Thursday, January 29, 2015

I'm Getting Really Tired of This Destiny Crap: Dragon Wars

Recognize that director? That's right, Hyung-rae Shim was the director who brought us the reboot of Yonggary. He's learned a couple of lessons from his Yonggary reboot, but I fear, not a lot.

From the page of myth to mythically uninteresting. D-Wars

I don't normally include dragons as kaiju. Dragons are a known quanity, and have very different themes that kaiju. Kaiju were created for film, and are presented there best. Kaiju films, after running out of science fiction trappings, have turned to more fantastic elements. Godzilla, Mothra King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack recasts Godzilla not as a freak result of the nuclear testing, but as the physical embodiment of the rage of the dead returned to punish Japan. The Gamera series toys with Muvian superscience which is indistinguishable from magic. Pulgasari was animated through the will and suffering of good people. But here, we're dealing with straight-up fantasy elements intruding on the modern world. But dragons aren't kaiju, and neither are giant whatevers, which is why I'm including neither Reign of Fire nor Big Ass Spider.

The dragon, the girl, and the hero.

Unfortunately, Dragon Wars takes just about every fantasy cliche you could come up with in a minute. Ancient Prophecy? Check. Luke Skywalker who was really just born to be awesome? Check. Romeo and Juliet reincarnated into the Destny Couple? Check. Suspiciously Nazgûl-like evil overlord who lives in a dark brooding castle just a plane-shift away? Check. Magical Mystical talisman? Check. Evil overlord with a massive army against the forces of good who supply just two dudes? Check. Creepy prophetic dreams? Check.

Dragon Wars would have been more interesting if this guy had actually been the protagonist

The fated girl is the carrier of the Yuy Yi Joo, (Korean for MacGuffin) and she must give up her life in order to let the Imoogi tranform into a celestial dragon. So heaven's kind of a dick, here, and women are mere incubators for power which they cannot use themselves. Way to make me like your film, Shim.

A horse, and two characters that don't affect the plot.

Unfortunately, the film follows some of the same beats as Yonggary. The military gets involved, and although it's not quite as embarrassing as men with jetpacks and lasers, the board meetings are similar, with infighting and disbelief among the senior government officials. There are paralells to both 1998 Godzilla and Q the Winged Serpent in that the evil Imoogi, once unleashed, periodically vanishes. Given that its head is the size of house, I have no idea how you could possibly lose track of it.

I was just sneaking around under cars ahd stuff.

Like Gamera vs The Legion, the Imoogi has help in the form os a swarm of smaller creatures. When the Imoogi is having trouble with attack helicopters, the smaller troops fly in and swarm them. Sadly, this is what causes the majority of the damage to Los Angeles: the military and the Army of Darkness. Which has explosives that can take out a modern tank in a single shot.

Again similar to 1998 Godzilla, a trope that goes as far back as King Kong: the evil Imoogi has climbed the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and the military gets some attack helicopters into the action. Of course, the snake can lunge far enough to take out the copters, because what's the point of standing off evern a hundred yeards where the snake can't strike? Which is again part of the problem with the film. It seems like a lot of the scenes were staged because they're cool or lead to explosions.

Cool-looking, but ultimately flavorless

After being knocked out, our bland hero is tied to a post in front of Bara-Dur, and his medallion activates. This destroys the Army of Darkness and knocks the Imoogi senseless. Did he do anything? No, it was the medallion. Heroic agency of zero. He might as well have just given them to her, and accompanied the Big Evil to the sacrifice. Why couldn't the medallion have activated when the Army of Darkness was trashing LA?

Korean Bara-Dur.

Left face to face with the Imoogi, he is saved by... the Good Imoogi. The two snakes fight, and the girl sacrifices herself. Meaning our hero has done nothing, and hasn't even come back with the girl. The Good Imoogi becomes a dragon, trashes the bad one, and all our protagonist did was witness what happened. Of course, she didn't to a heck of a lot, either.

From the page of myth to mythically uninteresting. D-Wars

The end echoes Elliott and Rossio's Godzilla script: The Celestial Dragon breathes fire, which goes down Bad Imoogi's throat. Handled better in thew 2014 Godzilla, but many things were. The Celestial Dragon then runs off, leaving our protagonist in the barren planes before the broken towers of Bara Dur. How's he going to get home?

Evil Imoogi, decapitated.

Ultimately, Dragon Wars is a hollow experience. There's not a lot of meat, and the monster destruction scenes are surprisingly uninteresting. They're quickly cut, and there isn't a sense that any of it really matters. It doesn't help that the main characters feel flat and do nothing other than watching the plot unfold. The CG is generally good, but as with the many action films, I am unmoved if I don't care about the characters or the plot. It was apparently not my destiny to care if these kids get eaten a gigantic snake or not.

Eat them, don't eat them, why do I care?

Hyung-rae Shim states in the extras that this is his dream film. It made a fair amount of money, and he is shooting the sequel this year, so we can expect to see Dragon Wars 2 out sometime. Let's hope he's learned more than he did between 1999 and 2007.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

How Not To Care For Children: The Host

With this 2006 film, I'm cheating a little. The Host (Gwoemul, literally "Monster" in Korean) is not a kaiju film. It shares a number of attributes and ideas with kaiju film, but the monster is not large enough to wreck buildings. It's about the size of a truck. But the film is so damn good that I had to include it.

There is a truism that many monser films cleave to: don't show the monster. This comes from cheap films where the monster is not well-constructed, or later in the CG era, where CG is expensive and costs a mllion bucks every minute it's on screen. Kaiju films, with few exceptions such as Cloverfield and Monsters, do not follow this. King Kong, Godzilla, even Beast from 20,000 Fathoms are proud of their monster, and the creature spends a fair amount of time on screen. This is part of what sets the Kaiju film apart from the typical monster movie. The creature is usually too big to hide, and much of the pleasure of the film comes from watching it destroy the cityscape. The monster in The Host is out in the open, in daylight, fifteen minutes into the film. The audience gets a GREAT look at it. And it is still scary afterwards.

Try a giant hook and a tasty-looking worm?

What are YOU looking at?

I mean, what the hell is that? Writer/director Joon-ho Bong develops every character carefully. We care about Park Gang-Doo, even though he's an emotional mess. In his commentary, Joon-ho Bong reveals that he wrote the script like a gangster film. The fear does not come entirely from how the monster looks, but from what it does. The drama is built around the abduction of Hyun-seo, not merely the horror of the monster. It it not what the greature is, but what it does that makes it horrific. He also did not approach this as a monster film, but rather as a crime drama. The search for the kidnapped Hyun-seo is the emotional center of the film, rather than the existance of the monster. This gives it a very different timber than most monster films.

Hyun-seo is in deep trouble.

The creature's origin was inspired by an incident in Korea. Americans in a Korean base dumped a load of formaldehyde down the drain. This is how The Host begins, and although it's implied this is the origin of the creature, it not outright stated. It's intereting to see America as the center of controversy in the creation of two monster films, Godzilla, and The Host.

Formaldehyde never hurt anyone.

The film establishes a dark tone very early on. Five minutes in, a man about to commit suicide by jumping off the Han river bridge sees something large and dark in the water beneath him. He jumps anyway.

And there he goes.

The human point of view characters are not the usual pulpy combination of military, scientist, and reporter. We are shown the Park family, three disfunctional generations of food dispensers. Hie-bong is the patriarch, father of lost twenty-something Gang-doo, a successful archer Nam-joo, and Nam-il who went to college but still can't find a job drinks too much. Gang-doo has a daughter, Hyun-seo. This is the flawed, famly that witnesses the monster's rampage. They are ordinary people, not wealthy, not prepared for emergencies. They own a food vendor on the bank of the Han river.

Hyun-seo and her deadbeat dad.

Thirteen minutes into the film, Gwoemul, the monster appears. In broad daylight, running across the riverbank. Its horror is not its appearance, but what it does. People run into a trailer, and the monster follows them. The other end of the trailer is chained shut, and we see a chilling shot of childrens' bloody hands reaching out of the trailer. They are being devoured.

And just a little bloody terror.

The design of the creature is fantastic. A mutant, it is swift on the land, but it stumbles often, its bulk and mode of locomotion unfamiliar to its nervous system. It is beautifully realized, feels very organic. Behavior-wise, it seems to act more like a crocodile than a fish. It eats, and sometimes holds things in its jaws or gullet, despoiting them in a larder for later consumption. Which is why Hyun-seo survives her captivity for so long.

Gwoemul, lovingly rendered by the Orphanage.

The children, Hyun-seo and another child who joins her in captivity, stand as a stark contrast to the ones in the early Gamera films. The children are its victims, not its cheerleaders.

Joon-ho Bong has an excellent sence for human drama. As crowds panic and flee the creature, Gang-doo grabs his daughter's hand and runs. He slips, falls, then grabs her hand again and keeps running. A moment later, he looks back and sees that he has grabbed the wrong hand. Hyun-seo is far behind, alone, directly in the path of the creature. It's a terrifying moment, a parent's worst nightmare, and the actor's slack-faced horror at his mistake is perfect.

Gwoemul, lovingly rendered by the Orphanage.

The film now has stakes. The Park family must rescue Hyun-seo. Because the characters are presented in a naturalistic way, we sympathize with them. We want them to get their girl back.

Ishiro Honda made the military useless in his films, and some of that is present here. The government and military are not merely ineffectual, they are part of the problem. Suspecting a nonexistant disease, possible an homage to Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, in which the monster carries a prehistoric plague, a quarranine is set up for everyone who has been in contact with the creature. The quarrantine only inhibits the Park family's attempts to find the creature and rescue Hyun-seo. When Gang-Doo receieves a call from Hyun-seo in the middle of the night, he receicves no help from the authorities. It was a dream, he is told. The government's response is useless, trying to fog the area where the monster was last seen. The news of the disease comes from the Americans, and is swallowed wholesale by the Korean government.

Gwoemul, lovingly rendered by the Orphanage.

Later, attempting to destroy the virus that doesn't exist, the Americans deploy "Agent Yellow" a biological deence fog, which sounds suspiciously lke Agent Orange, a defoliant used in Korea. In 1999, the Korean government failed in a lawsuit on behalf of the soldiers who were exposed to Agent Orange, but in 2006, as this film was being made, Dow Chemical and Monsanto paid $62 million in compensation due to the link between the chemcal and several forms of cancer. And with the Agent Yellow announcement made over stock footage of American military operations.

Gwoemul, lovingly rendered by the Orphanage.

Later, an American confesses, believing that Gan-do doesn't speak English, that there is no virus. So all of these preparations are for something that does not exist. The medical people drill into Gang-doo's head on the Americans' say-so. Even though there is no virus.

Gwoemul, lovingly rendered by the Orphanage.

Agent Yellow might actually work, as it anesthetizes the monster, but it does not kill it. But while it's down, Gang-doo pulls Hyun-seo from the monster's gullet. She is dead.

But the monster isn't. It takes the combined effort of the three siblings. Nam-il throws molotov cocktails, and Nam-joo fires a burning arrow into the fuel-covered monster's eye. Gang-doo, in a moment of dragonslayer-like determination, spears the creature with a signpost, preventing it from reaching water to extinguish itself.


Gang-doo avenges Hyun-seo.

The Host is a complex film, with a little comedy to leaven the tragedy and tension. The emotional beats are a lttle bit off for me because I am an American, specifically a Nerw Englander, and long scenes of people tearing at themselves at a funeral make me uncomfortable. But the drama is excellent, every Chekov's Gun (Nam-joo's archery, the fact that the creature turns its head up in the rain) is set up well and pays off. I klove the fact that it brings fresh ideas to the genre. The monster is treated like a character, in fact director Joon-ho Bong nicknamed it Steve Buscemi. By making it a character rather than a plot point, investing the creature with motivations, even if they are simply to find food and a place to live undisturbed, he makes the creature more real. And while that's not something that is necessary in the Godzilla fracnhise, as David Kalat points out, Godzilla is intended to be more fabulous than 'realistic' it is nice to get away from the usual tired tropes. Future monster film makers could learn from Joon-ho Bong's approach.

A sequel, The Host 2 has been in production for a long time. There's even a teaser with some effects on it from 2012. But it's not out yet.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Coming of Age With Flying Turtle: Gamera the Brave

2006 was just about the 40th anniversary of Gamera, and Kadokawa decided to celebrate with a film of their own monster franchise. Gamera the Brave is a move away from the darker tone of the Shûsuke Kaneko films, and neither is it in line with the silly Showa-era films. Director Ryuta Tazaki crafted a more modern film about a giant monster and the child who does not want him to die.

The film starts on a very harsh note. It's 1973 (two years after Gamera vs Zigra, so it's possible this is a continuation of the Showa series, ignoring the previously-mentioned Shûsuke Kaneko films, and the recycled footage-heavy Gamera, Super Monster, but I'll leave the fiddly parts to continuity-minded individuals. 1973 could have just as easily been a convenient date). People are running, Gamera is being attacked by his perennial enemy, the Gyaos. And he isn't winning.

Gamera vs Gyaos, Round 4

This old Gamera takes a number of attributes from the Shûsuke Kaneko vision. It shoots fireballs rather than a short-range blast of flame. It has an additional energy attack, one that comes from its chest, as seen in Attack of the Legion, but rather than projecting a powerful ray, it detonates Gamera in a suicide attack. This is particularly interesting coming from a Japanese film. During World War II, Kamikazi (or Tokko Tai) were used as a last resort against the approaching American forces. This mindset is now foreign to most Japanese, and this cultural shift is the engine which drives the plot.

Win, lose, or draw, I'm turning on my chest

The time moves to 2006, and the boy who witnessed Gamera's death now as a son himself. His wife has died, leaving him to raise his son by himself. That son, Toru, will be our protagonist, facing the additional challenge of growing up without his mother. Then, we hear the oldest way to tell the audience a giant monster is coming: a fishing boat, it's captain, and crew go missing. This classic element of kaiju film, a trope that ranges from first Godzilla to Pacific Rim.

Protagonist and his father

Toru's life is complicated but ordinary, he has two friends he hangs out with, as well as a girl next door who lets him borrow manga. But the realities of life quickly intrude. Mai needs to have a heart operation, for example. For him, the kaiju plot begins on a day when he sees a glinting light on an island. He finds a large glimmering red stone, and a turtle. After Gamera sacrificed itself, the local village discovered unique red pearls in the surrounding waters, which they gathered and sold. Toru finds his turtle perched on a gigantic red pearl larger that his hand. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

What are the odds I find a turtle in a Gamera film?

Toto rapidly shows itself to be no ordinary turtle. It grows quickly, and it can fly. Hiding the flying turtle becomes a bonding experience for Toru and his friends. In a comedy sequence, the turtle tours the restaurant where Toru's father works. A dropped knife suggests Guiron, and Toto the turtle lets out a small urp of flame. As he grows, Mai becomes suspicious, and shows Toru a file concerning Gamera. Toru rejects the possibility that his flying turtle is in any way related to Gamera because monsters fight and die. And he doesn't want his Toto to die. With his mother dead, this is an understandable and resonant moment. A child understands death, sees another in the future and wants to avoid it. He is growing up, beginning to grapple with the impermanence of existence.

Guiron. We meet again.

Then Zedus shows up. The suit on Zedus is excellent, maybe even better than Gamera's own. Which makes some sense. Zedus only requires one suit, where Gamera grows through several. It's large and lizardy, with a frill and a lot of hanging strips of skin. It does not have an energy attack, or flaming breath, but it does have a razor-sharp tongue that shoots from its mouth. Zedus is definitely a bad kaiju. Within two minutes of its appearance, it immediately chows down on a trapped crowd.

Zedus, humanitarian.

When Gamera first confronts the creature, it's absolutely no contest. Gamera is less than a fifth of the size of Zedus. But it gamely tries to stop the monster.

Gamera, the Brave.

After the initial, inconclusive encounter, the military gets involved. This isn't Ishiro Honda, just around for show military, but more actively standing in the damn way military. They haul Toto off on a flatbed truck, as if it were Gorgo.

Gamera, following in Gorgo's tiretracks

As sometimes happens in films aimed at younger audiences, the adults are either stunningly incompetent or do not have the whole picture. It is therefore up to the kids to set things straight. The government is trying to force Gamera to grow more quickly so it can take on Zedus, and at the same time, Toru wants to prevent the fight so Toto won't die. To do so, Toru figures that it needs a huge red pearl he Mai took to the hospital as a lucky charm. And so the three friends embark on a mission. To get the huge red pearl, and somehow, get it to Gamera.

Three boys on a mission.

Gamera here, even in his final form, is a bit more like Minilla than previous Gameras. His nose is more blunt, his features more round, his eyes large, and his tusks are short. But the articulation of the eyes is good, and the head and jaws move very naturally. And his roar has been replaced with something a bit more generic, which I have mixed feelings about. I've long loathed the Gamera scream, but Shûsuke Kaneko made it work. So I strangely miss it with this film.

Gamera, as grown as he's going to get in this movie.

Gamera has long been touted as the friend of all children. In this film, the reverse is true. Mai, unable to get the red pearl to Gamera, hands it off to a silent child, who begins a relay to get it to him. It's a touching sequence as children of various sizes hand the red pearl off to each other, running to the center of Nagoya where Gamera and Zedus fight. As each one encounters a barrier; a police man, the crush of people running the other way, the prize is handed off to a new runner.

Give my heart to Toto!

Toru does not want Toto to have to fight alone. He knows loneliness and loss, and he wants Toto, now really Gamera, to know that someone has his back. It's a well-orchestrated moment, the payoff for a lot of the film, made better by the fact that Toru convinces his father to help, too. This Gamers will not self-destruct. This Gamera will have something to live for.

Face to face with Gamera

With the giant pearl in his system, Gamera proceeds to rock house. His chest symbols glow, as did the previous Gamera's did just before he self-immolated, but it turns out to be powering up a massively explosive fireball. Zedus is annihilated in a tremendous explosion. Gamera is victorious without having to destroy himself.

Zedus loses his head, and then everything else.

Then, like Godzilla at the end of Godzilla 2014, he collapses. The government attempts to seize the opportunity to recapture Gamera, but the children save him once again, forming a human barrier between the military and the turtle. Gamera flies off, and the film ends.

Kids forming a blockade between Gamera and the military.

Gamera the Brave is the most mainstream of the Gamera films. The interaction between the humans and the giant monster is excellent. Both humans and the giant monsters are well-developed in personality. Rather than having kids hang around shouting encouragement at Gamera, they make a difference in the final combat against Zedus. More than any previous Gamera film, this mingles the coming of age story with giant monsters. Toru are not just passive witnesses. The coming of age with monsters idea will be repeated in 2009 with Demeking, but with notably less success.

The only real pity about this film is its limited availability. Although Tokyo Shock issued it in DVD and Blu-Ray n 2012, it's scarce enough that it commands $60 on Ebay or Amazon. Gamera the Brave is not available in any of the subsequent Gamera collections, either. Which is a pity, this is a film that deserves to be seen more in Region 1.

Gamera, following in Gorgo's tiretracks

The good news is that Kadokawa Shoten has declared that Gamera will return in 2015 with a 50th anniversary film, probably buoyed by the success of last year's Godzilla. Perhaps with that release, Gamera the Brave will be given a wider DVD and Blu-Ray release. The strength of the Gamera franchise seems to be that those controlling the franchise are willing to take greater risks with their character. Shûsuke Kaneko made three great Gamera films, and Ryuta Tazaki also made a very good film. Neither of these are directly in the 'spirit' of the original Gamera films, which were decidedly goofy, but the freedom to take different approaches has paid off with excellent films.

Next up, one of the greatest monster movies ever made. It's not really a kaiju film, but it's so good, I can't not write it up here.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Overindulgence and the Ape: King Kong 2005

By some strange law, once the Godzilla franchise goes on hiatus, it is time for another franchise to step up. This time it was Peter Jackson, who loves the 1933 Kong Kong. Jackson decided not to update the film, but expand on the original, using many of the original characters. Unlike the seldom-referenced 1976 version of the story, this is a period piece, taking place between 1931 and 1933. It does retain a few elements from the 76 version, however. Skull Island is described as being perpetually wrapped in fog, for example. But the primary text is clearly the original Willis O'Brien/Merian Cooper/Ernest B. Schoedsack film. Only expanded. A lot. The 1933 version runs a hundred and four minutes. Jackson's full remake is a full hour and forty minutes longer, clocking in at a whopping two hundred and four.

I'm going to have to sit for HOW LONG?

Despite the gorgeous scenery and lush color, the film features more black and white characterization than the original. Carl Denham, played by Jack Black, is a sleazy opportunist, and perfectly in character with the times. Denham was an opportunist in 1933, and the film touches only lightly on his past as a film maker. 1933 Denham is respected, freely given the money for his trip to Skull Island. In 2005, Denham is a maverick, and there are parallels to both Orson Welles and Peter Jackson himself. He rebels against the studio system, lying to his backers, taking what should be a backlot film across the ocean and onto location without permission. Denham literally kidnaps Jack Driscoll, but the film shows his sleaziness and manipulation as a way to success. He gets away with it. When people die around him, Denham says he will donate proceeds to their widows and orphans. But we know him well enough by now to realize that follow-through is unlikely, even if the characters around him don't. Because of Denham, people die, Kong dies, and Ann's heart gets broken.

Carl Denham, all smarm, no charm.

For me, the most sympathetic character, after Kong, is Hayes. Hayes shows kindness and is a father figure to Jimmy. He is brave and cares even for the strangers aboard the Venture. He has back story, he was a soldier, he reads books. He is killed by Kong for his troubles. Denham gets a lot of people killed.

Of course, he also stood in Kong's way and shot him.

Sympathy for Kong in the 1933 version is entirely the work of effects master Willis O'Brien. Given the script, Kong could have been a rampaging monster, but O'Brien's obsessive devotion to the creature he was animating allows it to project a humanity, show concern, and awareness of its own mortality. These human traits come across more strongly than any of the scripted characters. In his remake, Jackson makes no mistake that Kong is the star of the film, and therein lies its flaw. We know he's going to die. Denham is an exploiter who pulls something unique and magnificent out of its home and hauls it in chains to New York City. And we get more screen time with Denham the jerk. And he gets the last line of the film over the protagonist's dead body.

I'm playing second fiddle to who?

The film does not entirely repudiate the unthinking colonialism of the 33 and 76 versions. The natives of Skull Island are stereotypically African on an island south of Java, primitives from a fallen high society with no indication as to why they have been so reduced. They kill one of the landing party for no perceptable reason other than that they are 'savages'. They crush another man's head with a huge mace, and celebrate afterwards. And of course, they are obsessed with Ann Darrow's blonde good looks. Once they show the explorers where Kong is, they become irrelevant and drop completely out of the film.

How! Me-um want-um good movinemaking.

Ann Darrow has only a little more agency than she had in the 1933 film. Her Vaudeville skills entertain and charm Kong, but after that relationship is built, the inevitable Denham captures Kong, and she is then only there to witness to the tragedy of Kong's rampage and death.

Ann as the witness to the tragedy.

Kong himself doesn't show up until 70 minutes into the film. But he's worth the wait. Jackson's King Kong won an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, as well as the BAFTA, Saturn, and Las Vegas Film Critics Awards for visual effects, and it's not difficult to see why: Kong himself is incredibly detailed, scarred from many battles. His motion is fluid, his expressions understandable, the virtual sets are very good, and it's all pretty seamless.

You know she's the only thing actually there.

Andy Serkis makes Kong an emotionally accessible creature. The perception of apes has changed a great deal since 1933, and even 1976. Kong never puts a human in his mouth. He is portrayed as an intelligent, emotional creature who can only communicate through body language. The emotional beats that physicality makes is very good. After defeating three dinosaurs, Kong has a moment when he sags, tired from the fight. Free in New York, he has a moment of play on ice, something he's likely never seen before. When Ann tries to cheer him up with juggling, he yawns. If Jackson has learned nothing else about Kong it is this, complexity and inessential action make Kong an understandably and therefore sympathetic character. Where Denham is painted in broad strokes, only obsessing over the film and sleazing his way through life, Kong takes a moment (from the 1933 Kong) to play with the jaw of a defeated enemy.

Kong, victorious.

And there are dinosaurs. The middle section of the film owes a great deal to Jurassic Park, men fighting dinosaurs, and Jackson is not shy about whittling away the party to show how dangerous they are. In the original, of course, it was difficult to get humans and dinosaurs into the same shot, let alone interact with each other. With good CGI, it's now pretty easy. Unfortunately, Jackson ladles the dinosaurs on thick. Just having dinosaurs attack isn't enough. He has to have a stampede of sauropods come crushing down a narrow alley towards the humans. It all ends in a gigantic train-wreck pile-up of dinosaurs, having contributed nothing to the plot.

Dinosaur pile-up.

Because this is the second remake, and Kong didn't fight any dinosaurs in the 1976 version, Kong fights three Vastatosaurus rex (which look and feel like a Tyrannosaurus rex). The fight is inventive, partially because Kong has to keep Ann Darrow in one hand and out of danger. But there's a bit of repetition. Where 1933 Kong used the roll and throw once, 2005 Kong uses it three different times.

Jackson of course puts his own spin on the famous log scene, where Kong shakes the tiny humans off a log over an abyss. He also restores the spider-pit scene, a section taken out of the 1933 Kong for being too gruesome. True to his horror roots, he makes it pretty traumatic.


Kong gets his expected rampage across New York, but even New York in the thirties is too large for him to do the sort of damage cinematic descendents Godzilla or Gamera can. Jackson does add a tender moment, as mentioned above. Kong, carrying Ann, runs across a frozen pond in Central Park. After struggling a little, he masters movement on the low-friction surface, and begins to enjoy it. It's a wonderful moment, again, of watching Kong learn. Kong isn't just a dumb brute.

Kong learns to skate.

The end is inevitable, (although in the spin-off video game, you can save Kong and get him back to Skull Island). Kong takes Ann to the highest place he can, the Empire State Building. There he is shot to death by planes. Because of his inevitable death by planes, the military is not treated as show, the way it is in the Godzilla franchise. But Jackson in no way valorizes the military. A commander spouting military truisms is crushed as Kong runs past. But the planes get him in the end.

Kong in his final agony.

I remember disliking the 2005 Kong when I saw it in the theater. It was bloated, the fights too long, and we spend way too much time with unlikeable Carl Denham. And, unlike most Kaiju films, this one is more a tragedy than an action film or a disaster film. If Peter Jackson goes overboard with the Kong on dinosaur fights, the end of the film is still very affecting. It has an emotional edge that reminds me of Jackson's very real ability to create an emotional moment. He really is good, if in need of the occasional rein in.