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Tag: monster

Reviews

Retro Review: King Kong (1933)

November 26, 2019
King Kong

86 years ago King Kong, the most famous movie monster of all time, made his debut. Since then his first movie has become permanently ingrained in popular culture. Even people who’ve never seen it know the film’s story and several famous quotes. But as we have seen, the influential don’t always stand the test of time.

So join us for our retro review of King Kong as we see just how well it holds up all these years later.

Synopsis

Film director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is looking to make the ultimate movie to silence his critics and please audiences worldwide. To do this he takes his film crew and leading lady, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to the uncharted Skull Island to find the mythical monster Kong.

Upon reaching their destination the island natives kidnap Ann and offer her to Kong, who carries her off into the jungle. Facing many prehistoric threats the crew eventually retrieve Ann, capture Kong and decide to take him back to civilization.

Once back in New York, Denham puts Kong on display as the eighth wonder of the world. But Kong breaks free, steals Ann and begins wreaking havoc upon the city. Before finally climbing the Empire State Building in one of the most iconic movie endings of all time.

What did I like?

The best part of King Kong is its sheer spectacle. Produced for $672,000 (only $13 million today), King Kong delivers a spectacle that still puts modern movies to shame. The production design and sets are fantastic, giving the film a grand scale. Skull Island’s design is incredibly detailed, feels very lived-in and full of rich history. And effectively contrasts the soulless concrete jungle of New York.

Then there are the iconic effects. The mixture of stop motion, miniatures, full-scale animatronics, and other processes invented for the film, created something film audiences had never seen before. A living breathing world, full of incredible creatures that appeared to actually interact with the cast. Some parts may look a bit ropey today, but the sheer effort it took to realize these sequences and the enthusiasm present make it impossible to not appreciate.

This movie also proved that special effects could be used to realize a story, not just stunning visuals. Kong is one of cinemas best characters. Without a word spoken, we know exactly what Kong is feeling because of his extensive expressive facial animations. Transforming a simple model into a three-dimensional character. And his arc from a mindless animal who sees Ann as a trophy to seeing her as something more is touching and tragic.

Denham also proves to be a compelling character. Though he sees everyone around him as a tool to achieve his ambitions his passion to make art that entertains everyone and his dry sense of humour makes him an enjoyable presence. Despite his actions.  

And Max Steiner’s sweeping orchestral score is incredible. Contributing to the grand scale of the production and adding an operatic edge which gives the dramatic moments great weight. But while Kong’s iconic status is unquestionable, a few blemishes have emerged over time.

What did I not like?

Now, of course, there are the blemishes inherent with films from this era that may impact some modern viewers’ enjoyment of the film. Namely the stereotypical depictions of women as solely damsels to be rescued or objects of affection for the men. And slightly racist depictions of other cultures.

But then there’s also the incredibly cheesy overwritten dialogue and performances, which make the film hard to take seriously. The macho posturing, overegged similes, and hammy New York accents make the film feel like a parody of itself. Resulting in the characters looking more like caricatures than human beings. This isn’t helped by most of the human characters being boring without much depth. Nowhere is this more evident than in the romance between Ann and John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot). It never feels natural. The actors have no chemistry, their dialogue is cringe-inducing and their romance only really serves to further the plot. Instead of being something that helps the characters grow and become compelling. Making the movie a slog until Kong shows up.

Finally, because King Kong’s themes, iconography, and other elements have been so thoroughly reused and deconstructed by other films over the years revisiting the original now can feel underwhelming. While the movie remains important historically, it has largely dwarfed by what it inspired. Ultimately rendering the movie itself as somewhat clichéd as a result. Though this is largely the fault of popular culture, not the film itself.

Verdict

King Kong is a movie that has inspired generations of film lovers and for good reason. With a rousing score, two engaging characters and incredible effects, that required so much time, effort and the invention of new techniques to accomplish, it is a wonderful example of what cinematic fantasy is capable of.

But some elements of the plot do feel forced for the sake of drama. The acting, dialogue, and depictions of certain genders and races are quite dated and may affect some modern audiences enjoyment of the film. And the film itself can be considered somewhat cliché at this point.

Ultimately as a piece of film history Kong is required viewing. It is a piece of entertaining genre filmmaking which though entrenched in the flaws of it’s time helped to pave the way for the blockbusters of today. And that is worth seeing. Warts and all.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

King Kong (Official Trailer)

King Kong is available on the BBC IPlayer service until 30th November 2019.

Also Read: For Your Consideration: Sci-Fi, Comedy & Oscar Snubs

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Reviews

Review: The Silence

May 27, 2019

New Netflix film The Silence tells the story of a family trying to survive in a country ravaged by monsters that hunt by sound and to have any hope of survival you must be silent.

The Elephant In The Cinema (or Netflix in this case)

The plot outline of The Silence sounds very similar to recent horror hit A Quiet Place and the word “mockbuster” has been thrown around describing The Silence. A mockbuster is a film that has a plot and title similar to a very successful film and is not a coincidence but a very cynical attempt to leech off the success of the blockbuster. It should be pointed out The Silence is based on a book that predates A Quiet Place. Personally, I would say the quality of the film and its origins means it isn’t a mockbuster but it’s still impossible not to directly compare it to the other film.

What’s Going On?

The film follows a single family and how they deal with a nationwide catastrophe; strange winged creatures are spreading across the country and killing countless people. After watching news reports it becomes clear that the creatures hunt by what they can hear – meaning if you can be quiet you’re safe. As the family has a deaf daughter they are used to communicating non-verbally. After a tense few hours of deliberation, the family decides to drive out into the quieter and presumably safer countryside. To their horror, they find that the monsters are not far behind and not only that but there are other things dangers to be wary of.

Behind The Scenes

The film is directed by John R. Leonetti a cinematographer and director with a history in horror, his biggest directing credit being for 2014’s Annabelle. The writers are Shane Van Dyke and Carey Van Dyke whose involvement in Transmorphers: Fall of Man and The Day The Earth Stopped (films that, surely coincidentally, are reminiscent of Transformers franchise and The Day The Earth Stood Still) has somewhat added to the perception problem as a mockbuster.

In Front Of The Camera

I’ll admit that it was the cast that made me interested in this film – namely Stanley Tucci, who plays Hugh, the Dad, and Kieran Shipka, who plays Ally, the daughter. Stanley Tucci is a great actor, that’s just a fact, his monologue in Margin Call about building a bridge is one of my favourite scenes of all time. Whereas Kieran Shipka is best known for her phenomenal performance as Sally Draper in Mad Men and more recently as the eponymous character in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Unsurprisingly Tucci gives a great performance as an ordinary Dad in extraordinary circumstances, a calm, gentle man, who while retaining his decency shows he is tougher than people might think. Shipka’s performance was good, as was most of the cast to be honest, but not quite what I was hoping for.

Does It Work?

The film is moderately enjoyable, especially if you are a fan of this post-apocalyptic, or in this case during-apocalyptic movie. This is, in fact, the main difference between The Silence and A Quiet Place, the latter is set some time after the problems started and the complete collapse of civilisation, whereas The Silence only gives us the first moments of what is happening. After all, throughout most of the film Ally talks via Skype with a schoolfriend discussing what is happening and surely if Skype is still working things haven’t got that bad yet.

The film is quite predictable and offers little in the way of surprises. The monsters are CGI created and are not always terrible fearsome, the film making the mistake of many monster movie in that they show the monster far too often. The most terrifying monsters are only glimpsed by the viewer. Overall I wasn’t convinced that the monsters posed an existential threat to humans, they did not seem that fearsome or dangerous, yes they could kill a person but they were described in the film as unstoppable nightmare creatures.

The film takes an odd turn away from the danger of the monsters to the danger of other people. Now, this is a fairly common trope of disaster/apocalyptic films that humans can be as bad as the monsters. What is absolutely bizarre in this film is that the normal, civilised people got completely batshit crazy in literally two days. While scavenging Hugh and Ally encounter a creepy man and it turns out he has a bunch of creepy friends who have already started mutilating themselves and talking about women in terms of “fertility”. This has to be the most rapid descent into apocalyptic madness I have ever seen and it is simply too much to accept that people would turn so bad so quickly. I’m not even sure the old adage that a civilised man is only three meals away from barbarity as I don’t think they had missed that many meals.

So, the big question, how does it do compare to A Quiet Place? Not well is the quick answer. A Quiet Place was hugely enjoyable and genuinely tense and The Silence just doesn’t match up in any way. But even without this comparison The Silence barely feels like a film and more like a long episode of a moderately successful tv show. At best it will only appeal to fans of this genre and will not be remembered as a particularly worthy addition but still too good to be a mockbuster.

Verdict: 2 out of 5 stars (2 / 5)

The Silence (Official Trailer)

Also Read: How The Blair Witch Project Changed Horror