KING KONG (Peter Jackson, 2005)

Here is one of the major points on which Peter Jackson’s King Kong breaks down. One of the principal themes of the original Schoedsack-Cooper masterpiece is how civilization sublimates primitive religious awe and worship in its audience responses to modern entertainment. Jackson, perhaps choking on the density of crusading Christian import in his vile Lord of the Rings trilogy, erases from his remake of Kong all consideration of the role of religion. More or less, this leaves his version to be about nothing. Like Ron Howard’s Capraesque Cinderella Man (2005), Jackson’s Kong uses the Great Depression as mere set decoration. However, the socioeconomic insecurities that the Depression fostered intensified an already begun religious revival in the U.S., making the film’s argument highly topical in 1933. Since the worldwide popularity of the execrable Lord of the Rings films was primarily greased by a worldwide religious revival, it behooved Jackass to address this theme afresh for his own time.
     Despite what some naive viewers of the remake have insisted, Jackson’s Kong makes less, not more, of the relationship between the ape and Ann Darrow than does the original. In Jackson’s version, the relationship is entirely unmotivated. For Schoedsack and Cooper, Ann responds to Kong with Kierkegaardian dread—simultaneous attraction and repulsion: this, partly owing to the uncertainty with which the Depression has blighted her socioeconomic circumstance. (The role in Carl Denham’s jungle picture saves her from starvation.) But there is also another, ironic genesis for her mixed feelings about the ape: Driscoll’s misogynism and Denham’s failure to protect her, against which her relationship with the ape registers an interesting protest. (Jackson’s division of Driscoll into two separate characters, Driscoll and Baxter, is an act of cluelessness and desperation.) Jackson simplifies the relationship, making it idiotically tender all-around, purely to pursue the same kind of sentimentality that attaches itself to the religious obsessiveness in the LOTR series. To accomplish this pursuit, Jackson must dangerously ignore how dangerous Kong is—how dangerous it is for civilization to release from their state of sublimation these primitive impulses. Along the way, the Schoedsack-Cooper team mount a shrewd assault on the cold-hearted, capitalistic agenda that Denham embodies. Toward the end and at the end, Jackson mounts a gesture or two in the direction of this theme, but it can hardly resonate in a lavish, expensive production that itself embodies the agenda it is (however gingerly) protesting.
     The computer-generated imagery that Jackson uses fails to do what the marvelous special effects in the original did (and still do): draw us into a fantastic realm where the civilized yields to a tribal, primitive and, indeed, prehistoric reality. The effects in Jackson’s film draw attention to themselves, becoming an end, not a means, and transporting the audience nowhere, least of all to Skull Island.


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