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Does Your Movie Need a Giant Animal?

As ‘Kong: Skull Island’ proves, yes, it probably does

(20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Ringer illustration)
(20th Century Fox/Warner Bros./Ringer illustration)

The new King Kong movie, Kong: Skull Island, does not dance about and acknowledge that it is absurd, even though of course it is. The filmmakers simply say, "Let’s just make it so that we can, in the fastest way possible, get to a mystery island full of mystery giants, and then let’s have those mystery giants fight as many things as possible." I appreciate that and I respect that.

There’s a part where Kong fights many helicopters, and let me tell you something: Kong is so good at throwing trees at helicopters. There’s a part where Kong fights a giant squid. There’s a part where Kong fights a mega-lizard monster. There’s a part where Samuel L. Jackson, a hardened and lonely war veteran looking for purpose, squares up against Kong like they’re two guys in a Denny’s parking lot at 2 a.m. and they’re going to fistfight. There’s a part where Tom Hiddleston, who does a surprisingly good job being the movie’s Alpha Good Tough Guy, gets into a sword fight with a bunch of flying monsters in a poison gas cloud, and I’m not afraid to reveal that I was at least a little bit aroused when I watched that scene.

It’s a big, fun, loud movie experience with enough funny lines sprinkled in to make sure you keep paying attention. (The best funny moment is when John C. Reilly, playing a guy who’s survived on the island for decades, talks to a new group of castaways. They’re in the jungle and they hear this noise that sounds very much like giant birds. Reilly starts telling them about how it’s giant ants making that noise. He says something close to, "It sounds like birds, but it’s fucking ants." I’d gone to the movie with my wife and three sons, the youngest of whom is 4. He immediately shouted, "It’s fucking ants. What’s ‘fucking ants’?")

And so I come to you with a proposal: While watching this new Kong, I realized I also very much enjoyed Peter Jackson’s Kong movie, King Kong, which came out in 2005, even though that one was an entirely different experience (it was far more emotional, and I absolutely cried during the last 10 minutes). I also greatly enjoyed Jaws, which of course features a giant shark, and Anaconda (giant snake), and Lake Placid (giant crocodile), and Starship Troopers (giant alien bugs), and Pacific Rim (giant alien ocean monsters), and Tremors (giant earthworm monsters), and so on. I am, in general, a fan of movies that feature giant animals. They are good (except for the times when they are very bad, like what happened with 2014’s Godzilla). So, the proposal: Let’s add giant animals to movies and decide if it makes those movies better, the same, or worse.

(Sean Mack)
(Sean Mack)

Creed

What it’s about: Adonis Creed, the son of Apollo Creed, takes on a British champion to prove that he wasn’t a mistake. Also, he runs as fast as motorcycles. It’s a perfect movie.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: Well, we can’t replace Adonis with a giant animal, because then we have to explain how Apollo Creed somehow is the father of a giant lizard or lion or whatever. We also can’t replace Rocky, because we need Rocky to train Adonis. That means — and this is really the most fitting — we’re replacing one of the fighters with a giant animal, and, I mean, whoa. The fight scene at the end of the movie when Adonis fights Ricky Conlan was also a masterwork in drama-building and cinematography. Imagine now, instead of a British fighter, we get a giant scorpion as Adonis’s final opponent. "How do we attack him, Rock?" Adonis asks Rocky before the fight starts. "It ain’t about how hard you hit," Rocky says, starting in on one of his very Rocky speeches, "it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." Adonis looks at him. He’s processing Rocky’s words. And Rocky is pleased, because he knows Adonis is ready. "Yeah, but Rock …" Adonis says. Rocky says, "Yeah?" Adonis says, "It’s a fucking giant scorpion." "Wait, what?" Rocky says.

Verdict: Creed is worse with a giant animal in it.

Pulp Fiction

What it’s about: I’ve seen it a couple of times and I actually still kind of don’t know. I know there’s a briefcase in it. And Samuel L. Jackson super doesn’t like when anyone says "what." Beyond that, though, I have no idea.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: Still no clue. But at least now it’s got giant snakes in it, and a good rule of thumb is, "If you want to make any real-life situation worse, just add snakes to it. And if you want to make any movie better, just add snakes to it." Look at the Just Add Snakes to This Movie to Make It Better conversion chart:

Turbulence (not good) + = Snakes on a Plane (good)
The Polar Express (not good) + = Snakes on a Train (good)
Medicine Man (not good) + = Anaconda (good)
In Time (not good) + (Snake Plissken) = Escape From New York (good)
Drive (kind of good) + = Gone in 60 Seconds (definitely good)
King Solomon’s Mines (not good) + = Raiders of the Lost Ark (good)
The Punisher (not good) + = Kill Bill Vol. 2 (good)

I could do this all day.

Verdict: Pulp Fiction is better with a giant animal in it.

Big

What it’s about: A kid makes a wish one night to be big. He wakes up the next morning. All of a sudden, he’s big.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: We’re swapping out Tom Hanks’s character, Josh Baskin, the little boy who makes the wish, with a frog. The frog makes a wish one night to be big. He wakes up the next morning. All of a sudden, he’s big. The movie’s called Big Frog. It’s a box-office bomb. Turns out, a frog that’s big is basically the same as a normal-size frog, which is to say not very special at all. The big frog goes to New York and tries to get a job at a toy factory. "Do you have any sort of experience?" the interviewer asks the big frog. The big frog doesn’t say anything back to him. He just sits there. Because he’s a frog. He doesn’t get the job.

Verdict: Big is worse with a giant animal in it.

(Sean Mack)
(Sean Mack)

Silence of the Lambs

What it’s about: A young FBI trainee asks a genius serial killer for help capturing a new serial killer who’s less of a genius.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: The same thing, except guess what: Now it’s Silence of the Giant Lambs. And guess what else: These new lambs ain’t so silent. They’re killing everything.

Verdict: Silence of the Lambs is better with a giant animal in it.

(Buena Vista Pictures)
(Buena Vista Pictures)

Ransom

What it’s about: A child gets kidnapped. The dad, played by Mel Gibson, goes on TV and tells the kidnappers that he’ll never pay them, instead offering the $2 million ransom to anyone who kills the kidnappers.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: You know how you’re never supposed to get between a mama bear and her cubs? In our new version of Ransom, it’s not Mel Gibson’s son who gets kidnapped. This time, it’s a mama bear’s cub who gets kidnapped. What’s more, given the parameters in which we’re building out this article’s universe, it ain’t just a normal mama bear, it’s a giant mama bear. I’m talking about a 30-foot-tall bear. I’m talking about a bear the size of a small building. And she’s angry. So angry. And all she wants is for the kidnapper to "GIVE ME BACK MY BEAR SON!"*

*I have some questions about this scene in Ransom where Mel Gibson talks to the ringleader kidnapper on the phone. They get into a big argument about Gibson not paying and Gibson, filled with fire and hate, shouts, "GIMME BACK MY SON!" What did he think that was going to solve, shouting "gimme back my son!" at the kidnapper? Was he expecting the kidnapper to put his hand over the phone’s receiver, then lean over to his kidnapper accomplices like, "Yo. This guy sounds really pissed. We should just go on and give him his kid back. I had no idea he was gonna be this pissed"?

Verdict: Ransom is better with a big animal in it.

Seven

What it’s about: A serial killer murders people using the seven deadly sins (greed, sloth, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and pride) as inspiration.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: It’s almost exactly the same. The only murder we’re erasing is the one where John Doe ties the guy to the bed and keeps him there for a year. So imagine the whole rest of the movie goes on along and everything stays the same.

There’s one change. So it’s the end of the movie (this is before Mills knows his wife is dead). They’re all out in that field, the killer and Detective Mills and Detective Somerset. The delivery truck comes pulling up and the detectives start to freak out. Somerset tells Mills to stay with Doe, and Somerset runs over to the delivery truck guy and gets the box from him. He doesn’t open it there, though, like he does in the original movie. In our version, he carries it over to Doe and Somerset. Doe starts talking about how he visited Mills’s wife that morning, that he tried to be a husband, tried to play that role, but he couldn’t. So he took a souvenir: the woman’s head. Mills freaks out. Doe starts talking about how his sin is envy, that he should be killed. Somerset, the smart one of the group, he says, "Whoa. Wait a minute. Stop. Everyone stop!" Mills, too furious, shoots Doe in the head. Just before he shoots him, though, Doe smiles, then says, "Good luck." Mills asks Somerset why Doe said good luck. Somerset looks at Mills. "We’re only at six sins," he says. "What do you mean?" asks Mills. "John Doe covered greed, lust, gluttony, pride, envy, and now you’re wrath. But we’re missing one. We’re missing …" His eyes widen. Mills’s eyes widen too. They both look at the box. It begins to move. "Sloth," they both say together, and then a giant sloth comes crawling out of the box. It eats both of them. The end.*

Verdict: Seven is way better with a big animal in it.

*If you’re saying something to yourself like, "Hold on. How’s a giant sloth going to crawl out of a box that was small enough that Somerset was able to carry it from the delivery truck over to where John Doe and Detective Mills were?" I just want to point out that earlier in this article we had a big frog on a job interview in New York. Maybe you don’t worry so much about splitting hairs here with our giant sloth scenario, OK?

Titanic

What it’s about: A poor kid wins a ticket onto the greatest ship ever built. The ship eventually crashes into an iceberg and sinks, killing over 1,500, including Jack Dawson, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.

What it’s about after we add a giant animal: There are two ways to go here. First, duh, we just replace the iceberg that the Titanic crashed into with a giant, ocean-based creature. Bang. Done and done. Easy. The only hard decision to be made in this scenario is picking the best big animal. Do you go with a giant octopus? A giant squid? A giant lobster? A giant whale? A giant shark?

An octopus doesn’t have enough personality, so we can throw him out of the running. A squid is basically just an octopus with a pointier head, so he’s out, too. And a giant lobster is ridiculous, so that pick is out. That leaves us with either (a) the Titanic vs. a giant whale, or (b) the Titanic vs. a giant shark. It has to be a shark, right? I mean, whales just aren’t scary enough. An animal has to look mean for this sort of movie to work. That’s why In the Heart of the Sea was such a bummer, even though it absolutely should not have been (it was basically Thor vs. a giant whale, which, at first blush, sounds like a smash).

I mean, whales are big, sure, but they just look too — I don’t know — too philosophical, maybe. A whale is never just a whale, you know what I’m saying? It always represents something else. I don’t want that here. I don’t want a guy watching the movie to look at this giant thing swimming toward the ship and think about his failed relationship with his father or whatever. I want him to look at this giant thing swimming toward the ship and think, "Oh God. So many people are about to die." It’s gotta be a giant shark. It’s just gotta be.

The second way to go is rather than replacing the iceberg with a giant animal, we go back to our fail-safe: We drop a giant snake onto the ship with everyone. The snake gets out after its humongous shipping crate gets smashed to bits when the Titanic crashes into the iceberg, and so now we’ve got not only a sinking ship, but we’ve got a sinking ship that’s being terrorized by a 60-foot rattlesnake.

Verdict: In both of these cases, I think we’re getting a better movie by dropping a giant animal into the mix.