Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sometimes a banana is just a banana…an enormous black banana…

Okay. I’ve written my manifesto, and now it’s time to tackle the gorilla. Like everyone else, I had very high hopes for this film, all of which had been dashed by time I escaped the theatre. I am, of course, a huge LOTR geek, and I still fervently believe in Peter Jackson’s genius. However, after seeing this cinematic clusterfuck, I can’t help but wistfully recall the days of Heavenly Creatures. To loosely paraphrase Rick James; they shoulda’ never gave that Kiwi money.

In spite of the indignant claims to the contrary appearing on multiple idiotboy message boards, it is pretty well accepted in the world of film theory that the premise of the original 1930’s Kong was largely influenced by the racial and sexual paranoia that was lurking just below the surface of American society. I don’t need to explain that do I? Good.

The problem with Jackson’s Kong, is that it simply doesn’t do enough to forward the discussion about race, colonial oppression, and spectatorship that first film initiated. Sure, it pays lip service to the problems of the day, (Jackson’s camera pans quickly past scenes of New York’s depression era destitution, minstrel shows, and burlesques), and there is plenty of attention given to the Hollywood Lens, (a la Jack Black) and its need to appropriate and, in doing so, destroy everything in sight, but overall the film is culturally illiterate to a startling degree.

Some will argue that the film attempts to reconcile the racist constructions of its predecessor by making Kong a highly sympathetic character. Okay, let’s assume that I buy that. It still doesn’t assuage my discomfort in watching the skull island “natives” jiggle and shriek their way into the annals of political incorrectness. Despite one clever moment in which Black’s character attempts to placate an island child with a candy bar, the “natives” constitute little more than an inarticulate black background against which the drama of the mostly white crew of the Venture (the more colorful crew members are killed off fairly quickly) can play out. The asinine analysis of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness that Jackson works into the script, only serves to reinforce the shallowness of the films critique of colonialism.

Much has been made about Naomi Watt’s performance as Anne Darrow, and the extent to which she has added depth to the character of Kong’s love interest. I don’t get it. Watt’s waif is an emotional cripple, a developmentally arrested simpleton whose scant back-story alludes to childhood trauma, but doesn’t provide any real reason why we should care. Everyone in the film (including Kong) loves Anne because she bats her eyelashes, sings, dances and pratfalls like a precious marionette and fawns slavishly over Adrien Brody’s broody “writer.” Is this a version of womanhood worth rescuing? The film seems to think so. Personally, I would have liked to see the Darrow character recast, with Anne Coulter in the role. But that’s just my little sadistic fantasy…

Oh yeah, and the special effects looked like garbage. Okay, King Kong himself looked very impressive, as did the 1930’s era cityscape. Kudos to everyone involved. But the whole “there are brontosaurus legs, and I’m running and (look back, look ahead), and I’m running (look back at the green screen),” thing was just a little too “Land of the Lost” for my taste. Besides, I really didn’t need to see all of those giant bugs ingesting and dismembering people. Okay Pete, “The Horror! The Horror!” We get it. I don’t need a flesh toned Urethra Dentata to drive the point home, as it were.

My advice: Skip King Kong. Instead, snuggle up with a copy of Chinua Achebe’s landmark essay, “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's Heart of Darkness”…and maybe a tasty, genetically enhanced banana.


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