So I watched King Kong last night.
I greatly enjoyed most of it, but like most of the reviewers I've read, it went on just a bit too long. Or maybe it was long enough, but it lost its focus a bit. I'm not totally sure. But King Kong sports a wonderful first hour, a mostly fun and hair-raising second hour (with one gigantic exception), and a third hour that just feels leaden and fatalistic.
The movie takes its sweet time in the first hour, which is something I'm always glad to see in a movie these days. I've grown to really like it when movies take the time to establish their characters, flesh out the backstories, and so on before really amping up the plot. I liked that Peter Jackson made it make sense how all these characters came together, and I liked how Jackson made it all feel like a fun adventure tale well before he started to hint at an ominous sense of impending doom.
Once the movie got to Skull Island, I felt a bit of the tension slacken a bit. First, a lot of the production design of the first bits of Skull Island felt to me right out of the Mordor sequences of The Return of the King, right down to some of the atmospheric sound effects and jerky close-ups on skulls and the sweeping shots of the stone "Savage Village" that looked like some of the Orc fortifications from The Lord of the Rings. Sure, the same creative people behind Kong were behind LOTR, but for a while there the film really shows some design throwbacks to the earlier movies.
As for the rest of the Skull Island stuff: I loved every moment between Ann (Naomi Watts) and Kong, except for the first few when Kong's clutching her while racing through the jungle (I just found it hard to believe that all that jostling wouldn't give her a concussion, if not outright kill her). The battle between Kong and the three T-rexes was the most exhilarating action sequence I've seen in quite some time. It takes a special action sequence to have me on the edge of my seat in my own living room, but damned if this one didn't do it. (Although toward the beginning of that sequence, I kept thinking, "Why doesn't she just stand still? Jurassic Park taught us that T-rexes couldn't see you unless you moved!" * )
The other storyline on Skull Island wasn't as involving, frankly: the search-and-rescue mission for Ann. After a while it started to seem as though Peter Jackson basically decided to indulge every monster-movie dream his little geeky heart has ever held, so we had dinosaurs and lizards and then the first movie sequence I've seen in many years that actually had me watching through the gaps between the fingers I'd clamped over my eyes, the giant-insect-and-bigass-grub attack on the rescuers. When that one giant grub-thing overwhelmed that one poor slob, fastening its maw over the guy's head -- Jesus, I get willies just thinking about that scene. (Seriously, folks, if you have any kind of squickiness-factor about bugs, do not watch this scene! I'll even tell you when to hit your "Skip Ahead One Chapter" button on the DVD player: all the guys are huddled in the dark at the bottom of a ravine, and their fire finally goes out.)
By the time the movie returns to New York City, all that's left is the playing out of the sad ending we all know is coming. The film's mood shifts from ominous doom to ominous tragedy. The final sequence is extremely well-done, although through it all I kept wondering if Ann was completely unaware of where she was. I mean, she decides to climb to the absolute top of the Empire State Building, a circular area about ten feet in diameter with no guard railing whatsoever, and she just stands there as though she's on the sidewalk. When you're that high, you don't dart up ladders like that.
The film's score was OK; Howard Shore had finished scoring about two-thirds of the film when his music was rejected and he was replaced by James Newton Howard. Howard's main motif for Skull Island is a nice, creepy one, but by and large, the music didn't leave much impression. I'm not nearly as big a James Newton Howard fan as many other film music lovers, some of whom seem to think he's Jerry Goldsmith's heir apparent.
I liked King Kong a lot. As a remake of a classic film, it stands well on its own.
* Yes, I know that the "T-rexes can't see you if you're still" thing is false.