I saw two movies this week: The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong. One was a good movie. The other one was great.

The Chronicles of Narnia was made from the C.S. Lewis’s very well known book, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I get the feeling that after the success of The Lord of the Rings, Hollywood is going to bury us in movies made from famous books. I’m willing to bet it won’t be long before we see a new Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew movie, or even a Tom Swift movie. It would be a relief from the recent and prolonged avalanche of comic book and video-game inspired movies. Sadly, I’m not joking when I say that a Pac Man movie is coming soon.

I wonder if The Chronicles of Narnia will attract the kind of criticism from right-wing religious nutcases that the Harry Potter series has. I suspect it won’t, since it’s basically pieced together from various Bible stories, loosely draped in animal costumes. For instance, Aslan the lion is clearly Jesus, dying for the sins of Man and rising from the dead to inspire good to triumph over evil. He walks away at the end, but not before we are assured that he will return some day. This is not a criticism of the film. It’s something that simply exists in the C.S. Lewis source material, and was reproduced for the screen.

The reason I don’t think The Chronicles of Narnia is great is because I found it sloppy. There are plot holes everywhere, and it’s almost as though we are expected forget about them because the special effects make us say, “Oh look! Shiny!” Perhaps the same trick was used to distract the religious freaks: “Heeeeeyyy!!! Magic! That’s bad! Oh look! Bible stories!” The holes are awful though. The one that had me scratching my head most was the hankerchief that seemed to teleport mysteriously from one person to the next throughout the movie. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the film, but when you do watch it, pay attention to who has the hankerchief and maybe you can explain it to me later. It wouldn’t have been so bad if the hankerchief wasn’t tied so instrumentally to the plot, relationships and emotional impact of the film.

I think one of the great challenges in a film like this is to grant the non-human characters some depth. Although the special effects were impressive in bringing the physical details of the animal characters to life, I found them to be somewhat archtypical and cardboard, almost cartoonish. One way of looking at it is that I found it difficult to believe that these characters existed outside of the context of what was being shown on screen at the time–that they were simply there because of what was happening on the screen, and that they were otherwise meaningless.

Anyway, the film was entertaining, but I don’t think it will go down in history as anything special.

King Kong, on the other hand, was great. I simply can not say enough about this movie. It is a Peter Jackson masterpiece as impressive as any of the Lord of the Rings movies. Perhaps it’s harder to take it seriously, since it’s a remake of a monster movie, whereas the LOTR books are nearly bona fide classic literature. However, I assure you it ranks way up there, and I won’t be surprised to see it capture a good number of Academy Awards this year.

King Kong is a remake of the granddaddy of all monster movies. It’s been spoofed a million times. The Simpsons did a particularly funny parody of it one Hallowe’en. Anyone who knows anything about monster movies knows that it’s about The Misunderstood Monster. It’s a classic theme. It’s been played out numerous times on the screen. What amazes me most is that despite its ancient heritage, Peter Jackson’s version of King Kong never seems old, predictable or cliche. There’s a freshness and an energy about it that lasts for the entire three hours of this film.

That’s right. Three hours. It’s a long movie, yet I never lost interest or found myself wondering when it would end. That brings me to my next point. This is a film that only Peter Jackson could make. It is here that I can tie it to Narnia. It’s a film that could only have been made because of the success of LOTR. After raking in multi-zillions of dollars for the studio, Peter Jackson was in the position to make this movie with no compromises. Watching this movie, I get the feeling that no one ever said no to Peter Jackson. He got whatever he asked for. He wanted not one, not two, but three Tyrannosaurus Rex to fight with King Kong. He wanted a stampede of brontosauri through a canyon, pursued by velociraptors. He wanted swarms of giant bugs to chase the heroes. Most movies would only have the budget to show one or two of these scenes, but King Kong got to do them all, and much, much more. There seemed to be no limit to the ever-increasing perils and terrors that this movie served up for its characters.

The environments and surroundings of the film were lush, realistic, and meticulously created. In the LOTR movies, we could always say, “Sure he could make it look real. Tolkien described it for him in thousands of pages of boring and excruciating detail.” Jackson didn’t have that luxury when he made King Kong, but he still managed to conjure up a world that was terrifyingly and awe-inspiringly real. From the Great Depression era New York City, to the damp and rotting Skull Island, I felt immersed the entire time.

If I have a criticism of this film, it’s of Jackson’s very liberal use of time compression. I’m sure that even at three hours, there was a lot left out of this movie. However, time still passes very strangely, which requires us to suspend our disbelief a bit more than usual. For instance, a ship departs from New York, and is soon sailing in the neighbourhood of Rangoon, Myanmar (Burma). I guess the continents have drifted a great deal since the 1920s. Even more unbelievable is that the hero–who is also a nerdy writer with no adventuring experience–manages to chase his darling through a mountainous jungle on an uncharted island, free her from the intelligent yet savage ape who has captured her, then make it back to safety via an entirely different route, all within less than a day. Of course, exciting stuff happens along the way, but time is compressed so much that we wonder how it could actually happen.

I guess this is where the big difference is between Narnia and Kong for me. Both of them use the, “Oh look! Shiny!” technique to distract us from the flaws in the film. However, I’m willing to overlook that in Kong‘s case, but not so much in Narnia‘s. That’s possibly because of King Kong himself. Like the myriad creatures in The Chronicles of Narnia, King Kong was computer generated. However, I found him to have real depth, and ability to communicate real emotion and intent. What’s most impressive is that he could do this without speaking. This would be difficult for a human actor, let alone a computerized one. It was always quite clear what King Kong was thinking or feeling, and what’s more, it seemed real to me. It wasn’t even hard to believe–like it should have been–that a beautiful woman could love him. That’s a tribute to Peter Jackson’s masterful visual storytelling skills. Without the benefit of dialogue, he convincingly answers the questions, “Why would a giant ape love a human woman?” and “Why would a human woman love a giant ape?” Narnia‘s talking animals seem like empty shells beside the mighty King Kong.

Anyway, I can recommend both movies. However, between the two of them, only King Kong earns a place near the top of my list of favorite movies.