Damn, it’s been almost a month since our last column (Geoff Foster’s in-depth look at intelligent science fiction). But just to prove the naysayers wrong, we’re back with more rumblings from the minds of our brilliant fanbase. If you also happen to be brilliant, prove it! Email me and let’s see what you’ve got.
As for today, let’s welcome back our man Leo who’s here to give us a look at the many reasons why we anticipate giant, misunderstood apes and that one special man pulling its strings…
Kiwi, Kiwi, You’re the One
By Leo Lucky
Member since 5/27/05
Marketing in Dallas, TX
There’s a drumbeat out there. Past the trees. You can barely hear it but it’s there, and it gets a little louder every day.
It’s name is King Kong.
I have to say this film gets me going more than any other project in production. Just thinking about what Jackson’s eye can do with this concept, after having seen what he did with Tolkien’s, is enough to send any movie geek reeling. We truly are lucky to be alive right now, with technology having advanced to the point that artists can literally create anything imaginable, and (some) know exactly how to apply it, and when.
Weta was a revelation with The Lord of the Rings. Their work on Kong will be even better. Their technology has advanced, as has their levels of experience. From what I hear, there aren’t just going to be Kong and a couple of Tyrannosaurs (which would be freaking great), but that plus lots and lots of other monsters, a "$200 million Ray Harryhausen movie". I was a kid in the 70s. Star Wars was my first movie. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, Eye of the Tiger, Clash of the Titans: these movies moved my young imagination to the point of ecstasy. What could be more beautiful than inspiring a six year old to draw, to play, to dream? Perhaps only the fact that Peter Jackson is inspiring this 30 year old kid now, that his work thus far has the ability to completely transport me. I walked out of The Return of the King on opening day with my head in the clouds thinking, "THAT is why I go to the movies." I can’t remember the last time a movie made me feel like that. Now that we’ve all seen the trailer, it’s no wonder why we’re so psyched about Kong.
As a child of the 70s, my first remembered experience with Kong was the 1978 remake with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges, the one where Kong is two hundred feet tall, climbs the Twin Towers, and wipes Charles Grodin’s moustache off his foot. That this remake is nearly universally reviled is no real surprise. It has nothing of the magic of the original, and is hampered by some pretty dated effects. But I think it meant well, and I loved it as a kid. Back then, I didn’t know the term “man-in-suit”, nor did I care. I ate Godzilla movies up with the same relish he did Tokyo.
Harryhausen was a God to me then, the man who could make skeletons come to life, giants walk the Earth, and Medusa really, really scary. And somewhere as I grew old enough to start asking the behind-the-scenes questions that I have never stopped asking, I discovered that Harryhausen was in fact inspired by the original King Kong and the work done on it by the great Willis O’Brien. Watching it now, it still retains that magic, the ability to transport, albeit with a knowing aura of nostalgia. What impresses me now is the way the characters move, seeing the ghostly fingerprints of the movers in Kong’s shifting fur, and knowing that countless hours were spent on each shot in order to bring the inanimate to such dynamic life.
This kind of thing still goes on. Now it’s done with computers and of course it’s everywhere. But I think I can make this statement without fear of sounding foolish—that Peter Jackson is the only man alive still making movies with the same heart Harryhausen made them so long ago. Yes, there is no shortage of CGI monsters, but are they FUN? Fellowship of the Ring is still one of my favorite movies of all time, simply because of all those monsters. PJ describes them as “cameo monsters”, the kind that show up for a set piece, wreak havoc, and sink back into the slime. Hello, Watcher in the Water. Talkin bout you, Balrog. Come on, Cave Troll. And it was FUN. It is perfectly fitting, and a testament to what a good guy Harryhausen must be, that Peter Jackson now owns the original animatronics that Harryhausen used to create the original masterpiece.
Watching that trailer the other day (and yes, I’ve watched it many times since), I found myself feeling giddy, even smiling through it, as shot after shot made me more and more thrilled to be watching the evolution of another great film by a man who just simply knows how to do it. The camera moves—that dynamic way Peter has of taking an otherwise static shot and breathing life into it simply by moving the camera—and we’re not talking about Michael Bay camera moves here—Peter certainly has his own style, and it’s not about creating Hallmark moments. It’s about enveloping you within the emotion of the shot, and dammit if it doesn’t work for me. But it wasn’t the tantalizing glimpses of the action set pieces that threw me over the top, but the little touches that Peter knows how to do so well: that shot of Ann’s foot as she climbs the gangplank to the Venture; that shot of her hand on the railing–just a little foreshadowing that this will indeed be the biggest trip of her life. It’s these touches that give me faith in PJ—the emotional pulls that make the film rise above set pieces and truly resonate. Now, that’s all well and good, but let’s talks about those set pieces.
Granted, glimpses are all we’ve had; glimpses that may not even be in the film. Jackson hinted in the latest Production Diary (over at KongisKing.net) that this trailer was made as a mini-film—that there were shots created specifically for it, and that one “significant” shot would not be in the film. But what’s there is enough to set off any film geek. The approach to Skull Island. The roar. That thing in the water. Kong smashing a car. Dinosaurs, dinosaurs, dinosaurs! Especially that shot where Kong falls to catch Ann, landing hard on his shoulder, and just barely pulling her away in time as a leaping Tyrannosaur’s jaws snap shut on where she was a moment before. Not to mention that New York looks fantastic. Seriously, is there anyone with a hint of movie cred out there that doesn’t believe with all their heart that this movie is going to rock? For the first time, I have absolute trust in a filmmaker to deliver the goods. This is the credibility PJ has built up in the last few years by taking an un-filmable novel and turning it into one of the greatest film masterpieces of our time.
That LOTR became such a phenomena was a little weird for me, as I had been visiting the old site and hitting TheOneRing.net every day for two entire years before Fellowship. In that time, I had become not only heavily entrenched in the production, but a novice Tolkien scholar, re-reading LOTR two more times as well as Tom Shippey’s book, and numerous other essays. I loved the film with all of my heart (despite the pacing issues with the theatrical release), and was kind of shocked to discover it was having a similar impact on the rest of the culture. Are people besides myself really going to see this nearly three hour movie again and again (I saw it five times, once by myself)? They were, and they continued to do so for the entire trilogy.
Now it seems almost impossible that it all could have really happened. That someone could take a sacred source and craft it into something that was really as good as we all hoped it could be. I mean, let’s face it, we’ve been burned before. Burned bad. Burned by those we loved the most. It had been a long, cynical time since we had been transported the way we were as kids, but it happened again.
Now that it’s all said and done, I’m just happy to be alive to have seen it and to have it on my shelf to go back to whenever I want (and I don’t think it will ever be cliché to say these EE DVDs are a benchmark that will not soon be raised). But it’s not really over, is it? Just when I sit back and start to think it is, I begin to hear those drums again. They’re there to keep me looking. Just past those trees out there, something’s sleeping. Something big.
And soon it will wake.