February 7th, 2006


King Kong

I know I'm slow, but I finally saw King Kong last night (in the luxury leather seats because it was so long). I really enjoyed it and can after all hardly object to the central premise (blonde Caucasian = beautiful) because that was the original story. I only had two real complaints.

  • Naomi Watts' inability to close her mouth became a major distraction; maybe that's what fascinated Kong. Was she cast for being a size 4 or a damned good screamer?

  • The SFX in the Empire State Building scenes were so good, I went all clammy and queasy with vertigo and had to whimper and look away. I don't have problems with aerial views (I love planes) but scenes where people can fall from cliffs or tall buildings, especially ones with terrifyingly small tops get to me.
As for the rest of it, I loved it. Kong was great and out-acted Watts, the opening sequence is wonderful, as was the recreation of 30s New York. It didn't feel like three hours, not with scenes like the actor pursued by dinosaurs ("Coming through!") which had me shouting with laughter. It was a ripping yarn.

And the best surprise for an Aucklander? The magnificent interior of the New York theatre where they show Kong -- is our beloved Civic Theatre! That OTT opulence isn't CGI (except for Kong trashing it). It really looks like that: a sultan's palace from the Arabian Nights with random Hindu and Buddhist elements thrown in, built in the 20s. I couldn't find any decent pictures on line so I uploaded some to a scrapbook gallery. I've loved that place since I was a child. They really ought to show King Kong there.

Thoughts on filming technique

On the way home from King Kong, whose SFX I thought were wonderful, we were talking about special effects and filming conventions.

The original King Kong used stop-motion models which were state of the art at the time but required a certain involvement form the viewers; they had to translate the jerky scenes to ones that would frighten them. After seeing King Kong, Narnia, Serenity and other recent films with lots of CGI, I'm wondering if current SFX can get any better or more realistic without going 3D or VR.

I also noticed that the two actors very effectively put on the accepted 30s voice and intonation for their shipboard scene together which made me ask whether we have any strange affectations like that which people might be amused at in the future--apart from docospeak which reporters are presumably trained in. And yes, we have.

There's that irritating 'ramping' or sped-up bits of scenes. Boston Legal has adopted it for their new opening credits. Hey, I liked their stills with posterised outlines. Why follow a stupid trend? At least it's not part of the show. Yet.

The other new convention that annoys the hell out of me is the mock hand-held camera. Years ago when I first saw The Lion King, I thought it was clever to have simulated lens glare in a cartoon. It's only now that such artifice taken to extremes that I wonder why it struck me as added realism. We're supposed to be a disembodied viewer of what's on the screen, a fly on the wall, part of it. So why do series like BSG go to great trouble to constantly remind us of the camera lens as barrier? I could understand it if it were a mockumentary like The Office, but simulated focussing errors in CGI scenes of spaceships is not just irritating and distracting, it's saying, "This isn't real. This is something we filmed, and not very well at that," and this shoots down my belief in what I'm watching as something I can pretend is actually happening. I can't quite pretend to believe in a scene as real when I'm constantly made aware of deliberately flawed filming technique.

Does that have the same distancing effect on everyone else?