King Kong (1933)

Posted by on Dec 12, 2011 in Scary | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: A giant ape strips off a woman’s clothes like peeling a banana and swats human lives away like flies.

What The Jazz Singer did for talking in films, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did for animation, The 400 Blows did for independent auteurs, and Citizen Kane did for filmmaking in general, King Kong did for special effects and blockbusters. Though it may look ridiculous and aged to some, King Kong revolutionized filmmaking and still has the power to scare viewers. It would be hard to imagine the likes of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Jim Henson, and Peter Jackson (just to name a few) succeeding without the ingenious awe of Kong.

The story is ridiculously simple. Kong1A thrill-seeking director Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) and his crew pile on an ocean liner for his next filmic adventure. Before he leaves, at the behest of “romantic” viewers, Denham combs the streets of New York for a female lead, which he finds in the pathetic and oft-screaming Ann Darow (Fay Wray). For the better part of an hour, people buzz about Denham’s crazy idea of capturing Kong, a god-like figure for aboriginal tribes in the Pacific, on film.

“Listen, I’m going out to make the greatest picture in the world,” Denham says. “Something that you’ve never seen nor heard of.”

After far too much awful acting, perhaps due to the recent wake of silent films and a couple B-list stars, the group finally arrives at Skull Island. After they meet up with less-than-kind natives, who many audiences will scoff at due to their crude and savage portrayal, they scurry back to their ship to begin filming the next day. During their leave, however, the natives take notice of Darrow and capture her as a gift to Kong, who they keep at bay behind a massive gate. From there on in, the film becomes a chase by Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) to retrieve the beauty, while Denham tries to capture the beast, which he hopes to exploit in New York to his eventual dismay. In between the chases, however, are a half-dozen fight scenes between Kong and prehistoric creatures to protect Darrow.

Directors Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack use every trick in Willis O’Brien’s effects repertoire (projection, stop-motion animation, models, and paintings – all combined with live action) to create the unbelievable visual spectacle. The visuals pay off not only for being one-of-a-kind at the time, but for portraying what seem to be genuine movements from Kong and the various other creatures. The suspense, no matter the level of disbelief, remains in tact nearly a century after its release.

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Meanwhile, the filmmakers sprinkle in a non-traditional romance story as Kong cares for and falls in love with his gift, which culminates in the classic line, “It wasn’t airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast.” There has been much discussion regarding the implications of this romance, not for being animal and woman, but for interracial implications. I won’t delve into that here, but it’s an interesting debate worth having on your own.

The film shocked audiences, grossed a then-record $90,000 in its opening weekend, supposedly saved RKO from bankruptcy, led to countless reverberations in film (Jurassic Park 2: The Lost World nearly remakes Kong, while the first chapter references it heavily, and both The Goonies and Young Frankenstein make comic references), not to mention several awful remakes.

To most ignorant audiences, King Kong is aged in almost every sense of the word (technology, effects, acting, gender/race relationships, you name it). But Kong is not aged in the one category that should matter most – entertainment. Do yourself, and your kids, a favor: check out this imaginative adventure and pass up on Peter Jackson’s gaudy remake that may have “better” effects, but lacks the magic of this timeless (and thankfully restored) original.

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