Well, I finally watched Peter Jackson's King Kong! remake on DVD, and I am confirmed in my belief that there have been no recent movies good enough to leave the house for. I can't imagine the wife and I driving to the concrete bunker at the end of the mall they call a cineplex, and dropping $50+ on a movie that was just not that good.
Anyway, here some of the things that stood out for me, negatively or positively (but mostly negatively) :
1) Jack Black should not be in this film. As rebel movie director Carl Denham, Black starts out looking like an interesting though perhaps odd choice for the role. As the movie progresses, however, he becomes more and more annoying. For one thing, he only owns one expression, a kind of mad glare that makes it seem as though he's going to break into his "Jack Black" routine at any moment. He totally ruins the one great line of the film, "It was Beauty killed the Beast!", by glaring off emptily into space as he reads it.
2) It's too damn long. It's too damn long throughout, but the first forty-five minutes or so, when they are on The Venture sailing towards Skull Island, are painful to watch. In this stretch we are introduced to a couple of secondary characters, such as First Mate Hayes and Jimmy, and the movie spends time developing their "back story" in hopes that the audience will feel some empathy for them when they're finally killed off. Unfortunately, its boring as hell. Jimmy reads a copy of "Heart of Darkness", learns something from it (can't remember what), and Hayes eventually winds up a happy meal for Kong.
But even the "meat" of the story, all the running about on Skull Island, goes on for too long. Naomi Watts and her would-be rescuers are chased around by three different species of dinosaur, some kind of blood-sucking bats, and some very large and nasty insects. At about the halfway point it becomes a bit tiresome.
Although the insects are especially gooey, and its great when a bunch of them that look like slugs with teeth eat Lumpy the Cook. Unfortunately, this scene might be the film's highest highlight.
(Incidentally, the "cave sequence" in the new King Kong!, where Ann Darrow's would-be rescuers stumble upon a veritable "bug army", is based on scenes filmed for but not shown in the original because they were considered "too grisly" for the audience of the day. You can apparently get them on the DVD re-release of the 1933 version.)
3) Naomi Watts and Andy Serkeris as Kong are quite good. One thing the film does very well is "humanize" Kong. Although the CGI stuff isn't always convincing (see more below), Kong's facial expressions (motion captured from Andy Serkeris) are excellent; this ape has a real personality. And although Watt's role isn't particularly demanding, she goes far beyond the incessant screaming that was pretty much all Fay Wray brought to the part.
And it makes me wonder about the relative lack of success of the film. The Kong/Ann relationship was its most critically praised aspect, and the part that was supposed to turn the whole thing into a "Romance", which would bring female movie-goers in to see it.
Yet I don't think it really worked. I've talked with a number of women who said they were simply not interested in seeing a love story between a man and an giant monkey. Perhaps the potent sexual politics of the 1933 version are no longer relevant. In 2006, if you want to sleep with a black guy, it isn't necessary to construct an elaborate cinematic fantasy machine to sublimate your dangerous longings. You just go ahead and sleep with a black guy.
4) The Special Effects were iffy in places, or maybe I'm just getting bored with CGI. The dinosaurs were especially disappointing. There was a lot of talk on the Dinosaur Mailing List of how Jackson's team got it all wrong. Apparently, in Jurassic Park, which made elaborate attempts to get the dino anatomy correct, the effects people modeled from the skeleton out, which meant that a particular animal's movements were essentially determined by what it was anatomically capable of. In King Kong!, however, they apparently modeled from the surface inwards. That's why the sauropods looked like long-necked potatoes, and why they gallop around without immediately breaking their legs.
Elsewhere, the episode on the ice rink was pathetic. Kong moves like a figure in an old video game. And the cars he kicks around once he gets loose in New York seem awful bouncy; its as though he's playing with hotwheels.
5) The best part of the original King Kong! is near the end where Kong goes ape-shit and kills a whack of stupid humans; luckily, this part of the film is a highlight of the new version as well. Kong levels much carnage on the City of New York, though it would have been great if he'd managed to kill off Jack Black. Furthermore, it always bugged me in the original how Kong only managed to trash one of the bi-planes that attacks him on the Empire State Building. Here I think they let him destroy two or three. They let him go down swinging, in other words.
Because of a total lack of sex and foul language, the highest rating I could possibly give the King Kong! remake is 8 out of 10. With its various other flaws, I'm afraid it only gets a four.