28 May 2006 | bob the moo
Attempts at depth are worthy enough even if they don't work but the rest still produces a commendable special effects blockbuster
1933 New York and two people find themselves in difficult circumstances, albeit for different reasons. Carl Denham is a movie producer who wants to make his big picture but finds the studio unwilling to support him. Ann Darrow is an actress who has hit hard times and is one meal away from having to become a performer in a seedier version of "acting". While frantically searching for an actress that he can quickly convince to come on a mystery voyage to shoot on a distant island, Carl meets Ann and convinces her to come along on the strength of the involvement of writer Jack Driscoll. After an eventful journey, they arrive at the island but to suggest that they face a "troublesome" shoot is a real understatement.
In my 12 hour wait for my "First Class" seat for a transatlantic flight to America I discovered that "First Class" to Continental means "you pay lost more cash but we extend you just the same (dis)courtesy as the economy passengers". With my laptop with me I was at least able to find some distraction with a DVD copy of King Kong. Although I'm sure it loses something by being seen on a comparatively small screen I still enjoyed the film as a big budget b-movie, which is pretty much what it was. Sure, Jackson may have had aspirations to deepen the story and bring real pathos out of his "characters" but he doesn't particularly pull it off and most of the viewers will have been there for the big effects rather than the chance to explore the emotions within a cinematic legend. So in this regard the film works by kicking out the action after a comparatively slow start where we spend a lot of time with lesser characters who don't matter that much in the wider context of the narrative.
However when the action comes it is slick, noisy and visually impressive. The only thing I did have a problem with was how hollow it all was. Jackson does attempt to develop a tender relationship between Kong and Ann, but the material struggles to deliver the goods and all that we are left with is lots of "meaningful" looks as the pair get some sort of unspoken (and unseen!) understanding. At this level the film didn't really engage me I respected what he was trying to do with it, but I'm afraid I can't relate to those who claim to have cried and felt so much from this "beautiful" relationship.
Faced with such big effects, noise and spectacle, the cast cannot do much other than try and hold their own. Watts has the hardest role as she tries to react and bond with a creature that was never actually there with her in reality only in a computer. When you remember this, her performance is pretty commendable but when I was watching the film I must admit that I thought she relied far too much on staring and looking sad or having a half-smile on her face; she still did as well as one could have hoped but again I don't get the claims that she was brilliant here when she clearly wasn't. Black and Brody are very much supporting performances that have little to do; Brody didn't suit his role and Black never convinced as a larger than life movie producer. Yet again Serkis does a good job to bring an effect to life although for obvious reasons he is nowhere near as good as he was in the Lord of the Rings films and he can only do so much with expressions.
Overall then a solidly enjoyable blockbuster that produces plenty of noise, action and impressive visual effects. The attempts at depth and meaning are laudable and do add something to the mix but I'm afraid that it doesn't really work as well as some viewers have claimed. Still worth seeing as a blockbuster experience though, despite some of the flaws inherent in the approach and the rather cumbersome running time.