Monster Kid Theater Presents Kong: Skull Island


Monster Kid Theater Presents Kong: Skull Island’s horror editor takes his three kids to see Kong: Skull Island and lives to tell about it

Monster Kid Theater is an ongoing column in which my three sons and I (just call me Fred MacMurray) get together to watch classic and contemporary monster movies. My trio of tots are young. Jack is 9. Elliot is 8. Ben is 6. I have not really pushed a cinematic agenda on them. They have just liked hanging out with me. And I watch plenty of movies. And many of them are… odd. I have ensured that when we do sit down to watch movies and when we go to the cinema, that I try to spin everything into education. I break down shots, discuss film history, talk about special effects, acting, metaphor and allegory. Some of it they get, some they will eventually get.

But they are my joy. We are a team.

So with that, we made plans earlier today to see the biggest (in every sense) movie of the season, Kong: Skull Island. The kids love the 1933 original Kong. They find the 1976 Kong too nihilistic and mean (they certainly have a point). They find the Peter Jackson King Kong kind of dull and, when watching it recently, compared it to Jurassic World, which Jack and Elliot cite as a far superior example of dino-centric action. I don’t argue this. I’ve never really been a fan…

So for our matinee screening of Kong: Skull Island, I opt to go all the way. Well, almost all the way. Having three kids and taking them to the cinema means goodbye cash in a big, ugly way. So now, when we hit the movies, us three unapologetically break the law and stop off at the local “Bulk Barn” and buy cheap candy which we then smuggle under our shirts, unconvincingly I might add. We’re all fairly slender gents and the odd crinkling lumps don’t fool anyone. But no one ever calls us on it, so whatever.

Anyway, outside of the cheapskate contraband concession, I ponied up for the kids to get the full King Kong experience: 3D, “D-Box”, Dolby Atmos, whatever other nonsense they throw in to bring one adult and three children’s ticket prices to a princely 95 dollars. But it was imperative to have the “D-Box” thing, which is a Canadian company (I’m Canadian) that creates shaking seats inside the theater whose vibrations and herky-jerky movements coincide with the action on screen. I presume you American readers have the same thing at select theaters, or at least the equivalent.

“Your daddy is getting you the best seats we have!” the chirpy girl with oddly narrow shoulders at the box office tells them as she takes my cash. They smile and nod while visibly sweating, paranoid that this honey bunny will find out that they’re packing Sour Kids like a bunch of sugary suicide bombers.

So we grab our 3D glasses, get to our seats and buckle in for this, the very first King Kong movie these three princes have seen theatrically. Which really, is a wonderful thing. I’m sharing this moment. The magic of King Kong, which has defined fantasy cinema for nearly a century is alive again and ready to dazzle a new generation of young dreamers. Life is good and endlessly surprising.

After a glut of commercials and trailers, the Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 trailer comes on and the D-Box chairs spring to life, tossing us all over the joint while the 3D images dazzle. But the kids are more excited to hear Fleetwood Mac’s classic track “The Chain” blasting over the soundtrack. My influence is strong…

Then comes Kong and my God does this movie not f**k around. Minutes in and there are air battles, plane crashes, beach gun battles and tropical swordfights and then BOOM Kong himself appears, the seats jerk around and the sound roars from the speakers. It’s hilarious watching three kids with glasses — all looking like pint-sized Truman Capotes — flailing around while a massive monkey smashes stuff on screen. I’m excited just watching them watch this.

Kong: Skull Island deftly sets its plot in motion and introduces its characters without an ounce of flab. It’s easy for the kids to understand that a mission of gravitas and controversy is launching and that the stakes are high. The actors are familiar – Richard Jenkins and especially John Goodman, who they know from Roseanne reruns and who Jack comments has “gotten skinny.” Sam Jackson shows up and naturally the lads know him from the Marvel movies. But once the movie drags its protagonists – military, scientific and civilian – to Skull Island and Kong just shows up and starts killing everyone, they are in a kind of paralysis, seat shaking be damned.

This is strong stuff. Pure carnage. But my kids know things. They go on movie sets. They make their own little movies. So none of this has an adverse effect. They’re marveling at the spectacle, at the flawless special effects. Though little Ben keeps leaning over to me and asking me, “So, did that guy die? And did he die? And him? And him? But who’s left?!”

Yes, the culling of the human herd is high, but enough of the players make it to get the movie on the ground and pit these shell-shocked humans against an array of monsters, including a giant spider that blew their minds and grossed them out. It’s all truly spectacular and messy stuff.

But again, my kids know pop culture. They know classic rock and arcane references. And the Kong: Skull Island soundtrack is jammed with amazing rock chestnuts. By the time “Ziggy Stardust” comes blaring off the speakers, Elliot turns to me and yells loudly, ” DADDY! DAVID BOWIE! DAVID BOWIE!” The theater erupts in laughter. I’m proud.

The rest of the film plays out like a pulp version of Apocalypse Now with monsters, injecting Vietnam/anti-war commentary and soaking the screen with sun-kissed visuals and a slow, weird trip down river. We talk about this later, how one character acts how he does not because he’s “bad” but because he’s battered by a war he couldn’t win and has become kind of broken. In fact, we discuss that there are NO villains in this film at all. None. And that’s amazing, really. Kong is not bad. He’s protecting his land. The subterranean reptile dragon monsters aren’t bad. They’re just trying to survive. The spider is just a spider. The humans are just flawed humans trying to do what they think is right. Rare is the carnage filled action fantasy that doesn’t paint in clear cut shades of black and white.

When the movie ended the kids were in awe. This wasn’t a movie, really. This was an experience, the kind of film that was designed for the biggest screen, with all the bells and whistles and worth every penny and moment spent on it. It’s fun. It’s intense. It’s deadly serious but often blackly hilarious. It’s bright (almost all of it takes place in the daytime) and violent but never, ever cruel. And most importantly it LOVES its monsters. Adores them.

We four talked about this movie endlessly tonight, tripping over our words as we compared notes on favorite scenes and characters that we wished had lived. Ben came home and immediately began drawing giant monsters, inventing creatures that he thought might give Kong a run for his money. I’m firmly convinced this was a definitive movie moment for them. The measure by which all other movies must now be judged.

They’ll take this one with them on their life journeys. And I’ll take it on mine. Pure magic.

If your own kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality and if they get that special effects are just that and when people die in movies the actors playing them actually go on to live long happy lives, then I urge you to take your own brood to this beautiful beast of a monster mash.

PostScript: I realized tonight that I forgot about “that” post credit scene. We left while the credits were crawling. When I told the kids this over dinner they just looked at me like I had murdered Santa Claus. I guess we’re going back to see it again.

Monster Kid Theater will return…

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