Friday, May 26, 2006

In the Cut: 'Kingdom' of 'Kong'

When was the last time you found yourself thinking 'You know, that movie was EXACTLY the right length' as you were walking out of the movie theater? I guess nobody ever responds to movies in that manner, but I'm finding myself more and more frequently taking issue with the duration of the movies I'm seeing and not just because I'm often stuck in less-than-comfortable screening rooms.

The easiest complaint to make is that a movie is too long. When something like "Silent Hill" runs 127 minutes or something like "The Da Vinci Code" clocks in at 150, my brain begins to hurt. Both of those suffered from excessive devotion to source material and both could have made more money in a shorter cut and saved me a lot of mental and gluteal anguish. Not that it mattered to either movie, as they're both hits, but still.

But bad movies aren't only over-long. They're sometimes over-short. With another 15 minutes, maybe "Poseidon" could have developed a single character I didn't want to see drown. With another 15 minutes, maybe "X-Men: The Last Stand" would have actually had the gravity Brett Ratner seems to think it requires.

And I don't even know who to blame. Studios often chop films to bits and given how awful the limited dialogue in, say, "Poseidon," was, I can understand why the filmmakers would just decide to cut out all signs of humanity amidst the effects.

I got to thinking of the fact that movies are never the right length over the last week after watching non-theatrical cuts of "Kingdom of Heaven" and "King Kong" under very different conditions.

New on DVD, the "Kingdom of Heaven: Director's Cut" isn't a masterpiece, as some are suggesting. It is, however, somewhat closer to the intellectually complicated epic Ridley Scott thought he was making before it was trimmed from 191 minutes to 145 minutes for the theatrical cut, which disappointed both audiences and critics. Despite the addition of those 45 minutes -- the biggest change is the out-of-nowhere son for Eva Green's Sybilla character, which transforms that character from a pouty cypher into a complicated woman and transforms the future Bond Girl's performance from flat to nuanced -- the new "Kingdom of Heaven" seems to move much faster than the original cut. Perhaps what made the first version drag was the gaps in logic caused by studio-mandated trims. The movie cannot stand as a full success because star Orlando Bloom plays his character as a brooding pill from start to finish, never finding a second's shading. However, I'm 99 percent convinced that had 20th Century Fox relented and let Scott release his own cut in December instead of dropping the truncated cut in May (as visions of "Gladiator" danced through their heads), "Kingdom of Heaven" would have been a strong Oscar contender, a lock for a number of technical nominations and a very possible Best Picture nominee. See, there's an example of a film that needed to be 45 minutes longer.

On the other hand, I watched "King Kong" on the airplane the other day coming back from Charlotte (I needed something to do since Ron Jeremy wasn't around to provide distraction) largely because I'd heard that the version they were showing was roughly 130 minutes, or an hour shorter than Peter Jackson's bloated theatrical cut. I'm not going to say something stupid like, "The version of 'King Kong' I saw on the airplane was better than Peter Jackson's version," but it was sure the right length. Suddenly, it takes only 30 minutes to get to Skull Island and only 45 minutes for Kong to make his first appearance, suggesting that the first act of the movie was trimmed by nearly 25 minutes. I missed a few of Jackson's in-jokes and loving details, but suddenly the movie's length no long felt out of proportion to the subject matter. It no longer felt like a movie made by a director too powerful to be reasoned with. I don't know who actually edited the USAir cut, which felt a bit sloppy and hacked to bits, but Jackson and his actual editor could stand to look at this shorter take and see if they could do their own 130 minute cut. It would make a nice bonus feature whenever "Kong" next comes out on DVD.

Has anybody else caught the airplane "Kong"? Or watched Scott's new "Kingdom of Heaven"?

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