At the back of the catwalk on Bravo’s Project Runway, there’s a large, translucent panel with the Project Runway logo.
During the first season there were a number of times when they had a camera backstage watching the models enter or exit the catwalk, but since the entire logo wasn’t in the frame, this is all you’d see:
They’d spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on branding and marketing and yet, week after week, they seemed intent on leaving people with the subliminal impression that the show was a big YAWN.
I think they’ve learned their lesson, though. I’ve watched the first three episodes of the second season and I haven’t seen the big YAWN once.
Many people are surprised by that fact, but Mel Gibson has been making me increasingly uncomfortable over the last two decades. If you look back at his acting and directing career, it’s pretty obvious that the man has a grotesque fascination with pain, punishment, torture, and death. It has been there since the beginning (think Mad Max and the aptly-named Punishment) but by 1999 it was so bad that he actually fired the director of Payback and took over the film so he could insert torture scenes showing his character getting his toes smashed with a hammer.
The guy just totally creeps me out.
So, no matter how worthy the subject matter, there was no way I was going to go see The Passion of the Christ. People kept telling me that I just had to see it, but I always politely demurred. Then one day, when a gentleman was giving me a great deal of grief about it and questioning my Christian cred because I still hadn’t see the film, I finally snapped and said, “No, I haven’t seen it! I’ve got better things to do than subject myself to a two-hour snuff film!”
That didn’t go over very well.
And this probably won’t either: Don’t bother going to see King Kong. Why? Because you’ve got better things to do than subject yourself to a three-hour snuff film.
A Three Hour Tour
At a cost of over $200 million and a running time of 3 hours and 7 minutes, King Kong is not what you would call “economical storytelling,” either in monetary or narrative terms. It takes over an hour just to get to Skull Island, and once we get there we can’t just meet Kong, capture him, and take him to New York. Oh, no.
First, we’ve got the extremely unfriendly natives, then the stampeding brontosauri (with accessory raptors), then a rampaging Kong, then the really, really big lizards, then a battle with not one…not two…but three Tyrannosaurus Rexes simultaneously (WHILE DANGLING FROM VINES, for heavens sake), then the really, really big bugs, then a rampaging Kong again, then the really, really big bats, then another rampaging Kong, etc, etc, etc.
There’s the initial scouting party, followed by the scouting party’s surprise rescue party. Then there’s the second rescue party, followed by the second rescue party’s surprise rescue party. Then there’s the fourth rescue party (of one), followed by the surprise capture party.
It’s all very dramatic and thrilling and technically adept, but after a while you feel like shouting, “Get the ape and get thee to New York already!”
From Marvelous to Torturous
I was really hoping to be able to take my daughters to see the film, but there’s no way in the world I would make them sit through it. This is easily the most violent PG-13 film since Mr. Jackson’s final installment of the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But at least the violence in that film was an integral part of the story about the ultimate battle of good and evil. Here, the violence is just an integral part of the entertainment.
As Jack Black’s film crew gets knocked off one after the other and he keeps giving his little “He will not have died in vain!” speech, we’re supposed to be appalled by his rather transparent entertainment-at-all-costs mentality. But how is that different from Mr. Jackson’s own entertainment-at-all-costs mentality? The body count in this film is outrageously high and Mr. Jackson seems to take great delight in offing his characters in ever more awful and gruesome ways. By the time Andy Serkis has his limbs and head devoured by the really, really big lamprey-worms, the film has pretty much made the transition from the potentially marvelous to the merely torturous.
How this film got a PG-13 rating is beyond me. I’ve heard that it escaped an R rating because the violence is relatively bloodless, but that almost makes it worse. While the animal violence is depicted in great gory detail, the human toll is completely sanitized. Almost-inhuman natives are gunned down in large numbers, nameless lackeys are crushed beneath dinosaur hooves or smashed against stone surfaces, entire rows of theater patrons bite the dust, dozens of drivers and passengers on New York streets become casual casualties, anonymous blondes are snatched up and then cooly tossed to their deaths, and faceless military personnel are swatted out of the sky like flies.
The Problem of Pain
But this presents a real problem. To get his PG-13 rating, Mr. Jackson has to treat all of the death and carnage as if it’s no big deal. But if the audience is completely calloused to death by the end of the film, how do you make the audience feel badly about Kong’s ultimate demise. Well, you can’t. So instead, you make the audience care about Kong…and then you make him suffer.
You have him save the girl, you have them bond, you separate them, you get them back together, you send them on a cutesy ice-skating date, and you give the beast the ability to convey an understanding of abstract concepts like “beauty” through the speedy acquisition of Koko-esque sign language skills. Then you subject him to every human, reptilian, cetacean, geological, gravitational, chemical, theatrical, automotive, architectural, aerial, and ballistic indignity possible.
You put the King in shackles, his arms outstretched, being mocked by the crowd that has gathered to see the horrific spectacle. And then you make him pay the ultimate price for the sins of others. (At times, King Kong makes The Chronicles of Narnia look like a Christian allegory lightweight.)
But while poor Kong is abused to no end, Naomi Watts makes it through the film with no signs of trauma other than some teary mascara smudging. The woman must have a titanium endoskeleton. After the “baby shaking” she is subjected to on multiple occasions her brain should have been mush, her neck should have been broken, and her limbs should have been snapped off. And yet she seems completely unaffected by the experience.
She also has the ability to spend hours in sub-freezing temperatures in a thin, sleeveless white dress and can make it to the top of the Empire State Building with every curl and sequin in place.
But in the end, just as Naomi’s hair remains unmoved, so do we. Sure, we feel sorry for Kong, but for all the wrong reasons. We’re sorry that he had to endure 3 hours and 7 minutes of abuse, pain, and humiliation, when 2 hours and 7 minutes would have been sufficient to tell the story, yet would have inflicted much less damage on both him and the audience. We’re sorry for being part of the crowd that has gathered to see the horrific spectacle. And we’re sorry that he had to pay the ultimate price (and we, upwards of $12) just so the industry could have its Event Film of the 2005 Holiday Season.
Other Factors: Those with a low tolerance for animal cruelty (and a high tolerance for Charlize Theron) might want to rent Mighty Joe Young instead. Those with small bladders might want to consider either forgoing their regular moviegoing beverage or catheterization.
“Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand.”
“One of Australia’s best-loved ‘big things’ — the Big Pineapple — is on the market and could soon fall victim to progress.
“Residential developers are expected to snap up the 34-year-old tourist attraction which, in addition to the giant fruit, features 80 hectares of prime real estate on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast hinterland.
“The Big Pineapple agricultural tourist attraction is one of Australia’s oldest ‘big things’, second only to the Big Banana in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales.”
As soon as I read the phrase, “second only to the Big Banana,” I knew that my life wouldn’t be complete until I’d found a postcard depicting this most massive of fruits. And, wouldn’t you know, I chanced upon an auction on eBay that featured not only the postcard on the right, but this postcard of the Big Pineapple as well. $2.50 really can buy happiness.
Both postcards are stunning examples of using of natural photographic color and careful composition to draw the viewer into the scene. As for the herbaceous lettering in the foreground of the Big Banana postcard, wasn’t “Itors Velco” the Swedish next-door neighbor of Trespassers Will in the Hundred Acre Wood?
And for those of you who would like to know even more about the Big Banana…
“This 40 year old giant structure modeled on a prize winning banana is probably the most photographed object in Australia. At any time of the day cameras are clicking away — individuals, couples, honeymooners, small groups, families, whole coach loads of people — all recording their visit to The Big Banana. Many are returning with children and grandchildren to continue a family tradition. Frequently the comment has been; ‘The Big Banana is not as big as I remember’. Well, it is still 11 metres long, 5 metres high, and 2.4 metres wide but the surrounding developments have lessened its impact.”
(“The Big Banana is not as big as I remember?” That’s just what every honeymooning male want’s to hear, isn’t it?)
Where you can see a list of all 146 “Big Things” in Australia and learn that Queensland has the highest density of “Big Things,” with 11.87 “Big Things” per million capita. (A factoid sure to impress your next date.)