Film Reviews:

King Kong

(Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, US, 1933)

[King Kong poster] As I write this it is early 2005. This film is now seventy-two, yes 72, years old. Even allowing for its age this is still an astonishing film. The script provides the definitive textbook on adventure yarn filmmaking. Its impossible to overstate the influence this has had on filmmaking in the decades that have followed its original release. It resonates in everything from 1950 monster b-movies, through to contemporary Holywood fare. It transcends genres to become the ultimate piece of adventure film entertainment.

The plot revolves around a film director (Robert Armstrong) who sets up an expedition to a remote island, looking for a legendary monster to star in his next movie. The exploration team includes an heroic adventurer and a glamorous young actress (Fay Wray). They discover a lost island that is inhabited both by an ancient tribe and giant animals, king of which is a giant gorilla the showman christens King Kong - the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Technically, the film is brilliant. I've been a fan of stop-motion animation ever since I first witnessed the technique, and the pioneer work here led by Willis O'Brien was where I first saw it in action. I forget just how young I was, but I recall finding it impossible to understand how the Kong special effects were achieved. This only added to the air of believability and therefore awe and terror. Although inevitably dated, the effects are still a staggering achievement in this modern age of seamless CGI. Although running more than 90 minutes, the plot remains tight and to the point throughout - something the vast majority of genre entries today could learn a lot from. Then there is the whole weird sub-plot of first a giant gorilla falling in love with a woman who, in turn, then feels at least emotionally attached to the beast in the final reels. Though perhaps most risque is the entire sequence where Fay Wray is tied to a post - complete with skimpy outfit (and coconut shell bra) - supposedly as a sacrifice to Kong. Although, when Kong removes some of her clothes, tickles her and then sniffs his fingers (!) - it is impossible not to see the sexual subtext in this and other scenes. Just what the censors at the time must have made of this boggles the mind.

It is difficult today to imagine what kind of impact this film must have had on audiences in 1933. Even when it was reissued during the 1950s it still scared audiences. When I saw it, before I hit double figures in the 1970s, it still spooked me out. If King Kong owes anything to any other film then it can only be to the (silent) The Lost World from 1925, about dinosaurs being discovered on a remote island by (Conan Doyle's) Professor Challenger. Followed quickly the same year by the much-forgotten Son of Kong, remade in 1976 and, of course, currently being remade by Peter (Lord of The Rings) Jackson. 9/10

Rob Dyer (February 2005)

See also:

Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, The
Jason and the Argonaughts
Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Jurassic Park I, II, III
King Dinosaur
King Kong (1976)
King Kong Lives
King Kong Strikes Again
King Kong vs Godzilla
Kong Island
Lost World, The
Land Unknown, The
Mighty Joe Young
Mighty Gorga, The
Mysterious Island
One Million B.C.
One Million Years B.C.
Planet of the Dinosaurs
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Son of Kong
Tarzan and King Kong
Valley of the Gwangi
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth

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