Video Picks & Passes
THE ISLAND: PASS
THE KING KONG COLLECTION: KING KONG: PICK (1933). SON OF KONG (1933), MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949)
CONTENT ADVISORY: The Island contains much strong action violence, some profane, obscene and crude language, fleeting pin-up images, a disturbing childbirth scene, an on-screen sexual encounter, a couple of toilet scenes (all non-explicit), and a couple of theologically confused remarks. Mature viewing only, if at all. King Kong contains some relatively strong violence, numerous fatalities and ethnographic stereotyping. Could be too much for younger kids. Son of Kong contains stylized violence and Mighty Joe Young contains stylized violence and drunkenness. Both Kong sequels are decent family viewing.
A sci-fi parable about human cloning, The Island is the first from Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys) in which ideas actually sort of matter. Even better, its ideas regarding clone-and-kill technology and human dignity are more or less in the right direction. Any film that depicts a sinister biotech company officially denying that the products of its human cloning technology (created to provide custom-tailored donor organs) are sentient beings when in fact it is murdering cloned humans while the wealthy and powerful look the other way is a film I can't entirely pan.
Unfortunately, The Island is also a typically over-the-top Baysian schlockfest with exploitative violence and trashy sexuality. Besides a PG-13 sex scene, there's a gratuitous go-go bar shot, a sleazy character (Steve Buscemi) into whose sex life the film goes way further than necessary, and yet another tiresome variation of the exhausted “comic” scenario in which two quarreling male characters are mistaken by bystanders for gay lovers. There's also lots of smashing of heads and faces with crowbars and so forth, a hand transfixed to a door by a nail gun, people shot with harpoon guns, massive loss of life and property damage, etc.
In short, it's a classic example of what happens when a decent story idea is sabotaged by the predictably offensive accessorizing directors employ when they want a film to be seen as “edgy.”
Meanwhile, here it is at last on DVD, just in time to tie in to Peter Jackson's latest December three-hour special-effects extravaganza: The King Kong Collection, featuring the original King Kong, cheapie sequel Son of Kong and the later Mighty Joe Young, all from the same creative team.
Of these, the original and still the best is the 1933 King Kong, the father of all cinematic giant monster movies — from Godzilla and his Japanese ilk, to Hollywood's 1950s’ giant bug movies like Them! and Tarantula, to more recent features like Aliens and Jurassic Park.
Of all his non-gorilla progeny, though, only Kong emerges as an expressive, evocative character capable of tragedy and pathos as well as ferocity. Although Godzilla was a hero in some of his films, no actor in a rubber suit could convey the range of feeling and emotion of Willis O’Brien's 18-inch model. Made only half a dozen years into the sound era, King Kong still has something of the unearthly magic of the silent era about it.
Rushed into production in the wake of King Kong's success, Son of Kong is a less ambitious sequel, oddly made on the cheap compared to the original, that relies more on comedy and human characters than drama or spectacle in a story about the pale-hued Kong Jr. Sixteen years later, the filmmakers went back to the well for Mighty Joe Young.
The apes, and the pictures, got smaller with each film, but they all have heart.
- December 11-17, 2005