‘Kong: Skull Island’ Trailer 2: Alternate Take, Where Is The Heart?

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My colleague Andrew Whalen posted his general impressions on the second Kong: Skull Island trailer, but I wanted to offer a different perspective on it. First of all, I agree that there is definitely some exciting production design, and setting work in the film. Not to mention that dropping bombs for seismic readings is great. I also enjoy the whiffs of Apocalypse Now, and Jurassic Park: The Lost World. But let’s take a moment to remember Peter Jackson’s King Kong from 2005, an admittedly uneven attempt at the material. In fact, we can get even more specific; let’s look at the trailer to the 2005 King Kong.

It opens with Kong and Naomi Watts in a deserted New York street. In slow motion they gaze at each other. Queue voiceover by Tenacious D lead singer Jack Black: ‘And Lo the beast looked upon the face of beauty, and beauty stayed his hand and from that day forward he was as one dead.’

By the way, I wrote the above from memory after not watching the trailer since before the 2005 release of King Kong . Full disclosure: I watched it again now to double check and I had forgotten the ‘and from that day forward…’ part of the quote. Needless to say, it has stayed with me.Now in contrast, I watched the Kong: Skull Island trailer ten minutes ago and if I had to guess I’d say it opens with… The plane dropping bombs? A wide shot of helicopters approaching a cliff?

In King Kong , just from the trailer, I know that this is a love story about Naomi Watts and Kong, with a side theme of obsession and fame for Jack Black. I know the protagonists and the heart of the movie. For Kong: Skull Island I’d guess it’s about, I don’t know, not going to dangerous places? The protagonist is maybe Sam Jackson because he’s the most famous person I see.

Look, plenty of great films have had bad trailers, and vice versa, but for me this points to a larger trend in blockbuster movies that I find very worrying. Fantasy, horror, and sci-fi used to exist as vehicles to tell very human stories. The original King Kong was about our subconscious fear of ‘the other.’ Recently, blockbuster sci-fi movies have been about witty banter fitting into cool action. This is a trend that started with The Avengers and has only gotten more pervasive. To be honest I like The Avengers, and I liked Guardians of the Galaxy and I love Fast Five, and Furious Six . I think there is room for that type of movie, but sometimes it feels like that is all blockbusters can be now. Also to be fair, the Fast and Furious movies do have a very clear simple heart to them: family.

I guess it just hits harder when such a classic property gets the lowest common denominator treatment. I have major problems with Jackson’s King Kong (that stampede scene needs to be cut), but it was a film that was about love, obsession, fame, how we destroy ourselves getting what we want. Say what you want about it, but I could count on one hand the number of blockbusters from the last five years that had thematic underpinnings as strong as that. Fury Road . Probably another I can’t think of right now that you can add in the comments.

I don’t think having a thematic underpinning is something that we should relegate to low-budget indies. I think it is something all films should strive for. This is what carries us emotionally when we see a movie, this is what we remember. It has a lasting power over us that witty banter in the middle of action sequences can never replace.

I truly hope that Kong: Skull Island has more going for it than the trailer shows. Let us hope that when they borrow images like helicopters silhouetted by sunset from Apocalypse Now, they remember that was not a film about helicopters. Let us hope this new age of blockbusters doesn’t become an era of film where we gleefully pull artiface level references from film history while ignoring what made those films powerful, the themes and the heart.

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