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“King Kong” and the Communal Movie-Going Experience

posted by donna freitas

I remember going to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in the theater as a kid. As Indiana Jones makes his way through a tunnel of giant tarantulas, outruns a boulder, endures a snake pit, and smartly avoids having his face melt into goo, I was not alone in my white-knuckled, eye-covered screams of “eeww” and “yuck,” which I shrieked as much out of solidarity with my fellow movie-goers as a response to whatever fun-filled horrors and suspenseful situations graced the screen. Communing over shared disgust and surprise in a packed theater is, to me, one of the joys of seeing movies at on the big screen and not in the comfort of my own home.

It’s been a while since I’ve had that kind of fun at the cineplex. Then I saw the new “King Kong.”

Peter Jackson’s homage to the orignal 1933 “King Kong”–which was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack and is the film that apparently inspired Jackson’s interest to get into the movie business in the first place–provides audiences with the ultimate in communal movie-going experiences. (And thank God for Cooper and Schoedsack providing Peter Jackson his muse, as Jackson is proving himself one of the great directors of our time.)

This generation’s “King Kong” stars Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Naomi Watts (as Ann Darrow, the woman that works her way into the monster’s heart), and, interestingly, Andy Serkis as the man behind the giant gorilla. (He’s also the actor who brought Jackson’s amazing on-screen interpretation of Gollum to life in his “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy.) All of these actors are wonderful in their roles (in particular Naomi Watts) and manage to convincingly move audiences from an initial horror at the beast to tremendous sympathy and even sadness when King Kong is inevitably defeated in that famous seen atop NYC’s Empire State Building.

But aside from Jackson delivering a wonderfully acted three-hour adventure film with spectacular special effects, he offers audiences one of those ever rarer “Raiders of the Lost Ark” communal moments. As I, and everyone around me, got deeper and deeper into the story, and as our first glimpse of King Kong became imminent, I found myself “eewwing” and “ohhing” and “yucking” in unison with everyone around me in the packed theater. I covered my eyes when giant worm-like creatures rose up from the waters to suck down humans, and giant cockroaches descended from above, and what looked like the most giant centipedes you’ve ever seen crawled over human flesh (notice the emphasis here on giant). And as I looked sideways I noticed I was not alone in my gleeful shrinking from the horrors before me. By the middle of the film and onward to the end and the final sad groan of “awww,” when King Kong gives his last, mournful look at the love of his life, we, the audience had our own adventure of togetherness as we reacted to the screen in unison.

This is a movie not to be missed on the big screen in a packed theater–so go, and go soon. But one word of advice: As I left the theater, heart racing, feeling like I’d just had a major workout, I thought to myself that if only I had better mindfulness skills, I might have managed to remember to breath regularly during the movie. Steady breathing is truly a skill with that much action going on, both in the audience and on screen.



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