First Thoughts: Kong-Skull Island

Some quick, unstructured thoughts on the new King Kong film. I wanted to put something a bit more expansive up, but there just wasn’t time and, being on the final episode of the 13th season of the Simpsons, it’ll be hard to get back around to this.

Much of the promotional material leading up to its released focused on the great detail of the key frame animation (specifically the hair) as well as the emphasis on animating Kong’s eyes. The studio also let out a good deal of information about the facial capture of Tony Kebell; this is interesting because the ape’s face is much less prominent than his eyes, yet the reminder of Kebell is the only thing that roots Kong as a performance, something that is at once human and digital rather than merely CGI. Hence the repeated shots of the animal’s eyes; it relates the ape to a sympathetic, human performance (and thus they are often juxtaposed with human eyes).

Telling are the first moments we spend on the titular monkey; during the opening sequence his hands are shown in great detail, allowing the diverse strands of hairs to take center stage on screen. When he finally returns on the island, we get a pan much like that in Godzilla (Edwards, 2014)  along the details of his torso before revealing the face. In that moment, Skull Island delivers on the expectation its promotional materials have conjured, allowing the viewers to take delight in just how magnificent the VFX have become even since the last King Kong reboot (the aesthetic of astonishment).

Kong: Skull Island is also notable for the manner in which it attempts to ode to its predecessors whilst side stepping some of the more questionable overtones. While Peter Jackson’s King Kong transplanted and expanded the original narrative and setting, Skull Island incorporates only elements. Though, like the original, there is a native tribe on the island it is not primitive nor does it steal the female character for a sacrificial ceremony. Moreover, its central character serves a similar purpose to Legendary’s Godzilla reboot. Again, the thematic thrust is that of the balance of nature and allowing the natural order to provide protection. Just like the military in 2014 learned on their way to San Francisco, the platoon on Skull Island quickly learns that King Kong is a necessary creature in order to save them from the skull crawlers. This isn’t necessary a moral epiphany, but it allows Vogt-Roberts to sideline the relationship between Kong and a woman, thus leaving behind some of the more dubious racial undertones of the original that Jackson recreated.

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