Friday, October 17, 2008

Random Thoughts: Son of Kong (Part 1)

If there's one thing I find more vexing than outright bad or disappointing movies, it's ones that are ALMOST good but fall just short enough to miss their mark. You know the kind I'm talking about- after watching them, you think to yourself, "that would have been great had the filmmakers had just changed a couple of little things."

For me, Son of Kong is one of those movies. 

If you break the film down to a basic level, the plot is decently solid and features some interesting ideas. Taking place a month after the events in King Kong, Carl Denham is now the target of numerous lawsuits thanks to Kong's rampage in New York. He reunites with the captain of the "Venture" and the two escape the public eye by making a living, albeit unsuccessfully, shipping cargo in the Orient. They eventually run into Nils Helstrom, the man who had originally sold Denham the map to Skull Island and claims that a treasure still hidden there. Due to their financial woes, Denham and the captain agree to return to the island. While on route, they discover a female stowaway on the ship named Hilda, who had been part of traveling show until her father's sudden death (by Helstrom, unbeknownst to her).


Upon reaching Skull Island, Denham and Hilda encounter a juvenile, albino member of Kong's species trapped in a tar pit. After rescuing the creature, it returns the favor by acting as a protector against some of the area's resident wildlife. A temple complete with the aforementioned treasure is found, much to the surprise of Helstrom who had fabricated the story in the first place. Suddenly, an earthquake hits the island, causing it to violently collapse into the sea. The crew makes it back to their boat with the exception of Denham who, with the help of Little Kong, scrambles up the last remaining chunk of sinking landmass. As they reach the summit, the ape gets his foot wedged in a crevice and, in an effective little moment of pathos, sacrifices his life to hold Denham above the water long enough to be rescued by his friends before being pulled under the waves.

Granted, it's not as good as the original King Kong, but hardly the worst thing that a sequel could be (that distinction easily goes to King Kong Lives). So what exactly went wrong? A big part of the problem was the condensed production schedule. Keep in mind that Son of Kong was put together and released a mere eight months after the first movie to capitalize off of its success, which meant that the amount of stop motion animation that could be created had to be severely reduced. As such, the story needed to be padded out during the pedestrian bits and it's rather noticeable in the finished film. Skull Island doesn't make an appearance until forty minutes into the story (nearly double the time it took for the same thing to happen in the original) and the amount of dinosaur/giant ape content is a fraction of what audiences had seen in the previous outing.  

However, a more damaging maneuver (in my opinion) was that the sequel was much lighter in dramatic tone, particularly when it came to the portrayal of Little Kong. Instead of being a creature acting out of instinct like his father, the character was turned into an anthropomorphic goofball capable of human-like expressions and reactions. It's a decision that's all the more baffling when one considers the tragic fate that awaits him at the end of the picture.

But here's the thing: despite these problems, a handful of fixes could have elevated the final product to something more memorable and worthy of a follow-up to Kong. I don't consider this movie to be a train wreck that is beyond repair by any stretch. In part two of this article, I plan to outline the specific aspects that I believe did the most damage, as well as to offer up some possible solutions.

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