Monday, November 17, 2008

Random Thoughts: Son of Kong (Part 2)

As I had stated in the first part of this article, Son of Kong is one of those movies that had everything it needed to be a decent film but fell victim to a number of weak story elements that undermined the final, finished product. In this installment, I've compiled a list of what I think the culprits were as well as what could be done as a stronger alternative. Understandably, the key factor as to why a lot of the problems were there to begin with was directly the result of the movie's reduced budget and production time- I fully acknowledge that. In fact, most of my suggested changes are considerably more idealistic than pragmatic, but I'll simply trying to show how a few alterations to existing plot points might have made for a stronger film overall.

1. Theme

The Problem: the story occasionally hints at the theme of redemption and second chances, particularly with Carl Denham's character, but drifts between occasionally touching on the idea (Carl helping Little Kong escape from the tar pit) and then outright ignoring or contradicting it (Carl helps himself to the treasure of Skull Island so as to regain his social and financial status and, by doing so, destroys the island and everything on it. Despite this, Carl is not only allowed to survive, but profit from his actions).

A Possible Solution: I'm not advocating that every movie absolutely has to have some sort of overall theme, but it can add a nice extra level to things. Son of Kong already has the framework in place for the whole redemption motif, so committing to it more fully wouldn't take a lot of extra work. This can be easily achieved through two of the main characters:

-Carl needs to be the embodiment of this point. After all, he begins the film wallowing in the aftermath of his greedy and overconfident decision to bring Kong to New York where the creature then went berserk and was eventually killed. Now he gets a chance to make choices based on a different set of values from what he subscribed to the first time around and ones that lead to better outcomes for him in the end. He comes off as a more uniformly "noble" character.

-Nils Helstrom, the villain of the movie, can act as a contrast to Denham's change in heart. Whereas Carl is about making more thoughtful and virtuous choices this time around, Nils represents the opposite side of the coin- a greedy jerk who only thinks about his own goals. This can be further touched on in point 6 below.

2. Little Kong

The Problem: Little Kong is used as goofy comic relief in an otherwise serious film. He's not so much an animal acting out of instinct like his father, but rather an anthropomorphic simpleton capable of mimicking human expressions. Even his signature music cue in the movie is dopey.

A Possible Solution: Drop the comedic slant and treat him seriously. The Peter Jackson remake of King Kong did a pretty decent job of portraying Kong as a very intelligent animal capable of complex emotions without turning him into a cartoon character- just do the same kind of treatment here. Little Kong could even be aggressive towards Carl and Hilda when they first encounter him in the tar pit, but mellows out when they provide him the means to escape. His trust of humans is gradually strengthened throughout the film as they both continue to help out one another which leads to his sacrifice at the story's climax (which will carry more emotional weight than playing him as a buffoon).

3. Skull Island

The Problem: the infamous island doesn't seem to be as dangerous as it was in the first film.

A Possible Solution: Some expendable victims will clear that right up. One important aspect about Skull Island in the original King Kong was that the act of exploring it was a good way to get killed, as the majority of the search party in that movie ends up eaten or at the bottom of a ravine. In Son of Kong, the only person to become a casualty of the island is Hellstrom at the very end of the story. The addition of some cronies loyal to Hellstrom that accompany the crew only to become dinosaur fodder will reinforce the level of jeopardy.

4. Romance?

The Problem: The romantic subplot between Carl and Hilda is a little flat.

A Possible Solution: This is rather simple- Carl just needs to eventually show some genuine affection towards her instead of cold indifference (having him constantly refer to Hilda simply as "kid" right up until the very end of the picture doesn't help things either). Carl can be the one who initiates the idea of being a couple in the final sequence of the film verses Hilda having to awkwardly suggest it.

5. The Fights

The Problem: All of the beasts that battle Little Kong just happen to conveniently fall within his size range.

A Possible Solution: Don't get me wrong- I actually like the cave bear/Little Kong brawl. However, it would be nice to see Little Kong having to deal with wildlife that he isn't quite big enough to fight. Perhaps a larger dinosaur (like a Triceratops) comes into the camp area and Little Kong has to drive it off by antagonizing/leading it away while staying out of its reach. This would also help to paint a fuller picture of how Little Kong's species survives on Skull Island until they mature enough to beat the crap out of anything that threatens them.

6. The Cursed Treasure

The Problem: It's not 100% clear that the treasure Carl takes from the temple is what causes the earthquake that sinks the island although it's somewhat inferred. Also, once again, Carl's selfish actions end up having big negative consequences for everyone around him.

A Possible Solution: This could be solved through the use of a plot device- namely, a specific treasure we'll call the "Heart of the Skull". When the Carl and company first return to Skull Island, they are confronted by the native tribe that worshipped Kong. The crew is warned to leave the vicinity (after all, thanks to Carl in the first movie, their 'god' was taken from them). When Carl inquires about the treasure of the island, the native chief becomes horrified and accuses Carl wanting to take their 'heart', an act that will destroy everything. The natives rise to attack the crew who escapes to the boat, confused about what was said but now confident that a treasure does exist. At the end of the film when the characters finally enter the temple, they spot a wealth of riches at the base of a large statue with a huge ruby set in its chest. Carl plans to take the gem but gives the decision a second thought, thinking back to the earlier exchange with the tribal leader. He decides to leave the gem alone out of respect and a clearer conscience and instead sticks with the minor treasure, which will still solve their financial woes. Helstrom, who thinks only of his own self-interests (see point 1), climbs up onto the statue and pulls out the ruby which instantly sets the island's cataclysm in motion. The 'heart' lives up to its namesake as being the very thing that keeps the island in existence. It also might be cool if Helstrom's insistence on keeping the ruby is what leads to his death- perhaps while trying to escape the collapse, he is slowed down by the unwieldy gem and becomes a prone target for some predatory dinosaur (thus paying the price for his greed and disrespect).

I only offer these suggestions as my own personal take on improving the film- if I were in charge of a remake, this is what I'd be adding to the recipe. And possibly evil, Nazi-controlled, genetically-altered dinosaurs. It couldn't hurt.

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