Anniversary Post: the First King Kong

King Kong 1933Given the coming morning music, it is a delight to announce at on this day in 1933, King Kong premiered at Radio City Music Hall. Something did indeed go wrong for Fay Wray and King Kong. But here’s the thing: I own all three versions of King Kong. That first one holds up pretty damned well. But it is a very silly film. What the hell is going on at that island? Dinosaurs and a really big gorilla? Think about it. If you knew nothing of film history and someone pitched this idea to you, you would think that Plan 9 From Outer Space was a better idea.

It’s amazing to compare the 1933 King Kong to the 1976 version. The problem isn’t just that they took a really silly classic and decided to treat it seriously. The truth is that the film technology really hadn’t gotten any better in the four decades between the two. If you haven’t watched the films much, you probably think of the big battle on top of the tall buildings. This is because those are the scenes that people show. But if you watch both films all the way through, what you most take away is King Kong mooning over Ann (or, inexplicably, Dwan, in the 1976 version). I just want to smack that stupid ape. I mean Fay Wray and Jessica Lange are pretty enough, but come on!

I seem to be alone in thinking that Peter Jackson’s 2005 version is a cinematic masterpiece. I don’t mean that people dislike it. Pretty much everyone I know liked it quite a lot. But they don’t seem to recognize that it is exactly the film that everyone wanted to make but couldn’t. And yes: there are problems. There are times when the CG is notable. But this is more than compensated for Walsh and Boyens’ densely packed Great Depression setting. And the re-rendering of Carl Denham is brilliant, because let’s face it: the “good guy” in the 1933 film would never have done what he does at the end of the film. But Jack Black’s Denham would absolutely have done that.

It’s such a great film, I think I’m going to go watch it right now. And not just any version, either. I’m talking the special three and a half hour version. Although, I’ll be honest: I may skip the insect pit. It’s hard for me to watch Lumpy die that way.

But each version has it’s advantages. The 1933 version was an amazing achievement for its time. And the 1976 version showed that Jeff Bridges really is at his best when selling cars.

Afterword: King Kong Remakes

I like this video comparison. I don’t fully agree with it. It suffers from my typical complaint of critics. The worst he has to say of the original is that it is dated, which is not really a criticism but an objective fact. And his complaints about the 2005 version are made up. He’s decided that one level of excess (1933) is perfect and another (2005) is not. But in the end, he’s right: you should watch the 1933 King Kong because it is cinema history. You probably shouldn’t watch the 1976 version, unless you are like me and you like dorky films. And you should watch the 2005 version because it is great. And I’ll bet you anything that you cry at the end.

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: the First King Kong

  1. Just because I happened to read it recently!

    These considerations also explain why there could never be a King Kong, a gorilla ten times the height of a normal gorilla but proportionally shaped and made out of the same “gorilla stuff.” If such a super gorilla were ten times as tall as a normal one, it would be 1,000 or 10**3 times the weight, since weight, like volume, scales up with the cube of the scaling factor. Thus if a normal gorilla weighs 400 pounds, King Kong would weigh 400,000 pounds, much too much for even the enlarged cross-section of its legs and spine to support. King Kong would need immediate hip and knee replacements.

    from A Numerate Life by John Allen Paulos.

    • There are other aspects too like heat regulation. It’s always fun to apply science to films. But pointless. That’s one of my favorite parts of old science fiction films: the part where the writer tries to justify the silliness that will follow — like anyone cares.

      My biggest problem with the 2005 King Kong is that it is so real, I feel certain that Kong would have crushed Ann many times. I mean, come on! He doesn’t have that kind of fine motor control!

  2. Hah! This jamook obviously knows nothing about King Kong. Kong was all stainless steel ball joints in there. No replacements needed!

    One of the problems I have with Jackson’s Kong is that they just made him a big gorilla instead of some unknown species of pongoid. But I could forgive that if they’d only shown him repeatedly crushing Jack Black. Remember that sequence where original Kong squishes some unlucky native into the mud? Like that. Maybe some chomping, too.

    I’m with you about the drive-in fodder. My favorite bits were always where some guy in a labcoat strolls up to the chalkboard and gets to explaining the pseudoscience. I like origin stories too. Sadly, it seems these days most people just want to get to the noisy parts.

    • Yeah, that’s a problem. It’s like in The Matrix. I loved the action scenes, but even better was all the Eastern philosophy stuff. It was fun. That was mostly lost in the Reloaded. We got more of it in Revolutions. But those were sequels that should not have been made.

      But think of something like Videodrome: nothing is really explained. And if you tried to explain it, well, it would be stupid.

      There are some scenes in the 2005 King Kong that make up for any complaint any person could ever make. The first is when Ann is doing her act for Kong and he starts pushing her over. She yells at him to stop and he has a fit and then gets hit on the head with some rocks. That’s just too great. The second is the ice skating scene, which is so beautiful. Although I’ll admit, it is one of the movies that I’d like to make my own cut of. I don’t care that much for the action sequences. Another is Pirates of the Caribbean. In that case, I’d cut some of the deleted scenes back in. They are some of my favorite. But also: I’d cut out a lot of Orlando Bloom, because every movie could stand to have less Orlando Bloom.

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