Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

(Movie Review)

My History With King Kong

The original 1933 King Kong is easily one of my top movies of all time.
...What's that?  I left it out of my top movies of all time list?  An oversight on my part.  I absolutely loved King Kong back when I was 10.

The Review
I'm largely on the same page as this critic here.  I loved this movie, but then I've always been a big sucker for these kind of fantastic monster movies, so I suppose it's no surprise.

Positives
* I've always felt that Skull Island was the most interesting part of King Kong.  The place was a mysterious tropical jungle that was overflowing with mystery, monsters, and dinosaurs.
I always got a little bored with King Kong movies once they got away from the island.
So in my opinion, this movie made the right decision to put Skull Island front and center, and skip out on King Kong in New York.

* The idea to put this movie in 1973 and connect it to the Vietnam War was interesting.  (Really, there's no reason why it had to be set in 1973.  It could just as easily take place today).  But as a history nerd, I'm a sucker for these period pieces.  I loved all the references to politics, Nixon, anti-war demonstrations, and the Vietnam War, etc.  Even though some of them bordered on the cliche, it still helped to enliven the movie for me.

* Another benefit of situating this movie right at the end of the Vietnam War is that it helped to add a lot of drama to what would otherwise have been the most boring part of the movie--the set up.  But actually this movie started off with a bang--rushing from Washington to Danang to Saigon to Bangkok.  The set-up was really interesting, and incredibly well-paced.

* Great directing, and just generally a great monster film.

* Glass half full time: The CGI is almost good enough these days that you can't notice it's CGI.

The Negatives

* Glass half empty time: You can still kind of tell a little bit that the effects are CGI, and it takes me out of the movie a little bit.

* The original 1933 King Kong was cool because in addition to Kong, you had a whole host of other great monsters--mostly identifiable dinosaurs.  There was a Stegosaurus, a Brontosaurus, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and a Pteranodon.
The monsters in this remake were not nearly as memorable.  In particular, those CGI lizard monsters struck me as just generic CGI monsters.  I would have much preferred to see a broader range of monsters, and more personality in the monsters we did see. Perhaps sticking to the classic dinosaurs would have been best.

* The movie dragged slightly in the middle

* So, at this point we all know that Hollywood is putting more Chinese actors and actresses into its movies in order to increase ticket sales in China.  And honestly, I don't mind.  (Hollywood movies need to be more diverse anyway, so bring on the international casting, I say).  But hopefully in the future they can actually integrate these actors into the story more.  It was just so so obvious that the Chinese woman in this movie had absolutely nothing to do with the script, and was only in the movie to meet a casting quota.
Really, it was incredibly clumsily done, wasn't it?  She just got dumped into the movie with no backstory, motivation, or characteristics. And she was in just about every scene, but had absolutely nothing to do in any of them.
Without having bothered to any research this, I'm relatively sure that 1) the actress must not have been able to speak much English and 2) she was a last minute addition to the cast, and there was no time to do any re-writes to the movie to give her any sort of character.

Rating
8 out of 10 Stars  (Each movie is rated against its genre, so this is not comparing it to Citizen Kane, but to other monster movies).

Thoughts on Seeing this Movie in Vietnam
So, since I'm currently living in Vietnam, I saw this movie in a theater in Saigon.  Which made the Vietnam connections all the more interesting.  (You always take note of these things when you see the movie inside the country its referencing).

I just this week mentioned  that the Vietnamese government often censors references to Vietnam in American movies.  Apparently because they are very nervous about any portrayals of Vietnam that they do not control (My students told me part of X-Men: Days of Future Past was censored in its Vietnamese release).  So you can imagine how surprised I was at how many references there was in the opening of this movie to the Vietnam War, and even depictions of American soldiers in Saigon and Danang.  All uncensored.  (That being said, there might well have been other parts that were censored and I just wouldn't know it.)

Since I was the only white guy in the movie theater, I can only imagine what the Vietnamese audience thought about the film.  Did they feel a bit uncomfortable by the references to napalm and American bombings?  I don't know, because I didn't talk to any of them.  
(Actually, as likely as not, they didn't care one way or the other.  Most young Vietnamese regard the War as ancient history, and don't really care about it.)

Also, apparently a lot of this movie  was filmed in Vietnam.  
The opening parts where the helicopters first go into Skull Island was apparently Halong Bay.
And the big mountain in the movie was from the middle of Vietnam.  My girlfriend told me it was the same mountain cave we went to during a vacation this past year, but I would not have recognized it.  
It's funny, because none of these places are out in the middle of nowhere.  Halong Bay is ordinarily over-run by tourists, and the mountain was covered with roads and tour buses and parking lots.

I imagine all the evidence of human civilization was obscured by clever camera angles, or maybe papered over by CGI.
But it did make me think about how cleverly Hollywood disguises its shooting locations.  The next time I see a landscape shot in a movie and I'm tempted to think "Wow, that looks really remote and exotic," I'm going to remember that there's probably a huge parking lot just off of the camera frame.


Um, so a couple technical issues this time around.  First of all, I accidentally deleted the first video.  So this is me talking through everything for the second time.  Theoretically, that should have made it more smoother and more rehearsed, but I think it just distracted me more.  (I was so concerned about remembering everything I had said the first time that I lost my train of thought a couple times).
Also, I rambled on for so long that my girlfriend had to run off to work, and there's an awkward moment in the middle where she hands the camera off to me.
Anyways, for whatever it's worth, the video is here and embedded below.


Link of the Day

No comments: