Saturday, May 27, 2006


Eighth Wonder

Ever read the Jackie Harvey columns in/on the Onion? "The Outside Scoop"? The running gag is that Jackie is always a bit behind the times, and so his rumor column is always full of old news, poorly comprehended. (There's a comic fan blog that follows much the same pattern, which I track in my bloglines feeds, largely for the entertainment I get from seeing how long it takes these guys to post "news" items.)

That's how I feel about movies now, all the time. I am the outside scoop. In the two-and-a-half years or so since the Georgia Monster came along, Allison and I have only been to the theater a handful of times at most. In our first years together, we would go to see first run movies at least once a week, sometimes more. This year, the only times we're likely to get to the theater will be for Superman Returns and Cars. Compounding the issue is the fact that we cycle through so many DVDs from Netflix that they've clearly "throttled" our account, so that we have sometimes quite lengthy wait times until in-demand flicks are sent our way.

As a result, last night was the first opportunity we had to watch Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World. And I'm sure that the whole world has been waiting in breathless anticipation since last year to finally learn my opinion, right? The verdict? It fucking rocks.

I read a lot of reviews of the flick when it came out last year, both those of professional critics and of bloggers and such. And I'm surprised that so few seem to have mentioned how absolutely convincing the evocation of early 30s New York was. The first few minutes, with quick aspect-to-aspect transitions between the vaudeville performers and the sorry state of the Depression-era streets, were just spectacular.

And I disagree with the (very) common sentiment that the film is too long. Aside from the subplot of Mister Hays and Jimmy, which was too long and went nowhere, the rest of the setup is absolutely essential. The problem, I think, is that this is a movie to be watched on DVD, at your leisure, and not trapped in a theater seat. A constant refrain about such blockbusters is that they must be seen on the "big screen." Well, I've got a condition commonly referred to as "tiny tank," and if I don't have the latitude to get up every so often and empty my bladder, the biggest screen in the world is a pretty moot point. Watched in hour long chunks, roughly broken out as "New York to Skull Island," "On Skull Island," and "Back in New York," the movie seems in fact a perfect length for the story its telling.

Jackson may be a pioneer in what is essentially a new form: the home theater epic. There have been other examples of multi-hour epics before, of course. Krzysztof Kieslowski comes to mind as an obvious precursor; while a theater-goer could conceivable sit in a cinema seat for the four-plus hours it would take to watch Kieslowski's "Trois Couleurs" sequence, something like his "Dekalog" (originally made as a TV miniseries) can really only be watched in stages. Lord of the Rings shares with Wagner's Ring cycle, it occurs to me, the limitation that it can't possibly be watched in its entirety in a single viewing (unless in some some of masochistic marathon sitting, but even then twelve hours of Middle Earth is a lot to take in over the course of a single day).

I suppose, though, that things like Deadwood really belong in this category, too, don't they? Series that share elements in common with standard serial fiction--episodic chapters--and with traditional film narratives--beginning, middle, end--such that they seem to fall between the stools, neither fish nor foul. And allowing those sorts of television serials into the mix really means that this sort of thing has been going on for a good long while. Which wouldn't make Jackson much of a pioneer, and instead he'd be working in a long tradition. And which means I'm just talking a bunch of shit, when you get right down to it.

Look, you have to give me a bit of time to recover, is what I'm saying. It's been less than twelve hours since I saw a 25-foot gorilla in the most complicated fight scene this side of Jackie Chan with three-count-them-three dinosaurs. It's going to take a while to recover from that...

I've been reading your blog through "sfnovelists" for a while, and wanted to comment on your reaction to "King Kong". I felt the exact same way about the movie - it is, in many ways, the "home" version of an epic Eugene O'Neil play ("Long Days Journey Into Night" comes to mind, as do the trilogies of the Greek playwrights). It is perfect in arc and execution, both from the POV of plot and character development and resolution: beginning, middle, end. And, it offers through its ending what few movies nowadays give to its audience: total catharsis.

You're right that Jackson isn't a pioneer - he's a traditionalist in a long line of storytellers (ten thousand years and counting). However, the fact that he takes those very old theatrical conventions and applies them successfully to the latest innovations in the arts means that, on the other hand, he very much IS a pioneer.

As far as watching these epics in one sitting is concerned: when the Greeks gathered to listen to their designated bard/actor recite "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey" from memory, it was done so in one sitting. One spectacular, sweat-drenched, butt-numbing sitting. Our watching entire seasons of such shows as "24" and "Deadwood" in one sitting is once again following a long tradition. And several years ago, I attended a TWENTY-HOUR performance of "The Peony Pavilion" at Lincoln Center" - the tradition to see and be a part of epic stories is still carries on, evidently. Just something to consider.

Livia Llewellyn
Twenty-hours! Yikes!!

But thanks for gleaning something like meaning from my morning ramblings. I'd always known, of course, that the Iliad and Odyssey came from an oral tradition, but I don't think I'd ever come across the fact that they were meant to be performed (and heard) in a single sitting. Thank god for the pause button.

If Jackson's Kong lacked anything, it was some sort of resolution for the captain and crew of the Venture, but since they really don't belong in the milieu of "society" NYC in which the last act is set, I can understand and forgive the ommission. Having spent so much time with Hays and Jimmy, though, I thought a bit more with Jimmy on the back-end would have helped balance that arc out a bit. Other than that, as you say, it was essentially perfect.
Cool! I will send you a copy of The Making of King Kong, my bloodsweatandtears project. :)
Hey, that would be awesome! If you've really got one to spare, you could always just bring it along to San Diego, as I probably won't have a chance to look at it in the next few weeks, anyway. And thanks!
I want to see this book as well, D.

One of several things that I had questions about after the film was--obviously Jimmy's mysterious past was begging for a follow-through. Why didn't we get one? Was it cut for space?

I'm curious about what Jackson does after The Hobbit, assuming that rumor is true. He's done a fantasy epic and now a pulp adventure epic; will he do straight sf? Is there any chance we could get him to do Philip Pullman's Dark Devices trilogy? Or is he going to return to smaller films?
I had the same thought about Jimmy's past, Jess. It's given a lot of set up to end up going nowhere, isn't it?

And at this point, I'll follow Jackson wherever he leads. In the months after Georgia was born, I had a lot of time to watch DVDs, with a newborn in my lap. I ended up watching Jackson's complete filmography, beginning to end, including marginalia like Forgotten Silver and the like. The only thing that I didn't find absolutely brilliant was Meet the Feebles, which obviously succeeded in what it set out to do, but what it set out to do was miles away from what I had any interest in watching. I turned it off right after the S&M porn film shooting in the basement turned into a snuff film on the fly when the hippo (or was it a cow?) was accidentally killed. "Check, please!"

I think Heavenly Creatures remains my favorite of his movies, so I've no objection to his returning to smaller films!
I don't mind him doing smaller films, but I think he handles the epic-scale films well enough that I'd like to see him do them, predominantly, and have other directors, who can't do the epics as well as Jackson, do smaller films.

I'd -love- to see Jackson handle something like Ashok Banker's retelling of the Ramayana, or a Culture movie. But I see from Wikipedia that the Hobbit probably won't be out until 2010, so I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.
Jess, I've read a few different translations of the Ramayana in the last few months, gearing up for the space opera, and I've been tempted to check out Banker's retelling. Are they worth picking up?
I do believe he's doing The Lovely Bones adaptation next. And I thought King Kong was great too.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by 

Blogger. Isn't yours?