Gather ’round the Festivus Pole for the feats of strength and the airing of grievances. And in this time of great joy and no tinsel, remember that each and every one of you has caused me trouble during the preceding year.
I’m a bit late with my review of the King Kong remake, given that I saw the movie last Saturday. However, I did not want to allow it to go uncommented upon.
As expected, I enjoyed Kong a great deal, and I hope to see it again sometime this week while it’s still playing at the local art house. (Normally, one would not choose an art house to screen an epic such as this, but ours just happens to have a sound system powerful enough to make a grown man weep for joy.)
I do agree with those who criticize its length. While the extra running time allows for the characters to breathe and develop, I think it could accomplish the same and be 20 minutes shorter. Many scenes go on for a bit longer than necessary, and there’s an entirely extraneous subplot about a sailor named Jimmy that ultimately goes nowhere. That said, I also agree with Roger Ebert’s assessment that we’re only complaining about too much of a good thing, because that’s what King Kong is: a very good thing.
As with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, director Peter Jackson strays from the roller-coaster track to offer quiet moments of beauty, and imbues his characters with heart. With Kong, Jackson confirms that he really does know how to make an epic film which is more than bangs and crashes.
On the other hand, the roller-coaster is a helluva ride, particularly in the middle portion of the film: the excursion to Skull Island. (There’s a nice moment when Jack Black’s filmmaker character Carl Denham whispers the name of his destination; after all, the sailors might balk at going someplace named “Skull Island.”) And make no bones about it, Skull Island is the motherfucking scariest tract of land ever seen on movies. From its jagged rocks to its feral natives to its spider-filled chasms, Jackson shows that he’s forgotten nothing from his early days in splatter film. Tense as they were, the dinosaur chases had nothing on the scene in which Denham and crew discover the island’s human population.
The remake is at once very respectful of the original film yet willing to make improvements to its ’30s sensibilities. I enjoyed that one of the cheesier dialogue exchanges from Kong ’33 turned up here as part of Denham’s film-within-the-film, and that the politically-incorrect natives of days gone by were featured during the climatic Broadway stage show. The latter offered ironic commentary about not only the original Kong, but also the way in which show business trivialized non-whites during its early decades.
Other tributes to the King of old abound. One of the original gas bomb props can be seen alongside the Venture’s store of chloroform, and Max Steiner’s glorious, groundbreaking musical score accompanies the aforementioned stage show. Kong plays with the a dead dinosaur’s broken jaw just as his predecessor did. A fair amount of dialogue, most of it Denham’s, is reproduced verbatim from the old script.
I was originally uncertain about the casting of Jack Black, but ultimately I bought into him. He’s certainly good at portraying rolling-eyed mania, a necessary component for a filmmaker interested in nothing more than getting the shot. Black’s Denham is effective comic relief at first, and veers into sinister territory about two thirds into the story, yet he never becomes a stock villain.
Much has been written about Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow, and that’s as it should be. She’s radiant and funny here, though it helps that she’s got good material. The script solves many of the problems with the original version of her character, giving her a real relationship with Kong and more humanity. While the special-effects used to create Kong are stunning, it’s Watts’ performance that ensures that we care about him.
In the end, the new Kong isn’t the milestone that was the 1933 film, but it’s a superlative experience well worth a nine-dollar ticket.
This week saw the US DVD release of what is alleged to be the final entry in the Godzilla series, 2004′s Godzilla: Final Wars. I consider it “alleged” because we’ve heard this one before, most recently after Godzilla’s fatal meltdown in 1995′s Godzilla vs. Destoroyah. (They’ve made six Godzilla films since then, not including the disastrous American remake.)
Like most of the post-Destoroyah films, Godzilla: Final Wars reboots previous continuity. Godzilla has made numerous attacks since his first appearance in ’54, but hasn’t been seen since he was buried in polar ice in a battle with the flying submarine Atragon. (In addition to numerous nods to past Godzilla episodes, Final Wars includes elements from the ’60s Toho Studios sci-fi stories Atragon and Gorath.)
Meanwhile, a variety of mutants, both human and monster, have cropped up. The human mutations have banded into a fighting force against the giant horrors that continue to threaten mankind. This allows for a lot of X-Men meets The Matrix martial arts action that’s strange to find in a Godzila film, but leads to a fun sequence in which humans battle hand-to-claw with the oversized lobster Ebirah.
If anything, Final Wars most resembles the magnum opus of the ’60s Godzilla series, Destroy All Monsters. Both films open with a worldwide series of attacks by an entire menagerie of Toho’s classic kaiju. However, this time humanity is saved by the intervention of aliens from Planet X. Soon, the Xiliens have ingratiated themselves upon the Earthlings, and the UN is redubbed “The Space Nations.” Of course, it wouldn’t be a Godzilla film if their intentions were truly peaceful…
This film is a loopy love letter to the ’60s/’70s Toho monster fests, and much of the action recalls the rubber-suit wrestling matches common to them. One of the highlights is a four-way scrap in which Godzilla, Rodan and King Seesar use the armadillo-like Anguirus as a makeshift soccer ball.
In other respects, Final Wars is something entirely new to the series, with its rock-music soundtrack, fast-paced editing and Adam Ant alien leader (Kazuki Kitamura in one of the great scenery-chewing performances). And for the first time, Toho ventures outside Japan with brief location sequences in Sydney and New York.
The monster roll call is a treat for old-school kaiju fans, with nearly the entire roster of classic Godzilla friends and foes: Minya, Godzilla’s offspring; Rodan the supersonic pterodactyl; Mothra the (what else?) giant moth; the aforementioned Anguirus and King Seesar (the latter a humanoid foo-dog last seen in ’74′s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla); Manda the sea serpent (from Atragon); the crustacean Ebirah (Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster); cyborg whatzit Gigan (who once teamed with the cockroach-like Megalon); Hedorah, the walking pile of sludge (Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster); Kumonga the spider and Kamacuras the mantis (both from Son of Godzilla).
The most amusing inclusion is that of the American Godzilla, now downgraded to another Xilien pawn and renamed “Zilla.” The fight between Godzilla and the pretender to his throne is kept deliberately short.
One of the most common complaints is that the majority of Godzilla’s opponents are dispatched too quickly, but given that there are seven distinct battles, not to mention numerous other scenes of mayhem, it’s probably for the best that they weren’t dragged out. After all, the real showdown is the final four-way tag team match with Godzilla and Mothra against Gigan and the mysterious Monster X.
It’s all giddy, nonsensical fun, not to be taken seriously for even a moment.
The above quotation is one of my favorite lines of movie dialogue, as spoken by impresario Carl Denham in the 1933 version of King Kong. It’s memorable not only for Denham’s misguided faith in the strength of chrome steel, but also because, unlike Carl, we the audience know that all giant monkey hell is about to break loose.
As is inescapable to anyone who possesses at least three of the five senses, director Peter Jackson’s Kong remake opened yesterday. Amazingly, I have not seen it yet, and don’t expect to until Saturday, due to the arrival of an out-of-town visitor who’s staying with us. (Nice timing, Dave!) It’s a testament to the power of my friendship with Dave that I did not abandon him last night for some hot monkey action, though as I’ve pointed out, things might’ve been different had it been a new Star Wars film.
I’m very much looking forward to Jackson’s vision, as all indications suggest that he will do the film justice. I’m a bit concerned about its three-hour running time, nearly twice the length of the original. Still, it appears that the extra time will be spent fleshing out the human characters, which were largely ciphers in the ’33 original.
One of the aspects of this new Kong that I find most intriguing is Jackson’s approach to dinosaur-infested Skull Island. He ignored the cliche of “lands that time forgot,” in which everything appears as it would’ve during the Mesozoic Era. On Skull Island, evolution has continued onward for the intervening 65 million years, allowing the effects crew to populate the place with all manner of fanciful creations. I like this for two reasons: first, because it sidesteps the issue that modern movie audiences are all too familiar with realistic dinosaurs, courtesy Jurassic Park; second, because it allows Jackson to indulge his penchant for old-fashioned, scientifically-dubious movie monsters.
The other big change from the ’33 Kong is that this time there’s a real relationship between the big monkey and the girl in his paw. While one could argue that the original film itself is sympathetic to Kong, it’s worth pointing out that none of the characters, including and especially Ann Darrow, show the slightest bit of concern over the capture, exploitation and death of the noble creature.
For all the criticism levelled at the ’76 remake with Jessica Lange–a film whose faults have been greatly and unfairly magnified over the years–one thing it got right was that the human characters interacted with Kong on a personal level. When he took his fatal plunge from the World Trade Center, it wasn’t just the audience who felt something.
The original Kong was the first special-effects blockbuster epic. I recently had the opportunity to see it again on the big screen, and was surprised how large it loomed, and how modern it felt in terms of pacing. (Granted, the sexism, racism and characterization were all pure ’30s.) It’s a truly great film, even though there are moments when it’s not a terribly good film.
Yet, despite my love for the original and my appreciation of the ’70s version, I’m not at all upset by the prospect of another remake. Even if Jackson’s film is as good as I suspect, I don’t think that it can do anything to hurt the reputation and significance of the 1933 Kong.
One great thing about the new Kong is that movie studios have dredged their vaults for anything Kong-like. Hence, we’re seeing DVD releases of the ’60s animated series, the Japanese monster flicks King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes, and even the British rip-off Konga.
King Kong Escapes is one of my favorite Japanese kaiju films. It was co-produced by Rankin/Bass, creators of animated holiday specials such as Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as a tie-in to the aforementioned animated series.
The story involves an evil scientist, Dr. Who (no relation…I think), who plots to mine a tremendously radioactive ore using his robotic copy of the original Kong. Unfortunately, the intense radiation fries the robot ape, which means that Plan B is to kidnap the real Kong.
King Kong Escapes is pure, delirious fun. In the American version, Dr. Who is voiced by the mellifluous Paul Frees, best known as Bullwinkle’s nemesis Boris Badenov, as well as the “Ghost Host” of Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” ride. The slinky spy Madame X is played by Mie Hama, who was Kissy Suzuki in the James Bond chapter You Only Live Twice. There’s some especially good giant monster action, and the suits for both Mechani-Kong and the dinosaur Gorosaurus (who later appeared in the Godzilla epic Destroy All Monsters) are among Toho Studios’ best.
Kong himself, unfortunately, is not one of their better efforts. While they used a different suit from that seen in King Kong vs. Godzilla, it’s equally mangy and goofy. How is it that the Japanese can build such wonderful devices, but can’t design a decent gorilla suit?
When Vicky and I visited Orlando in October, we didn’t have time for much of anything beyond the Disney confines. However, that didn’t stop me from picking up flyers for some of the other theme park attractions. And in honor of the holiday season, I will now share with you highlights of the pamphlet for Orlando’s Holy Land Experience.
I love the image to the left, from the flyer’s front cover. I’m not sure what emotion the little boy is supposed to be portraying. Is it, “Yippee! I’m about to be persecuted for my beliefs!?” I believe that the Roman soldier is thinking, “You will be tasty.”
“Ancient Adventures!” cries the ad copy. “Visit Jerusalem in Orlando!” I can certainly understand the appeal of the latter, given that the real Jerusalem is a) in a foreign country, and 2) prone to detonation. On the other hand, I suspect that the real Jerusalem is not made of fiberglass.
Among the attractions of this quasi-religious experience is “Calvary’s Garden Tomb,” a replica of the cave in which Christ was buried and resurrected, and which, the flyer claims, is “a perfect place to enjoy CenturyTM, the music ensemble of The Holy Land Experience.” One of the musical reviews is “Praise Through the Ages,” an “energy-filled combination of music and art showcasing man’s worship of the true and living God throughout the centuries.” And for the kids, there’s the “Qaboo & Company Oasis Outpost,” featuring a cartoon camel and a simulated rock pillar climb. “Pretend that you’re scaling Lot’s Wife!” (Not an actual quote.)
While visiting the Holy Land, you can “interact with colorfully-dressed street merchants, scowling Roman guards, ancient Jewish priests, and an adorable collection of lovable four-legged friends.” (Emphasis mine.) Ah, the Lord’s petting zoo.
“Guests of all ages are thrilled with just how much there is to see and do!” Well, except for the kids, who, after two hours in the Scriptorium Center for Biblical Antiquities, will be wondering where in the hell is Mickey Mouse and why they couldn’t have been adopted by a family headed for the Magic Kingdom.
At least there’s the food. “Be sure to save some time to ‘grab a bite’ at our Oasis Palms Cafe!”
Is it just me, or is it vaguely inappropriate to name a tasty food item after a Philistinian warlord?
So, next time you’re in the area, be sure to stop by The Holy Land Experience. And tell ‘em that Jehovah sent you!
Last Friday, my friend Rob and I made a geek pilgrimage to Indianapolis to visit the Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy Exhibition, which showcased props and costumes from Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. It was truly a nerd paradise, and the beauty of being accompanied by Rob as opposed to say, my wife, is that we could spend two hours oohing and ahhing over the exquisite level of detail on display. (Not that my wife wouldn’t ooh or ahh about anything, but it woudn’t be Orc armor.)
Unlike the items on display in the similar Star Wars-themed exhibit several years ago, these withstood close scrutiny, and both of us were impressed by the tiny Elvish runes and other imagery that would never be seen on screen, but were crafted in lovingly obsessive detail nonetheless. Most amazing was the effigy of the deceased warrior Boromir laid out in a funeral boat; the skin texture was so realistic that I half believed someone had stuffed and mounted actor Sean Bean.
The lighting and presentation were equally dramatic throughout the hall, from the full-sized, armored figure of Sauron and the 10-foot-high “miniature” of the Tower of Orthanc to the One Ring, suspended in a lucite pillar within a darkened, “flame-lit” room.
Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures inside the exhibit, so you’ll have to be content with the couple seen here. The one on the right is from one of the interactive areas which showcased the film’s special effects; in this case, a demonstration of the forced perspective used to turn full-sized people into “hobbits.” You should know that an even fruitier version of this photo exists in which Rob and I got into character as halfling and wizard. And no, I won’t be posting it!
The exhibit runs through January 3, 2006, after which it will be sent back to New Zealand for permanent installation. It’s definitely worth the trip!
The WILL bowling team finished the first half of the season in fourth place, out of sixteen teams! Plus, we no longer have the worst team average of the league! Yay, us!
Yesterday’s USA Today featured a follow-up report to John Seigenthaler’s opinion piece regarding the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. I thought that the following rebuttal from Paul Saffo of the Institute for the Future made the case against Wikipedia as clearly as any I’ve read. (And keep in mind that he’s defending it.)
Seigenthaler, he says, “is overreacting. He should have just changed it. And he should’ve gotten his friends to help him watch it and every time it was changed, to change it back to what was correct. He clearly doesn’t understand the culture of Wikipedia.”
To elaborate, all Seigenthaler needs to do, each day for the rest of his life (and beyond, because there’s no reason it need stop once he’s dead) is check a website to make certain that no one has changed his encyclopedia entry to insinuate that he plotted to kill JFK, played the French Horn in Junior High, or touted himself as John Cusack’s “number one fan.” And if a third party happened by prior to his daily visit and found a seemingly-authoritative entry on how Seigenthaler lost his family home playing craps, so be it.
I don’t know about Seigenthaler and Saffo, but I’m pretty sure that I understand the culture of Wikipedia.
Coming Soon, From the Creators of Wikipedia! Wiktionary, the user-defined list of definitions! Disagree with a word’s spelling or meaning? Change it!
In Wednesday’s USA Today, there was a disturbing opinion piece by John Seigenthaler regarding the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. In it, he describes how his own Wikipedia biography came to include a variety of false and borderline libelous statements, including the following paragraph:
“John Seigenthaler Sr. was the assistant to Attorney General Robert Kennedy in the early 1960′s. For a brief time, he was thought to have been directly involved in the Kennedy assassinations of both John, and his brother, Bobby. Nothing was ever proven.”
While this passage is written in a passive voice which hedges just enough to avoid outright accusation, the sentence “Nothing was ever proven” strongly suggests that Seigenthaler was investigated as a suspect.
According to Seigenthaler, it took multiple attempts and several months to remove the offending passages from Wikipedia and those web sites which copy its content for their own use. And he never did learn who was responsible for writing them.
The problem is that Wikipedia is a user-built repository of “information.” Anyone can contribute an article or edit an existing entry. In fact, I even worked on a couple during a brief dalliance. (For example, this one for Japanese monster King Ghidorah.)
Because anyone can edit any entry without having to prove their own credibility, it would be possible for you to go in and replace the above entry with something about how King Ghidorah was in reality one of the Tudor monarchs of England. Better yet, I could amend Ronald Reagan’s entry to declare that he wore a tutu in the Oval Office and was fond of daffodils.
In theory, such entries could themselves be amended or returned to their former state by other interested parties, but that requires vigilence on the part of someone who is both responsible and credible. While much of what I’ve read on Wikipedia appears relatively accurate, it’s also clear that some entries have been amended by those acting out of partisanship, mischief or malice. Maybe they’ll be caught and corrected, but maybe not. Either way, there’ll be a period of time during which false information will be propagated.
Another, similar user-contributed information source is the Internet Movie Database. While I admit that I make frequent reference to the IMDB, I often find entries which are either maddeningly incomplete or downright inaccurate. I’ve noted quite a few “memorable quotes” which are either duplicated by people too lazy to see if someone else has contibuted them, or flat-out misquoted. And in several recent occasions, wags have deliberately inserted false names into cast member lists which are subsequently cited by “legitimate” news sources. (For example, for a time the entry for the TV series Lost listed Survivor contestant Tina Wesson as joining the second season cast.) Whether they did so to prove a point or just to indulge their sense of humor doesn’t matter; either way it demonstrates the unreliability of information without authority.
In the end, I think (hope) that Wikipedia and its ilk will not take over from legitimately researched, fact-checked reference works. Until then, the former will be a boon for students who didn’t bother to read the work.
“What do you mean that Charles Dickens’ Bleak House isn’t a home-remodeling guide? It says so in Wikipedia! Granted, I just edited the entry…”
On last night’s Lost, recent cast addition Mr. Eko (and how cool a name is that?) spoke what I believe could be the most significant five words yet uttered in that TV show: “Don’t mistake coincidence for fate.” In the context of the scene, he was reacting to true believer Locke’s suggestion that something mysterious was at work in reuniting one of the missing pieces from the Dharma Initiative orientation film. (For non-viewers, Dharma is a utopian organization which appears to be the central mystery of the series.)
I think that the same could be applied to many of the allegedly supernatural occurances on the island. The producers of Lost love dropping hints that all of the castaways are in some way connected by fate, not the least of which is a sequence of numbers (4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42) that keeps cropping up in seemingly significant ways.
While I don’t profess to have figured out the entire mystery, I will go out on a limb and say this: the numbers are a red herring. They don’t have any meaning beyond what we already know, that they are a code sequence which must be fed every 108 minutes into a computer within the Dharma installation. (“Or what?” is one of the most intriguing questions the series has posed.)
The numbers aren’t cursed, as Hurley came to believe when a run of bad luck followed his use of them to win the lottery. Any mathematician or professional gambler can tell you that luck–good or bad–just works that way. Each random event has no influence on other events in a series, and it’s entirely possible for a coin to come up heads again and again. Hurley suffered repeated occurances of bad luck, and through his own superstitution came to associate them with the numbers.
It’s true that the numbers helped lead Hurley to the island, but that’s because they originated on the island. During his investigation of the “curse,” he traced it back to someone who’d been stationed at a naval listening post in the Pacific and had picked up a repeating transmission of the number sequence. In that regard, the numbers gained significance because their repetition meant that the sailor remembered them and passed them along to others, creating a chain which led to Hurley, and which could be followed back to their originating point.
Of course, wary viewers of Lost know that the numbers pop up all over the place, often as background details. Part of that is because the producers are playing deliberate tricks, but the other part is because we are looking for them. How many different numbers have been referenced on the show that aren’t part of the cursed sequence? I don’t know, and I doubt that anyone else does either. We don’t pay attention to them because they don’t seem significant.
I could go off into a whole tangent about how we treat other, similar coincidences in our own lives, how we assign great importance to confluences which support our philosophical, political or religious views, and ignore data which fails to fit, but that’s a rant for another day.
Stop searching for meaning in the Lost numbers. There isn’t any. Don’t mistake coincidence for fate.
Now, as for the horse which appeared in last night’s show, obviously that’s completely different…