Not yet, anyway...
King Kong released this wednesday with a hype as huge as Kong himself. There were plenty of reasons why the hype seemed justified. It's Peter Jackson's follow up to Lord of the Rings movies. It's the most expensive movie ever made, with the production budget standing at 207 million dollars! The trailers, even though they left me a little disappointed, seemed to be exciting enough for a lot of people, what with some great special effect sequences included - the little clip of Naomi Watts standing between Kong and a T-Rex itself seemed worth the price of the ticket. A film can go one of only two ways from this. If it is well made, it becomes one of the biggest movies of its time (Titanic!). If it is not made very well, it becomes a disaster and sends shudders through the industry (Hulk!). So, I was eagerly looking for the initial reviews of the movie. Turned out, the first few reviews that came in were overwhelmingly good! I remember seeing only 1 out of the first 28-29 that wasn't favorable. (It has since gone a little down... standing at 83% positive). That, as far as I was concerned, sealed the deal. This is clearly going to be a huge movie, I thought. a 300+ million monster. The box-office number sites were predicting a 20+ million opening on the wednesday and a 65+ million weekend.
The numbers for wednesday are in.
No one really knows what to make of this. I honestly thought it was a typo. Everyone is going to wait for the friday's estimates now. Anything less than 15 million, and the movie will probably not cross 150 million, even with good word-of-mouth. Anything above 25, and its going to be HUGE!! 20-ish, and it'll probably go on to around 250 million. That is nothing compared to Titanic (or even Return of the King, considering that Titanic is such an outlier!) but it should be good enough for the studio. As of now, they have just one straw to hang on to. Something similar happened last summer with Shrek-2. Everyone was hoping a monster hit and it brought in JUST 11 million dollars on its opening wednesday. Postmortem analysis had begun already but it turned out that the audience was probably not aware of the movie opening on a wednesday. It had probably the second biggest weekend ever (105 million probably) and went on to make 400+ overall. I hope that is the case here too. And with some good word-of-mouth it might very well be.
I'm not too sure about the good word-of-mouth part, though. I thought it was OK. In parts, pretty good too. But not even close to being year's best picture or anything. Not even close to LOTR movies in any manner. It could've been much better had Peter Jackson not overindulged himself. He did something similar to Return of the King, but it didn't hurt it much because of such a huge fan base. Not sure that will happen with Kong, though.
They have publicised the movie as a return to jurassic park. great special effecs, great thrills. An adventure movie through and through. Which is what disappointed me when I saw the trailers actually. Turns out that that description is justified only for the middle hour or so of the movie. The first hour is all drama, slowly introducing the characters and building up to the adventure ride. A tad too slowly, in fact. There are some hilarious scenes here, but overall, he could have rushed a little in this part. Then comes the next hour/hour-and-a-half full of one-scream-after-the-other action. Something that will probably mean the movie will make good money internationally, but not something that, by itself, makes a movie great.
Don't get me wrong, this part is actually done pretty well. The dinosaurs could've been better made (I can see why my kids will probably scream at some of these scenes and say "but dad! that is SO clearly animation!! Can't you see that the actors seem to be OUT of the plane of the dinosaurs?"). But almost every scene involving Kong is done superbly. Its impossible to think that we are not watching a real huge ape on the screen. Compared with Gollum (which itself was great CGI work, but looked artificial all the same), this is a HUGE leap forward. Its astounding that we can now make such creatures come alive and give them such believable emotions/expressions. All credit to Andy Serkis - the guy who played Gollum in LOTR and plays Kong here - and the technical crew behind this.
Probably the biggest challenge in front of anyone who decided to film King Kong is to make the relationship between Kong and Darrow believable. I don't know how it was done in the original, but at least here I thought they did it extremely well. Even though it will always be a bit difficult to digest that a woman can fall for a 25 foot ape, some of the scenes are quite successful in depicting that. The tender moments between the two of them are quite cute and, for me, are the best scenes of the movie. Naomi Watts is great as Darrow and, as i said before, Andy Serkis gives Kong great expressions, specially in these scenes with Watts. In fact, the half-baked-romance between Watts and Adrien Brody is MUCH less believable than the Darrow-Kong affection (calling it romance will probably be too inappropriate. And inaccurate as well.). Brody is disappointing. Too wooden, specially in the scenes with Watts. The last scene between the two is absolutely hilarious due to its unbelievability, when it should've been touching. I am starting to think that Brody's oscar for The Pianist was a fluke. He did OK in The Village but I am still to see anything else by him that'd convince me that he's a great actor.
That brings us to the last part. It's this that really disappointed me. The first hour was at least engaging, even though overlong. The last hour - the scenes set in a great recreation of 1933 New York City - does not move you, it does not delight you and it is not awe-inspiring. It does nothing. Except bore. There are still a couple of scenes here that are great. A superb scene on a frozen lake and another with Darrow and Kong on the very top of the Empire State building. But that's about it. All the destruction of the NYC roads and building by Kong are not thrilling enough. Probably this part suffers in comparison because it comes after the superb sequences on the island. Or maybe by this time (2.5 hours from the start of the movie, 12:30 in the night), I really wasn't too interested in a cliched car chase, cars banging into each other, or buildings falling left, right and center. But it DID seem to be stretching out a bit too much. Specially the climax on the top of the Empire State building was too long.
King Kong is not a Crash, so its not really a performance oriented movie. But I thought Jack Black was quite hilarious in the role of the movie director. He, as also the main duo (Watts and Serkis, NOT Brody) did quite well.
So, there you go. The movie might still get that elusive good word-of-mouth because of the great island sequences and might be a big hit (lets wait till the friday numbers for that), but it really isn't that great. Peter Jackson has been nominated for a Golden Globe for this. I think he can do better than this, though. More to the point, I don't believe anyone else hasn't done better than this in 2005.
Which begs the question, why 83% positive reviews? well, I guess I'll give it a positive review too. As in, it is definitely more than just watchable. It has its shortcomings, but there are some things in the movie that definitely shouldn't be missed. I guess a lot of other people thought so too. That is the problem with just looking at percentages. If 10 out of 10 people give a movie 7/10, then it gets 100% positive reviews but it still is a 7/10 movie, not a 10/10. Kong, for me, is a 7.5-8/10 movie. Better than 80% of the movies out there, but that's about it.