runs up to the top of the Empire State to be with Kong, whereas in the original she was taken up by Kong), but without damaging the love story between Ann and Kong.
However I think, aside from a good editor, an essential element was missing from the update. A couple of years ago I read an essay about King Kong in the wonderful book “Cult Movies” by Danny Peary. In it he talks through the films historical importance (the original was released in 1939, around the time of the great depression and before the outbreak of WWII). Around this time, many films were delving into newly discovered ideas in psychology coming from Freud and Carl Jung. Jung’s idea of the “shadow self” is very much a part of the movie. While the movie could easily be read as a metaphor for the sentiment at the time regarding Black Men (just see “To kill a mocking bird” to look at attitudes regarding black men and blonde women), it could just as easily be looked at from a psychological standpoint. With the placid, downtrodden man (perhaps weak from the depression) and his suppressed desire for Ann Darow, the beautiful blonde actress. This suppressed desire takes the shape of the wild untamed (though later tamed by love) Gorilla. I think any man (or woman perhaps) could understand this feeling, there certainly was a man in Japan that brought out the gorilla in me. And I understand how Kong would go on a near suicidal mission, just to search for the woman he loves, and then when he finds her, to defend her on the Empire state building. Such a powerful iconic image, that hasn’t descended into cliche, like when the gust of air blows Marilyn Monroe’s pure white dress sky high.
I was surprised how much the story reminded me of Bruce Banner/Incredible Hulk. Whereas Kong represents the shadowy sexual beast, the Hulk represents that inner demon of pure white hot anger. There isn’t really much to the Hulk, just pure rage that lives inside of the mild-mannered Bruce Banner. I think perhaps the reason why the Hulk movie didn’t work was because there just isn’t much to the story. Batman is angry, but he is also interesting.
So despite it being too long, it was perfect for a hot Saturday night with nothing to do. And to quote Matt, if it has entertained you for two hours, it’s a good movie. I just think it could of been a more interesting one.