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December 29, 2005

Holiday Cinema

Scanning over the last several posts I've spotted a pattern. Odd posts are about vacation cooking, even posts about why I haven't played my videogames yet. Either I'm suffering from seizures of deja vu, or I really have very little to say. So with that in mind...

The Producers. I can give no better review for this movie than the linked one by Roger Ebert. I've been a fan of the original Mel Brooks movie for decades, watching edited reruns on television every few years. Seeing this rendition now makes me want to purchase the DVD and see the original in all it's unedited glory. When I first heard that The Producers was being adapted as a musical, I was both excited and sad, because I knew I'd never get to see the stage version, but loved musicals and hoped they would create a movie version.

And they did, with the original Broadway stars, Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane (reprising the roles of Leopold Bloom and Max Bialystock created by Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel). I knew I was going to see this, by hook or by crook. Monday, the day after Christmas, having taken the day off, I drove to Bridgeport Village, only to get trapped in a parking lot traffic jam. Finally finding parking, I walked to the theater, and there were massive lines. It became apparent that I wouldn't be able to get into the theater in time for the show, so I gave up. I thought about going in anyway to see a showing of Munich, which started later, but it is a longer movie, and Jean would probably have wondered what happened to me, so I just went home.

I tried again on Tuesday. I went to the 11:05am showing, and Bridgeport Village was only sparsely populated. The parking garage was nearly empty, and the theater was populated only by helpful staff. Happy day! I settled in and watched the film, a silly grin on my face at least half of the time. I'll grant you I am a special case, but if you like Mel Brooks and musicals, then you will almost certainly enjoy The Producers.

I'd decided that the holiday crush I saw on Monday was over. But emerging from the theater, I saw a crowd that was maybe two-thirds as large as the post-Christmas logjam. Once again, cars filled the avenue leading to the parking garage, and though the crowd in front of the box office was maybe half the size it was on Monday, it was still surprising large for a weekday lunch hour. I guess more people take off the week between Christmas and New Year's Day than I had thought. With that in mind, I shot off an email to my friends, whom I was meeting that evening to see...

King Kong: The 1933 version that started it all runs an hour and forty-five minutes. It is a silly romp with a jerky stop-motion animated monster that at the time was state of the art, supplied by Willis O'Brien (who tutored Ray Harryhausen). The story divides naturally into three parts. The first establishes the human players and briefly sketches their reasons for going on their fateful journey. The second part reveals Kong on the fantastical Skull Island, and the third part returns to New York for a fateful finish.

This modern remake by Peter Jackson is architected along the same general lines. Only now it takes three hours to get there. Does Jackson really need three hours to tell this tale 'better' than the 1933 original? Sadly, the answer is no. I enjoyed the film, and to judge by Alan's vigorous rant during the credit roll, it held a bit more pleasure for me than him. But looking at this film with an editor's eye, I'd have to say that an hour and 45 minutes, or at most two hours, would have been quite enough.

The action scenes were very exciting, until they clearly decided that more is better. James asked Alan if he enjoyed Kong more or less than National Treasure, a clunker we all saw which was filled with egregious ten minute chase scenes (more than one) that had me waving my hands in a 'get on with it' gesture. Alan said he enjoyed them about equally, which is to say, not much.

I'd say that the aspect I enjoyed most was how Jackson attempted to turn the relationship between Ann Darrow and Kong into a mutual one (much like the 1976 version with Jessica Lange). Instead of being a sacrifice inexplicably given a prolonged reprieve, Darrow (played by Naomi Watts) becomes a willing accomplice after a series of incidents on the island. I'm tempted to call this the most extreme example of Stockholm Syndrome ever depicted, but of course Jackson is striving for more than this, and Watts generally succeeds in elevating her interactions with the imaginary beast.

Overall, I'm not ready to join the critics who give this version top marks. It's too long, too heavy-handed and just too wearying. But I'm glad I saw it, especially with a gang of like-minded friends.

This post has run on for quite a bit, so I think I'll be taking a break. I'll post about my family viewing of the Narnia flick separately...

Posted by dpwakefield at December 29, 2005 09:17 AM