Tedious, bloated CG monkey shenanigans. Cinematic snake oil, don't fall for it.
News of a Peter 'Lord of the Rings' Jackson sponsored remake of the remake of Big Monkey Film was met with at best mild disinterest round these parts. I mean, what can you add do differently, barring fancier visual effects? Seemingly, bugger all.
You know the plot, I take it. If not it's more or less this; struggling director Carl Denham (Jack Black) and his film crew go to mysterious island, wannabe actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) gets grabbed by a shower of natives and offered up to the titular Big Monkey (Andy Serkis), bold screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) tries to get her back heading through a dinosaur and massive insect infested valley while Denham and Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) bring forth the chloroform to capture Big Monkey, Big Monkey is displayed on Broadway, escapes, climbs Empire State Building, swats a few biplanes and buys the farm. Roll credits, try not to grind the popcorn into the carpet on your way out.
To be fair, Big Monkey Film does have its moments. Thing is, in a three hour and change film you need a lot of moments. Substantially more are required than show up here. The heart, if you will, of Big Monkey Film hasn't really changed in its seventy year history - man is more of a monster than Big Monkey. Storywise, that's the whole point of the movie, but it's not a big enough plot point to cover three interminable hours. As a substitute for anything approaching a plot we get an hour and a half long CG showreel of Big Monkey battering various CG velociraptors and CG T-Rex's around, a CG Brontosaurus stampede, a bunch of freaky CG millipedes being shot with Tommyguns and the non-CG incarnation of Andy Serkis, ship's cook Lumpy being offed by a CG worm thing with a mouth that looks like one of the barnacles from ye olde PC shooter Half Life. There's the vaguest hint of character development two and a quarter hours in after returning to Noo Yawk, and then we're back into the CG biplane battle again.
Well, at least Weta earned their fees.
This isn't this year's LotR, it's this year's Independence Day. Every year there's at least one big, glossy CG showreel that has as close to no other reason to exist in this world as to make no odds. Last year brought us The Day After Tomorrow, a CG weather effects demo. I'd figured on this years effects flick being the soul-less War of the Worlds, but lawks, if this ain't taking that particular ball and running with it. After the suitably brooding, if extraordinarily drawn out voyage to Skull Island you might as well be playing the video game of the film for the next hour and a half, at least then you may stay awake and/or feel the slightest hint of involvement in proceedings.
Yes, it's a very good rendered monkey, It's quite a good rendered T-Rex. It's quite a good rendered funny looking giant spider thing. It's quite a good rendered millipede thing. No it doesn't really look like the actors and the rendered creatures live in the same world thanks to the standard CG Achilles heel of inappropriate, effect hampering lighting. There's something missing though, and that's any reason to care about the outcome of Monkey vs. Dino fisticuffs other than the mere fact that it's Monkey vs. Dino fisticuffs. It's effects work for the sake of effects work. I'm not going to claim that it's not the single best consistent example of effects work yet committed to celluloid in any technical sense. I'm not going to claim it's not the best modelling and best use of a renderfarm. In every dry, technical sense you can dredge up, Big Monkey Film is the best yet. It's NURBS are the strongest, but it's not even close to being the best film yet.
I can't decide on logical ground whether or not this is better than Independence Day, and that's a complete tragedy. ID4 might look as ropy as a rope shop stockroom these days with a plot as equally banal and unnecessary as Big Monkey Film, but at least it was (and still is) fun. There's maybe a total of ten minutes when Jackson's CG showreel hits a decent stride and falls into the brainless Boy's Own adventure groove it's seeking and you, or at least I, can get a glimpse of why Jackson was so excited by this project.
In the final analysis, as I'm sure the astute, erudite, enlightened and beautiful readership of this website are already aware, using CG for anything is just a technique, not an ends in itself. Like anything, when the technique overshadows, or in Big Monkey Film's case, replaces the storyline it's in severe trouble. Think a few years back to when the whole fractured, non-linear narrative was in full swing. Used correctly, such as in the excellent, haunting Memento it compliments and enhances the story. Used (indeed overused) purely for the sake of it in, say 21 Grams, it becomes a jumbled, semi-comprehensible, barely watchable mess, ruining a perfectly fine story that would have stood better on it's own merits. Big Monkey Film veers more towards 21 Grams's approach. And that's not a compliment, from me at least.
If you want to write this off as the ramblings of a hopeless cynic feel free, but I don't think you're right. Hopeless cynics wouldn't like Charlie & the Chocolate Factory or Narnia. I just don't appreciate being sold snake oil, no matter how pretty the insubstantial CG snake it came from. One of the minor characters in Big Monkey Film at one point says that this isn't an adventure story. He's superficially talking about Heart of Darkness, but Jackson himself might as well have appeared split-screen talking directly to us. I don't see it.
There's a few folks who claim that Big Monkey Film is something more than a creature feature, in all of it's incarnations. I'm not sure what they mean. I don't want to countenance any aspect of a woman / monkey love story on fear of being slung into prison on bestiality charges, leading to being beasted myself. I cannot, for the very life of me, see what this film is supposed to teach us about the human condition, as they claim. Without that to depend on, this has no more merit than, say, Van Helsing.
That's overly harsh, I suppose. By most yardsticks Big Monkey Film is in a different league to that pile of soiled undergarments, so why the low, consensus-defying score? Simply this - I was bored. I sat in front of this monstrous, big budget, vine swinging, monkey punching extravaganza and it bored me. I stumped up the admittance fee expecting only entertainment for the over three hours it runs for. I got a polished, immaculately presented, near-flawlessly produced, tedious graphics demo. If that sort of thing rings your register, and there's no shame in that, go right ahead and pony up the dough. Round these parts, it's something of a no sale.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 2/5 TippyMarks.
Jack Black (Carl Denham)
Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll)
Thomas Kretschmann (Captain Englehorn)
Colin Hanks (Preston)
Andy Serkis (Kong/Lumpy)