cinema, Column article, Mr. and Ms Magazine

King Lion, King Ape and Two Kiwis

For the past month or so, cable TV has been showing The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings film series as well as the Harry Potter series. I even watched the last half of a Narnia movie and one whole episode of the Lord of the Rings trilogy as well as the last two episodes of Harry Potter. I enjoy watching these films.

Since cable TV is showing them, I might as well post here my article of more than a decade ago when these movies were first released and the two directors from New Zealand – Andrew Adamson and Peter Jackson were lording it over everyone in Hollywood with their top-grossing films, in competition with the Harry Potter series.

King Lion etc


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, adapted from C.S. Lewis’s Christian fable, has reached $634,881,289 gross sales worldwide in the first 56 days since its release on Dec. 9, 2005 while the latest remake of the 1930s classic King Kong amassed $534,686,361 gross sales worldwide in its first 54 days since its opening on Dec. 14, 2005.

Two Kiwis (New Zealanders) are the new darlings of Hollywood. Narnia director Andrew Adamson and King Kong director Peter Jackson have proved once again that they have the Midas Touch. Adamson megged Shrek (2001) and Shrek 2, the world’s top-grossing movie of 2004 while Jackson made the top-grossing Lord of the Rings trilogy.

There must be something about lions and giant beasts that attract moviegoers. The animated film, The Lion King, was the world’s top grossing film in 1994 while Jurassic Park was the world’s number one film in 1993. Today, the Lion King is reincarnated as Aslan, the wise and true King of Narnia while Jurassic beasts are back romping, running around and wrestling with King Kong.

Spectacular Budgets and Globalization

Narnia was made with a production budget of 180 million dollars while King Kong had a US$ 207 million budget. At 52 pesos to a dollar, that’s about 10.7 Billion pesos. One can buy the whole Philippine film industry with that money.

Hollywood films can afford to have big budgets because their market includes the whole world. In the figures given above, the bigger part comes from receipts overseas. Narnia got US$ 356 million or 56% from overseas bookings while King Kong got around US $ 329 million or 60 % of total revenues from overseas theaters. The original DVDs of these movies are yet to be released.

It is quite unfortunate that with the opening of world markets, Philippine films remain parochial and not geared for overseas markets. While the Philippine film industry is dying, Filipinos continue to patronize foreign films.

Philippine Audience

King Kong, officially grossed US$ 3, 147, 942 in the Philippines from Dec 14 to Jan. 22, 2006 alone – more than the movie’s box office receipts from Singapore, Indonesia, Turkey, Greece, Austria, Israel or Thailand in the same period Yet the film industries in these countries are thriving while ours is dying.

In December 2001, I wondered why not many Filipinos were watching the movies during the Metro Manila film festival. The following January, I expected to see very long queues for the movie Lord of the Rings. But what I saw was quite unexpected. Most of the people in line were from the lower classes. They could be drivers or janitors. I went to see the film because I was curious how Hollywood adapted the Tolkien classic into film. I didn’t think that the people I saw queuing up even knew Tolkien or his book.

The following year, I witnessed the same phenomenon for Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers. I asked around and came to the conclusion that the Filipino audience is a thinking, discerning audience. The Filipino producers’ assertion that they give the Filipino audience what they want – crappy love stories or slapstick comedies — is not true. The Filipino audience apparently wants good quality movies.

The Two Kiwis and Harry Potter

            The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) trilogy was a super smash hit. The last episode alone, the Return of the King, grossed US$ 1.12 Billion in its theatrical release worldwide. Peter Jackson, the director of these three films, hopes that King Kong would top that.

Fellow Kiwi Andrew Adamson, whose Shrek 2 (2004) made US $ 0.91 Billion worldwide, is hoping that Narnia would not only top Shrek 2 but that he would get to direct most of the 7-part series of Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles.

Since 2001, it seems that the two Kiwis are fighting each other as well as the

Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson

Harry Potter movies for box office supremacy worldwide. In 2001, both Shrek and LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring lost out to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. In 2002, LOTR: The Two Towers beat Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the number one spot and in 2003, the final episode of the LOTR lorded over everyone especially since there was no Harry Potter or Adamson film to compete with. In 2004, Shrek 2 had its sweet revenge over Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But in 2005, the two Kiwis are face to face with each other with King Kong and Narnia. And both hope to surpass Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which was

Andrew Adamson
Andrew Adamson

released in mid-November.

It is quite amazing how two Kiwis can make quintessentially American films (King Kong and Shrek 2) as well as quintessentially British films (Narnia and Lord of the Rings). Perhaps this simply proves that Art is truly universal.

Computer Graphics

Naomi Watts, King Kong’s love interest, is sure to be the fantasy girl of today’s King Lion 2 etcschoolboys just as Fay Wray was the dream girl of the 1930s/40s schoolboys. And Tilda Swinton looks very formidable as the Snow Queen / White Witch. But the real heroes of King Kong and Narnia are the computer graphics.

Jackson pulled all stops to make King Kong and the Jurassic beasts look and feel as real as possible. Adamson used computer graphics to the hilt to make Narnia as magical as can be.

But Jackson, in desperately trying to outdo his LOTR movies, has over done it. With no limitation on the budget, he went overboard in recreating the film that has haunted him since adolescence. Everything was in excess. The running time alone is more than 3 hours. The dinosaur stampede, the attacks of giant insects, arachnids or whatever and King Kong’s battle with dinosaurs and pterodactyls including a fight with three- yes three- Tyrannosaurus Rex monsters at the same time are simply too much.

In the first place, what is a giant gorilla doing in a land of Jurassic reptiles? And how could humans co-exist with giant beasts with only King Kong as their god-protector? Skull Island is even more unbelievable than the Kingdom of Narnia.

Fairy Tale, Morality Play and Magic

            King Kong is a modern-day take on the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale while Narnia is a good old morality play with the Good exemplified by Aslan the Lion King and Evil as represented by the White Witch. Even Father Christmas (the British Santa Claus) made a cameo appearance.

            The phenomenal popularity of Harry Potter books paved the way for magic and fantasy to blaze into films. Before, magic and fantasy films never became mega hits or world top-grossers. Only animations like Aladdin and the Lion King did that. Animations are considered part of the world of children, not of adults. Only live action films can reflect the real world

But the super successes of The Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series seem to indicate that the adults of the world are now ready for some magic and fantasy in their lives.

It would seem that Peter Jackson’s King Kong will not be as big a hit as his LOTR films, especially since it is competing with the magical worlds of Harry Potter and Adamson’s Narnia.


Published in Mr & Ms magazine   March – April 2006

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