Okay, time for a total subject change: movie remakes, good and bad. I was gagging to see Peter Jackson’s take on King Kong and managed to squeeze it in before Christmas. Boy, what a King-sized disappointment… Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t that KK is bad as such; it is just that the running time is of a similar size to the ape himself. 3 hours is fine for a chapter of the Lord of the Rings saga, but King Kong is a pretty darn simple tale and in no way requires 3 hours to tell. In fact, stretching it so far hurts the movie terribly.
To be fair, I don’t mind Pete adding a bit of running time over the original (which is one of the finest monster movies ever made) to add some more story and characterisation. Except the extra time did little to add to the story and the characters are still pretty much one-dimensional, so why all that extra screen time? Even the action scenes lost me after a while; giant ape fighting a T-Rex, brilliant! Oh, a couple more T-Rexs joining in the fight, how cool is this. Several minutes later, oh look, he’s still fighting them… Now looking at my watch and wondering if Dominoes will deliver me a pizza to the third row of the auditorium and why I didn’t bring a book with me.
This isn’t a backlash against PJ however – heck, I was watching his movies right back in his fun-filled splatter punk days when only a select few of us knew who he was. But this project smacks of sheer indulgence; I know how much he loves the original, but he badly needed someone with the courage to tell an Oscar winning director, hold on, this is getting stupidly long, you need to tighten up your editing here before you head for an Anne Rice like indulgence.
The shame is that bits of the film are great – the opening scenes of New York in the 30s cleverly mix the glamour of the City That Never Sleeps, bright lights and all with the reality of the Depression and men queuing for food at the soup kitchen in the Bowery. Kong is wonderfully realised and a very believable character (but then so was the original even with those early effects) and the climactic scene fighting the biplanes on the Empire State Building is superb (as it needed to be, given the original scene is such a classic of cinema).
Also nice to see him stick with the 30s setting, using many of the original movie’s lines and even having the scene with the giant insects in the ravine (after Kong shakes the sailors off the log) which was, famously, a scene in the original version which was removed by the studio before public screening and the footage never found again to restore. Shame some of the other effects clearly were not finished in time for the release (a few scenes are very poor) and a real shame PJ let himself get so carried away. Hal Duncan had a similar reaction to me on the running time.
And so the other night to another remake, in this case Mel Brooks and The Producers. Now with Kong I was desperate to see it, with the Producers I was rather wary – why is anyone remaking this comedy classic? Knowing Mel was involved I decided to go along anyway – besides I’ve never seen the original on the big screen and so this was my chance to see Springtime for Hitler on a cinema screen as opposed to TV.
As you may know the new film draws on Mel’s hit theatrical musical version, so actually in many ways is less of a remake and more a movie of a new interpretation. The story of a crooked agent corrupting a naive and boring accountant into a scheme to make money by staging a flop show and scampering off with the backer’s money remains the same. However, this version is staged (bad pun intended) as a musical throughout, right from the start as we see the audience from the musical version of Hamlet singing their reviews.
The acting, lighting and set design is all deliberately crafted to give the effect of a stage musical (and a golden era musical at that) – there is no attempt at realism, this is a musical comedy about making a musical, striking a very different tone from the original and for me it worked and I laughed all the way through – and barely restrained myself from joining in on Springtime for Hitler. Oh and then there was Uma Thurman and the continual use of her luscious, long, loooonnnnnnggggg, legs…. In stockings and suspenders… Ooohhhhhhh….. I wasn’t in the mood for much on my birthday/New Year’s Eve, but ended up having a rather dull time instead of just a quiet time, so when I ventured out on the first day of the New Year next day The Producers really cheered me up. Especially Uma’s astonishing legs.