I feel like it’s fair to say that most people know the story of King Kong. Boy meets girl. Boy falls for girl. Giant ape takes girl into jungle. Man saves girl. You know, that story. This is where it all began, however, in the year 1933 with its original release. Studios weren’t too excited about getting this movie made since the executives thought that a story like this wouldn’t make them any money. Directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, on the other hand, were determined to get it made. With two years of their lives dedicated to this movie, audiences both then and now get the pleasure of experiencing one of the most inventive and exciting movies ever made.
Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is a big shot film maker who specializes in traveling to exotic locations to get the most interesting shots imaginable. He finds the beautiful Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on the street and recruits her to come with him and his crew to Skull Island to shoot his most recent film. On the ship ride over Ann meets Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), and they both fall for each other. Once they are on Skull Island, the crew runs into the natives who prompt kidnap Ann and offer her to their god, Kong, a giant gorilla. Jack and the crew lead an escapade to find and reclaim Ann, but Carl has another goal entirely: to capture Kong and bring him back to New York City and make millions off of his prize.
The first thing that I need to touch on is the outrageous special effects that are in King Kong. In Peter Jackson’s version, which I really enjoy despite a run time that is way too long, Kong, the dinosaurs, and a lot of the scenery was done through the usage of computer graphics. In the 1933 version, all of Kong’s movements, the dinosaurs, and the jaw dropping fights that happen between them is all stop motion effects using models that were made and moved by hand. Giant limbs and heads were also built for close ups of Kong that strike me as a little off putting compared to how awesome the full model is. The forest is also all built or drawn and is absolutely mesmerizing. Finally, to make it seem like the actors were actually there during some of the major moments of the film, they would composite the actors in, super impose, use matte shots, or use rear projection. All very difficult, all very time consuming. Now, I don’t want anyone jumping down my throat here. The work put into the computer graphics of Jackson’s King Kong is also remarkable and very difficult. I’m just a bit of a freak for stop motion and puppetry.
While the effects are my favorite part of the movie, I need to touch on the story since it has become a classic tale. The whole idea of a giant ape taking a woman away who is part of a film crew sounds pretty preposterous when put that way, but when you actually see it play out, it’s actually a very touching story. Sure, there’s a lot of action and adventure, but Kong’s character is a very interesting one. He’s an ape who understands beauty and will fight and kill to protect the woman he finds so beautiful. Certainly not a love story in the most traditional of senses, but definitely a deep one. While Kong may seem like the “villain” (and I’m using that word pretty loosely), we find out during the film that mankind is the real “villain.” Denham and his crew want to exploit beauty, but Kong wants to appreciate and cherish it.
The story of how this plot line came to be is pretty remarkable when you stop and think of the history of it. From 1933 to 2005, there has been two other King Kong movies and a sequel, Son of Kong, also from 1933 which didn’t do nearly as well as its predecessor. There was even a Toho produced movie that is wonderfully titled King Kong vs Godzilla. How cool is that? Anyway, back to how the story came to be. According to Merian Cooper, he had a dream that a giant gorilla attacked New York City. From there, he started at the infamous scene on the Empire State Building and worked backwards. So that’s it. The idea for this movie simply came from a dream. Maybe I need to start keeping a dream journal. Food for thought.
Simply put, King Kong is a masterwork of American cinema whose legacy speaks for itself. It has been remade, copied, parodied, but above all, it has been appreciated. Production companies may have been nervous upon its original release, but this is the movie that single handedly saved RKO. I understand that movies from this time period may not be everybody’s cup of tea, however, if you haven’t seen the original King Kong, it is pretty much a must see. The effects, the acting, and the chance to see the story in its original format shouldn’t be missed. If you’ve seen it already, why don’t you watch it again after you’re done reading this? You know you want to…