As we gear up for a return to Skull Island, Anghus Houvouras revisits Peter Jackson’s King Kong…
I can still remember seeing Return of the King for the first time, and the annual Butt Numb-A-Thon hosted by Harry Knowles from Ain’t It Cool News. It was a room full of ridiculously excited film geeks seeing the most anticipated movie of the year with Peter Jackson in attendance. It was one of those cinematic moments I’ll never forget, watching the amazing final installment of one of the best (if not THE best) film trilogies ever assembled with a cheering crowd and the man who had put it all together in the audience watching alongside us.
If you had told me then that Peter Jackson would follow-up the Lord of the Rings trilogy with a series of tepid, lifeless blockbusters, I might have slapped you in the face. Not just out of anger, mind you, but in an attempt to snap them out of whatever mind possessing insanity that had infected their brain.
“Peter Jackson? Making terrible blockbusters? IMPOSSIBLE!”
But sure enough, here we are in 2017 with a Peter Jackson that feels strangely disconnected to his earlier, more passionate efforts. The Hobbit films were a muddled, unfocused, digital disaster. The Lovely Bones was a cringe-worthy exercise that combined some laughable staging with ham-fisted direction. But no matter how disappointing those movies were, none of them could compare to the absolutely confounding, epic monstrosity that was 2005’s King Kong.
There are few disappointments, for me, as profound as King Kong. I’d probably have to go back the early 1990’s after developing a raging cinematic hard-on for Tarantino and then having to suffer through Destiny Turns on the Radio. That one still stings. King Kong has the same kind of precipitous nose dive from pre-title elation to post-credit pain that was experienced over the excruciating three-hour run-time.
King Kong is a labor of love made in a vacuum. Jackson spent every ounce of goodwill from the massive success of Lord of the Rings to get his hands on the rights to one of his favorite movies. With the financial and critical success of the series, he had bought himself the kind of creative leverage afforded to precious few filmmakers. And with that freedom he delivered one of the most laughable blockbusters ever produced. There are so many nails you could use to crucify the film: The crazy long run time. Jack Black’s failed attempt at being taken seriously (more on that in a moment). The laughable dialogue vomited from every character’s mouth. Dodgy CGI. Jackson manhandled the film like Lenny from Of Mice and Men manhandled the bunnies he loved so much. He loved it so much he ended up strangling the damn thing to death.
I don’t think the disappointment would have felt so profound, but the hyperbole around the movie didn’t just border on sycophantic, it invaded and set up an embassy. There was the embarrassing article in Time that had a tipsy Phillipa Boyens gushing over Jackson as if he was incapable of error. There was Jack Black talking about all the roles he lost to Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as if he was somehow in the same category of performer. I remember travelling in the UK shortly after the film’s release and picking up a copy of Empire magazine and reading a Five star review, literally exclaiming “Are you kidding me?” That’s some Jonestown level Kool Aid drinking right there.
Peter Jackson’s King Kong is the very definition of a disappointment: a film with ridiculously high expectations from a filmmaker with a near flawless pedigree that ends up stinking worse than the rotting corpse of a dead hundred foot gorilla.