Thundercats, Ho! & Listener E-Mail: CFQ’s Black Hole Ultra-Lounge 2:41.2

Our listeners make their voices heard in this final episode of the Ultra-Lounge (at least in this incarnation): We hear from our listener in Latvia, who gives us some insight into his life; another listener rushes to the defense of the Dino De Laurentiis KING KONG; and an e-mail addressing how DREAM HOUSE’s trailer actually drops the film’s Big Reveal prompts a discussion of how spoilers should be treated during the show. Plus: Dan takes a favorable glance at the new THUNDERCATS animated series and Steve opens up the Tea Party can o’ worms once more.


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'The Hobbit' Casting News

 

Andy Serkis in KING KONG
Andy Serkis in KING KONG

According to Deadline, Andy Serkis (KING KONG) will reprise his voice and motion capture artist tole of Gollum for the 2-part film version of THE HOBBIT.
He joins Martin Freeman (THE HITCHIKERS GUIDE TO THE UNIVERSE) as Bilbo Baggins, along with Cate Blanchett as Galadriel and Elijah Wood — who is apparently to appear as Frodo. This makes sense in the light of the fact that Ian Holm is said to be in talks to return for an appearance as the older Bilbo.
Still working out deals to reprise their LORD OF THE RINGS roles are Ian McKellen (Gandolph), Christopher Lee as Saruman, and possibly Orlando Bloom as the elven prince Legolas.
Perhaps the character appearances are part of the explanation of why it’s necessary to make a two-part film. J.R.R. Tolkien’s story may be too big to play out comfortably in a single film, but not quite long enough to justify two movies without additional scenes.  
According to The One Ring , Woods’ role as Frodo can be explained as the character reading of the events in the “Red Book of Westmarch”, which chronicles the events of The Hobbit -Or- There and Back Again, suggesting a framing story.
The article reiterates that THE HOBBIT is being made by Peter Jackson as a c0production between Warner Brothers Pictures and MGM, though due to MGM’s  bankruptcy and continuing internal problems, it is being  financed by completely by Warner Brothers Pictures, who will have World-wide  distribution rights.

Dino De Laurentiis, R.I.P.

Mann Village TheaterDino De Laurentiis (Agostino de Laurentiis), larger-than-life Italian film producer, passed away yesterday, November 10th, 2010 in California. He was 91.
De Laurentiis produce quite a number of science fiction, horror and fantasy-related films> His first notable one was ULYSSES (1954), adapting Homer’s tale of the indomitable leader and his travails, including encouter with mythical creature such as the Cyclops. The international production starred Kirk Douglas, Silvana Mangano (whom he would marry) and Anthony Quinn.
In 1961 he executive produced the peplum GOLIATH AND THE VAMPIRES, in `64 the comedy, THE FLYING SAUCER. 1968 saw the comic book-based DANGER:DIABOLIK and the lavish BARBARELLA, starring Jane Fonda and and international cast.
In 1976 he produced the controvesial remake of KING KONG, 1980 brought the campy FLASH GORDON feature, now considered by some a cult classic.
He was involved with CONAN THE BARBARIAN and CONAN THE DESTROYER with Arnold Schwarzenegger. He financed and produced David Lynch’s odd vision of the Frank Herbert epic SF novel DUNE.
 Several Steven King properties included THE DEAD ZONE, CAT’S EYE, SILVER BULLET, and MAXIUM OVERDRIVE.
He let Sam Raimi bring ARMY OF DARKNESS to life.
He brought Hannibal Lecter to the screen in MANHUNTER, HANIBAL, and RED DRAGON.
I met him briefly in New York at a FLASH GORDON screening. A small statured man with a big personality and a love of filmmaking—and probably the last of the old-school movie moguls.

Laserblast, September 28: Iron Man 2, King Kong & Fangoria FrightFest

Also out this week: DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW and SUCK

click to purchase

What’s new in horror, fantasy, and science fiction on home video this week? Well, one of the summer’s blockbuster theatrical hits, IRON MAN 2, arrives in just about every format one could ask for: VOD to rent or own, 2-disc DVD, single-disc Blu-ray, and 3-disc Blu-ray and DVD combo. The movie itself was no match for its predecessor, but it has some entertaining elements; at least it might we worth a rental to check out the bonus features.
Also on the menu this week is a new Blu-ray release of KING KONG (1933). This is being touted as the “Blu-ray Book Edition.” It reprises the bonus features from the old DVD box set (documentaries, test footage, recreation of the lost Spider Pit sequence, and audio commentary by Ray Harryhausen and others, a) and adds a booklet with production photos, notes, and a background of director Merian C. Cooper. This one sounds like a keeper (although the existing DVD is so good that I will probably wait a will to upgrade, hoping for a bargain).
Horror fans can dig deeply into the gory horror presented n the Fangoria FrightFest series of titles, which include HUNGER, ROAD KILL, PIG HUNT, GRIMM LOVE, THE TOMB, DARK HOUSE, TH HAUNTING, and FRAGILE (the last with Calista Flockhart, directed by Jaume Balaguero).
For those who prefer their scares a bit less violent – but still creepy – there is a new DVD release of DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, an effective telefilm written and directed by Frank De Felitta, about a retarded man unjustly killed by vigilante justice, who may (or may not) have returned from the dead as a scarecrow. Bonus Features include audio commentary from De Felitta and a trailer for the original premiere.
Finally, there is SUCK, a direct-to-video title that sounds like a black comedy – about a failing rock-and-roll band that achieves success after encountering a vampire. Malcolm McDowell is on hand as vampire hunter Eddie Van Helsing (love that name), and shock-rocker Alice Cooper shows up as well.
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Sense of Wonder: King Kong stomps onto Universal Studios

This Tuesday, wearing my other hat – as proprietor of Hollywood Gothique, the website of Fantasy Films, Mystery Movies, Halloween Horror and Sci-Fi Cinema Events in Los Angeles – I attended the press preview of the new “King Kong 360 3-D” attraction, which opens today at Universal Studios Hollywood. For those who don’t recall, Universal’s back lot was devastated by a fire two years ago that destroyed prints (but thankfully not negatives) of classic horror films, along with part of the tram tour. Among the casualties was the old King Kong, a life-size mechanical replica, seen from the chest up, pulling the wires of an elevated train. The replacement Kong is a combination of 3-D projection and motion simulation modeled after the 2005 remake of KING KONG directed by Peter Jackson, who is given a “created by” credit for the new attraction.

Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip
Peter Jackson appeared via 3-D video clip

Universal rolled out King Kong 360 3-D with a press event that featured celebrities walking the red carpet, studio executives expressing their pride at getting Kong back on the tour, and a 3-D video clip of Jackson himself, who explained his involvement by saying, because the KING KONG film does not lend itself to a sequel, he “was just thrilled to have an excuse to go back and have a bit more fun with King Kong.”
Fun is the operative word. I was not a big fan of Jackson’s KING KONG (reviewed here), which was like watching a rough draft of a concept, in which each and every idea is included, whether or not they gel, and I found the special effects set pieces like the dinosaur stampede and especially the Kong-Tyrannosaurs battle (dangling from vines in a chasm) to be laughably absurd. Fortunately, this kind of excess, which works to the detriment of a narrative film, is perfectly tuned for a theme park ride, where visceral impact outweighs any credibility concerns. King Kong 360 3-D is one wild ride.
However, potential visitors should consider that, unlike Universal’s TERMINATOR 2 3-D, or any of the motion-simulation rides that have graced the theme park of the years (including BACK TO THE FUTURE and, currently, THE SIMPSONS), King Kong 360 3-D is not a stand-alone attraction; it is one of many sights seen the tour through the back lot. Situated near the old rickety bridge (which used to sag on cue as the tram rolled over it), the new Kong attraction takes you inside a darkened tunnel, leading you to Skull Island, which is visualized on two colossal digital screens, one on either side of the tram.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.
The crushed tram does not bode well for your chances on Skull Island.

After passing a smashed and smoking tram – a sign of the dangers to come – you enter a tunnel leading to Skull Island. Inside, images of dense foliage give way to raptors that appear to chase the tram – until they are interrupted by hungry T-Rexes, bring the tour to a stop. Just when all seems lost, Kong appears to battle the carnivorous dinosaurs. The action runs continuously on both screens as if happening in real time, synchronized so that when Kong tosses a T-Rex from one side of the tram, it appears to land on the other. The visual impact is heightened by motion simulation, creating the illusion that the tram is being buffeted by the battling creatures. As if that we’re not enough, you get sprayed by dinosaur saliva (actually water) as the reptiles shakes their heads at you.
The highlight is the convincingly realized illusion that a T-Rex has grabbed the last car of the tram, pulling it around until it is visible on the left – and then dragging it over the edge of a cliff, leading to what feels like a 100-foot free fall, arrested only by some convenient vines. Will Kong arrive in time to prevent you from plunging to the bottom of the abyss?
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.
The tram takes visitors into the jungles of Skull Island.

The computer-generated visual effects are well rendered, and the 3-D is also nicely done. (You are told when to put on the requisite 3-D glasses, handed out as you board the tram.) The imagery is especially effective when you consider that, essentially, you are seeing two long, continuous takes, uninterrupted by editing, in order to create the illusion that you are viewing live-action on both sides of the tram.
The slight downside is that the large screens (the size is necessary to fill your entire field of vision) are not quite perfectly bright and clear. Also, the 3-D illusion is ever so slightly marred by the fact that, depending on your seat in the tram, you are often not watching the action at a 90-degree angle to the screen. (It feels as if you should be able to see around and behind objects, but actually viewing them at an oblique angle undermines the illusion.) On the plus side, the initial glimpse of the Skull Island forest effectively conveys the sense that you are travelling past real objects.
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire
The old King Kong, destroyed in the 2008 fire

The experience is visually impressive, but is King Kong 360 3-D worth a special visit to Universal Studios Hollywood? At a minute-and-a-half in length, probably not, but it is great to have Kong back in action on the back lot. Just remember that, despite the ballyhoo, this is not a stand-alone attraction. However, if you are considering a trip to Universal’s’ theme park, it is definitely worth the wait in line to take the back lot tour. You will not be disappointed.
Celebrities who attended the debut included Christopher Lloyd (BACK TO THE FUTURE), Mark Pelligrino (LOST), and Thomas Kretschmann (the 2005 KING KONG) and Jack O’Halloran (the 1976 KING KONG).
Christopher Lloyd Mark Pelligrino (LOST) Thomas Kretschmann (from KING KONG 2005) and Jack O'Halloran (from KING KONG 1976)

Cinema's Greatest Dinosaurs

King Kong (1933)
King Kong battles a T-Rex.

With LAND OF THE LOST opening today, I was thinking of doing a list of “Top Ten Dinosaur Movies,” until I realized that unearthing ten such titles would take more effort than mounting a major paleological expedition. In order to spare myself the struggle of rounding out a list of ten, I considered revising the title to “Hollywood’s Greatest Dinosaur” movies, but that risked resulting in the shortest article every written. The sad fact is that there are few good – let alone great – dinosaur movies. Too often, the special effects outweigh the stories and acting, leaving little to enjoy besides the spectacle of rampaging reptiles.
But when you stop and think about it, what more do you need? Dinosaurs are among cinema’s biggest stars. The very sight of them – when achieved with technical competence and some style – is more than enough to stir our Sense of Wonder. With that in mind, my list will work on the theory that great dinosaur movies consist of movies featuring great dinosaurs, regardless of the overall quality of the films.
I covered many dinosaur titles in The History of Prehistoric Movies, which focused on films set in the past. In order to avoid too much duplication, I will emphasize films featuring dinosaurs that have survived into the present day. So if it seems as if films like ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. are being short-changed, just click through on the link to the older article to see these films get their due consideration.
The Lost World (1925)THE LOST WORLD (1925). This silent film, based on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, is the first feature-length movie to showcase stop-motion dinosaurs. (One showed up briefly in Buster Keaton’s 1923 comedy THE THREE AGES.). The special effects by Willis O’Brien (who went on to do KING KONG) are crude by today’s standards, but they still have a certain charm that makes them endearing. When it’s captured brontosaurs escapes into the streets of London, the film establishes the tradition of a rampaging prehistoric beast on the loose in a modern city – a plot device that would recur many times thereafter. There were several remakes, usually using lizards or rubber suits instead of stop-motion. A 2001 version for BBC used computer-generated imagery to good effect.
KING KONG (1933). The giant ape is the star of the show, but Willis O’Brien’s menagerie of prehistoric monsters gives him a run for his money – including a brontosaurus, a stegosaurus, a pteranodon, and an elasmosaur. The dino-highlight of the film has to be Kong’s battle with a T-Rex (seen at the top of this page), which is one of the great fight scenes ever recorded on film. Overall, the stop-motion effects have improved noticeably over THE LOST WORLD. They may not be completely convincing in the sense of being “realistic,” but they establish their own style, perfectly suited for the film’s fantastic storyline. The 1976 remake featured no dinosaurs, just a giant snake. The 2005 version had some great dinosaurs, but ruined the impact with some ridiculously over-the-top sequences.
FANTASIA Allosaurus from "The Rites of Spring"FANTASIA (1940). Disney’s medly of animated sequences set to classical music includes “The Rights of Spring,” which depict primitive prehistoric life, including some wonderful dinosaurs. In a grim sequence backed by Stravinsky’s powerful music, a stegasaurus falls prety to an allosaurus. Pretty dark and grizzly stuff for Disney.
ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) features Raquel Welch and great stop-motion dinosaurs by Ray Harryhausen, one-time protoge of Willis O’Brien. (Covered in The History of Prehistoric Movies)
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969). Ray Harryhausen is back, this time with a dinosaur who survives into modern times in a hidden valley, until some ranch hands find him and bring him back to civilization, putting him on display like a circus act. Inevitably, the allosaurus breaks free and mayhem ensues. As usual, Harryhausen’s stop-motion work is technically excellent, and he brings some style to the creature, giving it as much personality as a ravenous reptile can muster. As usual, the movie itself is weak, serving only as a showcase for the title character – who is worth the price of admission.
WHEN DINOSARUS RULES THE EARTH (1971). A follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., this time with stop-motion dinosaurs provided by Jim Danforth. Lots of great special effects in this one. (Covered in The History of Prehistoric Movies)
CAVEMAN 1981 T-RexCAVEMAN (1981). Starring Ringo Starr, this one is played for laughs, but Dave Allens’ special effects are actually very good, especially when it comes to combining human actors with the dinosaurs. The T-Rex in this one is far from fearsome, but he is well suited to the comic tone, especially when he eats some berries that give him a buzz. In fact, the dino’s comic “performance” comes close to stealing the show.
MY SCIENCE PROJECT battling the T-RexMY SCIENCE PROJECT (1985). In this comedy science fiction film, about a kid who’se high school project goes wrong, there is a brief scene in which a time warp places a T-Rex in the school gymnasium. Achieved with rod puppet effects, this is one of the most convincing uses of the technique to depict a dinosaur – in part because the cramped location prevents the dinosaur from moving very much, thus hiding the limitations of the technique.
THE LAND BEFORE TIME 1988 Littlefoot's mother attacked by T-RexTHE LAND BEFORE TIME (1988). Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed this prehistoric tale of talking dinosaurs searching for a safe valley. This is a very good family film with cute characters that appeal to children and also some reasonably adult story-telling. The death of the lead character’s mother – at the claws and teeth of a T-Rex – is harrowing without being explicit. There were several direct-to-video sequels, none of them memorable.
JURASSIC PARK (1993). This is the film in which computer-generated imagery replaced stop-motion as the best way to breathe life into the extinct animals known as dinosaurs. Steven Spielberg’s film version of Michael Crichton’s novel was widely derided at the time of its release, but it still holds up over sixteen years later thanks to its great special effects and the suspense the director achieves. The film also introduced a new dino-star – the Velociraptor – who for the first time challenged the T-Rex’s crown as the all-time most valuable dinosaur – until Rexy puts him in his place in the spectacular finale. This is probably the best dinosaur movie ever made (depending on whether or not you count KING KONG as a dinosaur movie). The sequels, THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK and JURASSIC PARK III, cant take a bite out of the original.
DINOSAUR 2000 groupDINOSAUR (2000). Disney is at it again, this time with using computer-generated animation instead of the old hand-inked technique of FANTASTIA. Like THE LAND BEFORE TIME, this features talking dinosaurs, but here they are rendered with special effects that make them almost lifelike, in spite of their dialogue and human emotions. Another nice touch is that the backgrounds are all live-action plates, not drawings. The result is not quite a total success, but the opening sequence (of a mammal’s egg being stole from its nest and dropped into a dinosaur’s nest) is a breath-taking piece of cinema.
NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM 2006 dinosaur skeleton and Ben StillerNIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (2006). Perhaps the most memorable image of this comedy, starring Ben Stiller as a night watchman in a museum, is the sight of a T-Rex skeleton that comes to life. The special effects perfectly captures the initial thrill of fear that turns to relief when Stiller’s character realizes the Rex merely wants to play fetch with one of its own bones.
LAND OF THE LOST 2009 T-Rex snaps at people hanging on vinesLAND OF THE LOST (2009). After seeing this film, I had to come back and add it to the list. Although too much of the comedy falls flat, the dino never disappoints. In fact, Grumpy the T-Rex is a real sceen-stealer. What’s really impresive is that, thanks to “Crash” McCreery’s designs and some great special effects, Grumpy really does look convincing and threatening when you first see him, but then without missing a beat, he turns into a comical character, getting at least as many laughs as the more overtly humorous Rex in CAVEMAN. The joke is that Grumpy loses interest in eating the humans and becomes more focused on avenging the insult he receives from Will Ferrell’s paleontologist, who derisively notes that the tyrannasaurs has a brain the size of a walnut (words that come back to haunt him when Grumpy leaves a humongous walnut for him to find).

MYTHICAL PREHISTORIC BEASTS

Lots of movie monsters claim to be dinosaurs, but we omitted the mythical ones from out list above. For those who are interested, here are some of the most notable movies featuring fictional dinosaurs, often revived in modern times by radioactivity.
THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953). Ray Harryhausne’s rhedosaurus is a delightful on-screen monster, but you won’t find it in any paleontology book.
GODZILLA (1954). Japan’s answer to BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS features a creature (achieved with a man in a monster suit) that looks a bit like an upright T-Rex with plates on its back vaguely like a stegosaurus. And it’s way too big to be a real dinosaur.
THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959). Eugene Lourie, director of BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, offers a virtual remake, this time with Willis O’Brien, Ray Harryhausen’s mentor, creating the stop-motion effects. The creature looks more or less like a brachiosaurus, but it appears to be carnivorous; it swims like a plesiosaur; and it emits radioactive waves as only a movie-monster can do.
GORGO (1961). Director Eugene Lourie offers up a third and final film about a giant prehistoric monster attacking a modern city. This upright-walking sea beastie is identified as a dinosaur in the dialogue, but it looks nothing like a real dinosaur.

LESSER DINOSAURS

Many other films have featured dinosaurs, but too often, Hollywood saved bucks by using cheap puppets, lizards in makeup, or men in suits. The films may have been entertaining in a juvenile way, but by offering discount dinosaurs, they lost their chance to top our list.

ONE MILLION B.C. 1941
Victor Mature and Carol Landis in ONE MILLION B.C.

ONE MILLION B.C. (1940). This black-and-white effort, starring Victor Mature and Carol Landis, features “dinosaurs” that are actual reptiles with fins and horns glued on (the technique of live lizards had been pioneered in 1934’s THE SECRET OF THE LOCH). Sadly, this results in some all-too-real animal cruelty, when a juvenile alligator and a gila monster are allowed to tear into each other on camera.
THE LOST CONTINENT (1951). Cesar Romero and crew crash-land on an island with some cheap stop-motion dinosaurs, which receive little screen time.
KING DINOSAUR (1955). Astronauts land on a planet inhabited by an iguana pretending to be a T-Rex.
BEAST OF THE HOLLOW MOUNTAIN (1956). This film gets points for novelty by mxing dinosaurs with cowboys. The prehistoric beast is not seen until the end; achieved with stop-motion, it is is puppet-like, but there is a good sequence of the predator running.
THE LAND UNKNOWN (1957). Another trip to a lost world, this time inhabited by rubbery looking dinosaurs.
A T-Rex chases Brendan Fraser in the 2008 version.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959). In the tradtion of ONE MILLION B.C., some briefly glimpsed lizards and baby alligators pass for dinosaurs in the 1959 adaptation of the Jules Verne novel. The 2008 remake, starring Brendan Fraser, features a chase scene with a CGI Tyrannosaurus Rex that is pretty decent, and it had the added bonus of being in 3-D.
DINOSAURUS (1960). A T-Rex and a Brontosaurs are realized with passable stop-motion – pretty convincing if you’re a kid, but not when you see the film as an adult. Still, the fight scene between the Rex and a steam shovel is a good idea.

Mechanical dinosaurs battle in THE LAND BEFORE TIME (1975)
Mechanical dinosaurs battle in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1974). Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, this features mechanical dinosaurs, some of them miniature, some of them full size. They don’t look too bad, but their limited movements give them away. The sequel THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT was much the same.
PLANET OF THE DINOSAURS (1977). Astronauts crash-land on a planet full of stop-motion dinosaurs. The effects are not bad, but they lack the Harryhausen touch.
BABY: SECRET OF THE LOST LEGEND (1985). Based on real-life rumors about a surviving brontosaurus, this adventure film offers up mechanical dinosaurs with faces that are way too cute and anthropomorphic. It’s as if someone wanted the beasts to look like E.T.
CARNOSAUR (1993). Low-budget producer Roger Corman rips off JURASSIC PARK but instead of modern CGI, he utilizes old-fashioned mechanical dinosaurs, including a full-size T-Rex. The design and look are not too bad, but the movements are slow and sluggish. The same mechanical dinosaur reappeared in two sequels and in 1994’s DINOSAUR ISLAND.

King Kong (2005) – Fantasy Film Review

Peter Jackson’s remake of the 1933 classic is a loving homage that recreates and updates many of the familiar sequences, enhancing them with color widescreen photography and contemporary computer graphics. Unfortunately, the recreation leaves one wondering what, exactly, the point of the film is, other than indulging the director’s wish to remake a film he loved as a child. The new KING KONG feels like a hollow, empty gesture — a story ripped from the context of the time in which the original was created, lacquered over with bright new colors, and put on display like a museum piece. It’s dazzling to look at, but mostly it’s an empty exercise that fails, dramatically, to justify its three-hour running time.
The length bogs down the film so much that it is difficult to get excited when the good stuff finally arrives. Unlike LORD OF THE RINGS, Jackson’s KONG just doesn’t have an epic story that requires an epic length; the extra minutes are just unnecessary padding. Probably, there is a good 100-minute movie stuffed in here somewhere, and this is a case where the inevitable “Director’s Cut DVD” should be shorter rather than longer.
The running time seems to derive from a colossal misjudgment: it is as if Jackson has been thinking about this project for so long that he came up with too many ideas and refused to delete any of them in the script stage. There is no such thing as an ellipses here — no cinematic shorthand to advance the story, no room left for the audience to read between the lines and come to their own conclusions. The result is that Jackson and his co-writers do all the work for you. Whereas the original KONG is a dream-like fairy tale that invites interpretation, the new version has been over-analyzed to the point that the richness has been drained out of it, because everything’ has been spelled out. Stanley Kubrick once made comments to the effect that, when you explain everything, then it means nothing. That seems to be the case here.
The film is so overwhelmed with computer-generated imagery that it undermines the impact of many scenes, which convey no real sense of danger because they clearly consist of actors running around on beautiful but phony backdrops. The thought that kept running through one’s mind was: if ever given a chance to talk to Peter Jackson about this, the question to ask is: “Great animated movie — did you ever consider shooting it in live-action?”
Certainly, the film’s CGI-star (whose body movements were provided by Andy Serkis, who performed similar duties for Golum in LORD OF THE RIGNS) outshines the live-action cast. Jack Black’s Carl Denham has been reduced from a courageous adventurer who happens to make films into a bit of a self-important fraud who as often as not gets laughs (rather like Charles Grodin’s comic relief caricature in the 1976 DeLaurentiis version). Adrien Brody barely makes his presence felt, and one puzzles over the decision of making the character a playwright. Naomi Watts is good enough in the Fay Wray role, but making her more sympathetic to the giant ape robs the role of some of its iconic status: she’s no longer the damsel in distress or the girl in the hairy paw; she’s just a typical member of the audience who roots for the monster and against humanity. Only Thomas Kretschmann, as Captain Englehorn, captures a sense of adventure commensurate with the story we’re seeing — if the filmmakers had had any sense, they would have bumped him up into a leading man role and gotten rid of Brody’s character entirely.
In spite of all this criticism, there is a lot in the film that is truly wonderful. There are moments when you forget that Kong is just a CGI creation. Although the design of his body isn’t particularly impressive (he looks pot-bellied, compared to the classic original), his face is wonderfully detailed and expressive, effectively conveying both fearsome rage and touching pathos.
The ending in particular is awesome, with the shoot-out atop the Empire State building sweeping the audience up in a delirious state of vertigo beyond anything I ever felt while watching the old version — it really feels as if you’re poised precarious 1,000 feet up in the air and about to plummet downward at any second. (It’s also cool that ape-makeup-master Rick Baker — who played Kong in the Dino DeLaurentiis disaster of 1976 — is one of the pilots who fells the giant ape in this version.) Even here, Jackson can’t help overdoing things, with far too many shots of Kong and Ann exchanging meaningful glances before he topples to his death, but in this instance you can somewhat forgive the director for milking this moment for every ounce of juice he can get — it’s the payoff the film absolutely must have, if it is to work at all.
Sadly, the tragic tone — which provides whatever heart the film has — is undermined by fitfully comic SON OF KONG-like antics that intrude inappropriately. Despite early literary references to Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS (which tell us in no uncertain terms that this is not just a fun adventure movie but a confrontation with dark, ancient mysteries), the film goes for goofy comic relief and occasionally even outright silliness: Ann Darrow wins Kong’s heart by performing her second rate vaudeville routine (which includes juggling some pebbles), and later they slide around on the iced-over lake in New York’s Central Park, where for some miraculous reason Kong manages to avoid literally freezing his ass off.
It’s really too bad. What makes Kong interesting is that he is a fearsome monster felled by a single weakness: his love for Ann Darrow. Making him act cutesy undermines the potency of the myth. They should have saved this scene for the inevitable sequel, when Universal Pictures teams up with Sony to remake the tongue-in-cheek KING KONG VS GODZILLA.

TRIVIA

Although this is officially a remake of the original KING KONG, Jackson’s version also incorporates elements from the DeLaurentiis version (Ann Darrow overcomes her fear of Kong very quickly) and from slightly shoddy 1933 sequel, SON OF KONG. In the later case, the film opens with the Carl Denham character (here played by Jack Black) fleeing by boat for Skull Island before the law can catch up with him. This made more sense in SON OF KONG, wherein Robert Armstrong’s version of the character was being indicted for the death and destruction caused by King Kong in the previous film.
On two separate occasions in the film, Carl Denham (Jack Black) reacts to the death of a crewman by announcing with patently phony sincerity that he will dedicate the film to the victim and give any profits he makes to the victim’s widow. This comic bit seems lifted intact from the German black comedy MAN BITES DOG, which is a fictional film about a documentary crew filming a hit man: on two separate occasions, the documentary director tearfully dedicates his film to crew members who have been killed in the line of duty.

KING KONG (2005). Directed by Peter Jackson. Screenplay b Jackson, Philippa Boyens & Fran Walsh, based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. Cast: Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell.

Copyright 2005 Steve Biodrowski

Cinefantastique Web Surfing: Kong turns 75

Happy Birthday to You!Monsters and Critics has a nice tribute to the 1933 KING KONG, which turned 75 on March 2:

New York – A gigantic gorilla perched atop the Empire State Buildingin New York City tenderly says farewell to the small, blonde woman he holds in his hand. It’s a scene that made motion picture history, and it comes at the conclusion of the action-fantasy film King Kong, considered the grandfather of all monster movies. Sunday is the 75th anniversary of the touchingly romantic film’s debut on March 2, 1933, when it was first screened at New York’s Radio City Music Hall.
The movie’s special effects remain a fascinating aspect of the original film. But the allure of Kong lies not only in its technical brilliance but also in the poetry of the story, which rejected ordinary black- and-white templates.
The gorilla is almost human-like in his love for the woman. The audience sympathizes with him right up to the legendary closing scene, in which the beast plucks an attacking biplane from the sky like a toy, but in the end is struck by a hail of gunfire and falls into the depths.  

Coincidentally, SignOnSanDiego.com has an interview with Ray Harryhausen, who was inspired by a screening of KONG to enter the field of cinematic special effects, eventually crafting such wonders as the prehistoric dinosaur in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and the skeleton battle in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Cinefantastique Online recently posted an excerpt of an interview with Harryhausen’s associated, Arnold Kunert, discussing the recently released colorized DVD of Harryhausen’s 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH.
RELATED REVIEW: King Kong (1988)

The Life of the Girl in the Hairy Paw

A publicity shot of Fay Wray as Ann Darrow in KING KONGKing Kong’s original squeeze is to be the subject of a documentary, currently being completed by Rick McKay (BROADWAY: THE GOLDEN AGE), titled, FAY WRAY: A LIFE. Fay Wray played Ann Darrow in the original 1933 production, screaming her way to fame as the beautiful blond whose beauty enchants the otherwise brutal ape. The film is in post-production at of Peter Jackson’s Kiwi studio. Jackson remade KING KONG in 2005, with Naomi Watts filling in for Wray, who died in 2004. Footage of Jackson and Watt’s meeting with Wray will appear in the documentary.

King Kong (1933) – Film & DVD Review

Although containing elements from the 1925 silent film version of THE LOST WORLD, KING KONG truly is the prototype of the giant-monster-attacks-city genre. It is also one of the greatest monster movies ever made, thanks to a winning combination of an exciting adventure story, marvelous technical effects, a rousing score, and some iconic performances. Most of all, the film survives the decades because it embodies an archetypal myth rendered so powerfully that it eclipses any dated dialogue and tecnical flaws. The title character is a fearsome, apparently unbeatable brute – until he falls in love with the blond and beautiful Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), which turns out to be his undoing. Read More