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Monsters, Madmen and Heroes: How Peter Jackson Emasculated King Kong

By Dr. Tom Snyder,
Editor MovieGuide Magazine

CBN.comAs he proved with his version of The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Tolkien, Peter Jackson is an extremely talented, hard-working film director who wants to give the public their money's worth.

Jackson has obviously brought the same kind of attention to detail, care, and hard work to his extravagant, three-hour remake of the classic American movie King Kong.

So, why isn't the movie doing as well at the box office as expected?

Several reasons seem to be the cause, including the movie's bloated running time. For example, it takes Jackson more than an hour to reveal the title character. Even then, the revelation of the Big Hairy Ape known as Kong is somewhat of a letdown. In no way does it compare to the frightening, hair-raising, thrilling scene in the original 1933 movie. A screaming Faye Wray staring up into the sharp teeth of a monstrous gorilla will always and forever be the stuff that nightmares are made of. The new King Kong doesn't even come close.

The main reason that King Kong fails, however, is the age-old problem of story and character.

The movie not only transforms an American pop culture phenomenon from a heroic, scary and exciting fantasy into an environmentalist, anti-capitalist, vegetarian argument for animal rights. It also changes the two male protagonists, Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll, from a heroic madman and a heroic adventurer into a greedy monster and a wimpy intellectual.

People go to movies to see heroes with whom they can identify. The heroes may be flawed, like Carl Denham's character in the original 1933 King Kong, but they must overcome their flaws to rescue the damsel, defeat the villain, tame the beast, or banish the monster.

By turning the main protagonist, Carl Denham, into a monster, by depriving Jack Driscoll of his heroic manly virtues, and by turning King Kong into a sensitive vegetarian who just wants to be left alone with the girl of his dreams, Peter Jackson and his two female screenwriters, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens, have emasculated the original story.

People don't want to sit through a three-hour vegetarian, feminist lecture about how bad modern civilization is, no matter how many eye-popping action scenes and special effects you put into it. Nor do they want to sit through a hopeless, preachy tragedy about how rotten mankind is, and men are. They want a hero who validates their culture or who points to eternal verities and ideals to which most of us, by the grace of God, aspire.

American moviegoers enjoy their heroes. And, they enjoy the fruits of their capitalist society, a big part of which is the liberty to eat as much animal flesh as you want.

Our need for true heroes shows, however, that our society is not just about material goods. Sure, at the end of a hard work day, the average American likes to occasionally be able to sit down to a meal of meat, potatoes, and bread. Personally, I always like a lot of bread with my meat.

But, as a couple great religious leaders by the name of Moses and Jesus once said, man does not live by bread (or meat) alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Thus, Judaism, Christianity, American history, and Western Civilization are full of heroic people of faith who serve God by spreading His Word, fight evil with good, rescue civilizations, and promote the Good, the True and the Beautiful.

MovieGuide®, the outfit for which I work, is a family guide to movies and entertainment that tries to help Hollywood's decision makers do just these kinds of things. It also helps the public to be heroes in their daily lives, especially when it comes to what their children, grandchildren, nephews, and nieces watch.

Each year, at our annual Faith & Values Awards Gala held just before the Oscars, we promote our annual, extensive analysis of the box office. Each year, that analysis shows Hollywood that the vast majority of moviegoers want humorous, witty, suspenseful, and heroic movies with positive characters. They also want to see heartwarming, redemptive stories that respect traditional American values and that respect traditional biblical, and even Christian, values (after all, most Americans claim to be Christian and Christianity is the largest religion in the world).

When Hollywood creates such movies, people will come to them, even when they are three hours long (three hours goes by fast when you have an entertaining story with heroic characters).

That's what attracted moviegoers in such big numbers to tremendously popular movies like The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Spider-Man movies, Finding Nemo, The Passion of the Christ, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Moviegoers were attracted to the mythic narratives, driving plots, heroic characters, profound emotions, and transcendent ideas and ideals presented in these movies.

The values of the American people speak most powerfully through their pocketbooks. Regrettably, Hollywood usually doesn't listen to what the American people and their pocketbooks are saying.

Apparently, Peter Jackson and his writers haven't either, at least this time.

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Dr. Snyder is editor of MovieGuide, whose website is He has a Ph.D. in Film Studies from Northwestern University near Chicago, where his specialties were film genre and religion, myth and politics in film.

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