Monday, December 26, 2005

King Kong

Saw King Kong today. 

I was alternating between totally enjoying it and totally marvelling at how much I was enjoying it.  You know, when you mentally step out of the movie for an instant and realize you've been sitting there with your mouth agape for the last twenty minutes?  I was doing a lot of that.

I wonder whether it's going to hit everyone the same way it hit me.  I doubt it.  I especially wonder if it's going to work as well for those teenage boys adventure movies are supposed to be geared toward.  I think you have to be a certain age to really get what's so marvellous about this.  Timing is truly everything.

I'm 37.  I was too young to really take note of any sort of feminist revolution -- but I was young enough to take advantage of its benefits.  Which is to say that although I was never burning bras, I was also never told that I wasn't supposed to be good in math.  I grew up taking for granted gender equality.  But I also grew up understanding that it required a certain level of vigilance -- and that certain female stereotypes had to be avoided, so they would not be reinforced.

I grew up watching Murphy Brown and Designing Women.  My formative movie years were spent watching Karen Allen keep up with Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark.  People of my generation came to expect women in adventure movies to be like Ripley in Alien.  We hated the thought of "heroines" who simply screamed their way through movies needing to be rescued by men.  Hey, Julia Roberts spelled it all out in Pretty Woman -- "She rescues him right back."

And even if we never actually saw the original King Kong, we knew that Fay Wray epitomized everything about that old stereotype that we hated.  I mean really.  She's tied up in classic "virgin sacrifice" pose, and the story is all about her being just so beautiful she captivates the monster.  Hell, my generation even had that 1976 version with Jessica Lange, in which they went out of their way to make her something more than a pretty blonde doll who screamed a lot.  (She called Kong a "chauvinist pig ape," which -- besides telling you something about the quality of the writing -- also shows exactly how far moviemakers were willing to go to cater to the feminist ideal.)

And what is so absolutely marvellous about Peter Jackson's current remake is that it's a film that unabashedly honors its source material -- and if that means Naomi Watts has to spend every single one of its 187 minutes not wearing sensible shoes, so be it.  "It's 2005," the movie says, "if everyone is comfortable enough with gender equality that we can have a gay cowboy movie showing on the next screen over, do you think we can stop being so concerned about the image of on-screen women for a few hours that we can all just enjoy a good old-fashioned damsel-in-distress picture?"

Apparently, we can.  And Jackson has realized that it's about damn time that we do -- because there's a whole generation of us who never actually have.  Sure, this movie is a remake, with a new script and some really spiffy effects.  But it doesn't apologize for the 1933-ness of its gender roles; it downright revels in how much fun it is to sit on the edge of your seat, knowing that if the hero doesn't get out there and save his lady, she just isn't going to be saved.

And I freely admit that it is fun -- and I'm a little surprised that I never actually noticed that before.


swibirun said...

I can't wait to take Trevor to see that movie.  I agree with the issue over gender roles (I'm 38 btw).  If the movie was set in 2000's then you would expect the roles to be different than it as is, being set in 1933.


sunflowerkat321 said...

I loved it.  It was just a marvel that it all looked so believable.  I just put all political correctness aside.