Thursday, February 28, 2013

King Kong Released March 2, 1933

I don't remember a time in my life where I didn't generally like the concept of King Kong.  One of the books I remember best from about the age of 4 or 5 was a story book of King Kong, based on the 1933 film with nice illustrations, that my folks read to me.  In the way things are when you're a kid, I just knew who King Kong was, already.  I knew he'd climbed buildings and wreaked havoc, but not much else.

if Kong can make it over there, he can make it anywhere...!

I saw the 1970's Jessica Lange/ Jeff Bridges/ Charles Grodin version on TV around 1st grade, right up until Kong was walking through New York and stepped on some people and, I still recall, me freaking out a little.

By the mid-80's, my folks dropped me and Jason and someone else (I think our own Matt A.) off at Showplace 6 to go see King Kong Lives.  If you've not see it, and I haven't since a brief cable run shortly after it was in the theater, it was amazing.  Oddly, it never really took off as a fan favorite.  It does star a young Linda Hamilton.

One evening when I was in high school AMC finally ran the original, and I taped it in glorious VHS and then watched it, like, three times.  If I liked King Kong as an idea before, I adored the original movie.

If you've never seen it, it's an amazing technical masterpiece for the time.  The stop-motion animation and miniatures are terrifically seamless with the practical sets and actors, the puppetry for Kong manages to create a true character, and the entire Empire State Building Sequence is just truly a remarkable feat.

It's also a terrific adventure film.  Steamships headed to places unknown, a jaunty crew, a mysterious island that turns out to be filled with dinosaurs, monsters and a crazy huge wall...  And then they take the biggest, meanest and orneriest of the creatures back to Manhattan?  And it gets out?  Yeah, that's worth the price of admission.

At 80 years old and in an age where movies and TV use massive computers to alter every pixel of a movie frame, it may be hard to appreciate the craftsmanship of what could be seen as a primitive bit of FX in Kong.  If I genuinely thought all those modern FX equated to better storytelling, I might be persuaded to agree.  It's hard to convince a modern world full of people who can make a movie on their phone with kick ass CGI and FX that maybe the work and craftsmanship that went into Kong ended up maybe telling a pretty great story because it was painstakingly difficult.

For Christmas 2005, Peter Jackson created a whole new King Kong movie that arrived as a bloated, self-indulgent mess that was a harbinger of what was to come with this Christmas's Hobbit: Part 1.  Jackson let the possibility of the FX get in the way of what maybe should have been better storytelling, and failing to recognize that Kong, supposedly his favorite movie, was a sleek, trimmed down narrative that ran about 80 minutes for a reason.

On the other side, it did have the only version of Kong that suggested that anyone working on he movie had ever seen an actual gorilla.

Yes, like most movies, King Kong reflects the nature of its time and wears the pulp-inspired influences on its sleeve.  It has serious issues regarding race, gender and humane treatment of (giant) animals.  The portrayal of the natives isn't exactly progressive, and Ann Darrow's role of "the girl" is exactly spelled out as such by the lead males.

But for my dollar, it's a rollicking good time, and it's a movie I like to return to again and again, and a film that seems to merit revisiting.  Which:  it's only a handful of movies that seem to bring new vocabulary to the popular consciousness, and the name of Kong and the associated imagery of giant apes in the city, of quick quips you can make at a big lugs' expense...  Despite the fact most people haven't seen the movie, we all know what we're talking about when it comes to Kong.

Here's to 80 years of the 8th Wonder of the World and King of Skull Island, Kong.


Matt A. said...

Kong pt 2 - I've recently seen some excerpts of it, and it looks vaguely familiar, so that could have been me there.

I, too, have always loved Kong. One thing that always irks me - one of many, and this this one more that others - these remakes always leave out the best line of the original - "It was beauty that killed the beast." Maybe modern sensibilities consider this too ham-fisted, but it always puts a smile on my face when I see the original.

Also, I agree that Peter Jackson at least has seen a gorilla.

Jake Shore said...

Yeah. One of my all time favorites; so much fun, especially now that I get to watch it with my two boys, who love it (and Creature from the Black Lagoon). Do you remember those old orange Crestwood monsters series books? I used to check these out constantly from the public library as a kid.

The new one is a mess, although Naomi Watts and Kong were great. I don't have any desire to go back and watch it. I will admit however, it was a great theater experience the first time I saw it.

The League said...

I liked it okay the first time, too, and caught it later on cable and changed my opinion, too. It was a big, fancy movie and I really wanted to like it, and it has some great bits and FX, but it's so, so bloated.

I don't think I ever got my hands on the books you're talking about, but they look amazing! You need to talk to Stuart, as he's a HUGE Black Lagoon fan and I am only a junior-level Creature fan.