I have never seen The Passion of the Christ.
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.
Movie Review Redo
So, using Christopher Lynn’s Movie Review Redo methodology:
- Expectations: ↓
- Price: $5
- Ideal Viewing Time: <11pm
- Mood: 😡
- Age: >13
- 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.