When in doubt - bring in the computers

12 January 2006 - 8:30pm

Metaphor: The primitive audience looks upon the fair face of Hollywood and is doomed

There has got to be a better way to tell a story
by Juan Wilson on 12 January 2006

Hollywood introduced it's three biggest productions of 2005 during the year-end holiday season. Each movie cost more than $100,000,000 to produce and may take in five times as much by the time they are selling DVD's in Uzbekistan. The movies were "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe"; "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" and "King Kong".

I hate to admit it, but these were about the only movies I saw in November and December. I wish I could have seen "Good Night and Good Luck" or "Munich", but hey, I live on Kauai.

As scripts go, each of the films in my Holiday Trifecta was a safe bet for the fear driven Hollywood execs who produced them.

The Harry Potter movie is the latest film representing in the most successful children's book franchise in history. The "Goblet of Fire" is the fourth movie in this successful series. My guess is that it may be close to the last. It is gloomy and dark and without the sense of wonder created in the first movie. Hogwarts School doesn't look like much fun to me.

click on image to see trailer

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) and his screen pal Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) are heading into their late teens and looking a little long in the tooth to be playing kids in a fairytale. As a result the movie franchise has morphed into a teenage angst film with a smattering of repressed adolescent sex and about 100 million dollars of special effects.

Yes, there is some magic and plenty of ugly creepy crawlies springing out of the screen at regular intervals, but the whole thing seems to be about how much icky stuff you can stand while performing heroic athletic events. Kind of like "Fear Factor in Transylvania".

Another problem with this Harry Potter vehicle is that each book is weighing in at about 800 pages now and its tough in a couple of hours to tell so much story without skipping the details and just hitting the key scenes. Moreover, if you have a dedicated audience that has read every word of the books, its too boring for those cognoscenti that have to wade through all the exposition to explain the narrative of the story. The result - the movie degenerates into a series of stunts.

click on image to see trailer

Disney passed on the Tolkein's "Lord of the Rings" series that made a billion dollars for Peter Jackson (the director of King Kong). They are still kicking themselves. To fix the wound Disney has bought up the "Chronicles of Narnia" series by C. S. Lewis, which is a seven part series and started a "new" franchise of their own with the second book "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe". This is a safe bet because the series is a children's book classic and it will bear the Disney "family" brand. The background are kids escaping into a fantasy world during the dark days of World War Two.

Like "Lord of the Rings" this is a story that details the battle of good versus evil on a grand scale. Instead of cute hobbits we have cute kids on a gorgeous English landscape planning an engagement to chop up the "bad guys".

The movie culminates is a gigantic medieval battle with everybody in the world of Narnia participating. It seems that good and evil are somehow determined by species. Cheetahs and horses are good - polar bears and yaks are bad. Centaurs are good and cyclops are bad...and so on down the line.

The title role of Aslan the lion is entirely computer generated. It is an odd animated character. With all the technical skill applied to this lion model, it comes off kind of limp and boneless. The voice of the Aslan is supplied by Liam Neeson (a lion with an Irish brogue). I think the Aslan character comes off as a preachy goodie-two-shoes who thinks god is on his side.

Much has been written about this movie being in the camp of Christian morality. American moral-majority fundamentalists seem to think this is what family entertainment is all about. Good killing bad. The kids in this movie are taking up daggers, bow & arrows, and swords to hack and slice their way to victory. So much for Christian values. Disney probably has a successful franchise.

The King Kong movie is kind of a franchise too. This is the third version of the movie. First introduced in 1933 "King Kong" stunned the world. Unlike "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" it was not a literary melodrama bought to the screen. It was pure movie.

click on image to see trailer

In 1953 the old King Kong stunned me. I watched it with my sister on TV while hiding behind the couch in our Levittown ranch home. Kong had a primal power hard to verbalize. In 1976 it was the "modern" version that was filmed on Kauai. It was the worst of the lot. The "modern" Kong added a bad oil company and the World Trade Center into the mix of this classic beauty and beast story. The side story of corporate malfeasance wasn't necessary. Kauai was the real star.

Somewhere between 1953 and 1976 Peter Jackson saw "King Kong" and decided he had to become a movie director to make his own version of the film. The studios insisted he do "Lord of The Rings" first, and so he did.

The problem is that Jackson was so powerful a director by the time he got to do Kong that he couldn't avoid the excess his success allowed him. He did stay close to the original story. He expanded the opening in depression era New York to about half a movie in length. With such sensitivities to the plight of down-and-out New Yorkers, it is surprising Jackson seems so hostile to South Pacific Islanders. Is this some kind of latent New Zealand racism or did he get a bargain on having computer generated orcs play the part of the Kong islanders?

As in the original, King Kong has a fight with a tyranosuarus rex, but in the 2005 version it ends up being a fight with three tyrannosaurs. I guess Jackson just had to top the original. Peter... wouldn't TWO rex be enough?

Even with his mistakes (like drawing out this short powerful story into a three hour epic), Jackson's film is the only one of the Trifecta with any heart.

Towards the end King Kong sits up on the Empire State Building with Ann Darrow and they watch the sunset over New York together. By then you'll think they really have something going. And when the big ape taps his heart to tell Ann he thinks it's beautiful, you will too. Finally, you are going to cheer when Kong leaps and brings down an attacking biplane and then you are going to cry, just like I did, when he's murdered. Jackson knows how to push your buttons,and at least got the beginning and end right.

The computer generated Kong cloaked the movements and expressions of actor Andy Serkis (who also played Golem is the Lord of the Rings films). Naomi Watts played her part to Serkas, who wore motion capture sensors all over his body and face. I think he should get an Oscar for best actor.

The big ape, with no command of English, was more human than the teenagers of Narnia and Hogwarts combined.

These movies demonstrate some inflation on movie title length.

King Kong ( 8 letters)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (35 letters)

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe (60 letters)


--> tatCounter Code --> -->