Sunday, October 5, 2014

Family Movie Night: King Kong

Title: King Kong
Directors: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Original Release: 1933
Choice: Mine
My Overall Rating: 3 stars out of 5
via Wikipedia
Obviously, the original King Kong feels awfully dated 81 years after it was released.  The special effects have been outmoded several times over.  To say the portrayal of women and Africans is problematic is putting it mildly.  Even so, it's a must-see for any fan of science fiction.  King Kong is cinema's Frankenstein, the film that spawned entire genres in both story and presentation.  The movie has been remade twice - in 1976 and 2005 - and that doesn't include the Godzilla, Jurassic Park and numerous other monster franchises that were created in imitation.


Filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) has hired a ship to take his crew to the tropics for yet another exotic adventure film.  All he lacks is a leading lady.  He hits the streets, confident of finding a down-on-her-luck beauty for his picture.  Thankfully, he finds Ann Darrow (Fay Wray: best movie star name ever).  Ann jumps at the chance.  Life was so much simpler in the 1930s...

On Skull Island, they meet King Kong, an enormous, terrifying gorilla who takes an immediate shine to Ann.  He steals her away to his cave, fending off numerous hungry dinosaurs by essentially wrenching their heads open at the jaw - yick!   Eventually, the giant ape is subdued and dragged onto the ship, to be a centerpiece of a live show in New York.

I had seen this movie before, yet somehow I'd forgotten all about the dinosaurs.  The iconic image of the story is Kong atop the Empire State Building swatting at biplanes but the final New York portion of the movie only lasts about 20 minutes.  Most of the action takes place on the island and the lizards are just as spectacular as the ape.  My pal Maurice Mitchell recently featured the movie's beautiful concept art on his blog, Film Sketcher.

In addition to the stunning visuals, Kong is also famous for its classic musical score, composed by Max Steiner, previously featured here for his work on Gone with the WindKong put Steiner on the Hollywood map.  He would eventually compose over 300 film scores, garnering 3 Oscars and 24 nominations.  Actor/musician Oscar Levant went so far as to call Kong "a symphony accompanied by a movie."  Originally, RKO didn't even want to pay for a new score, simply wanting Steiner to cobble together music from other films.  But Cooper paid Steiner for an original work out of his own pocket (later reimbursed).

*****

My Rating System:

5 = The best of the best.  These are the films by which I judge other films.
4 = High quality films which I feel could hold up well in repeated viewings.
3 = The vast majority of films.  They're fine.  Once was enough.
2 = I wasn't even sure I wanted to finish it.  It's not a 1 because I'm not prepared to say it's a terrible film - just not my cup of tea.
1 = A terrible film.  An insult to the art form.

26 comments:

  1. I enjoyed reading this. It's hard to review a ground-breaker, and setting parameters is hard. In this case, I agree with the review - and I find the areas in which KING KONG influenced movie-making very interesting. (Max Steiner, e.g.) Well put! (I'm also enjoying the Star Trek reviews)

    Diana

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  2. Squid, this post needed posting. You did good! Yes, there were remakes and pastiches of the old original and they were very high tech and all but they never equaled the freshness and appropriateness of the '33 film. Policeman: [talking into a police call box] "Send the riot squad and ambulances! Kong has escaped!" in rapid-fire 1930's New York English. In respectful disagreement with (character) Carl Denham, it was neither airplanes nor beauty killed the beast. It was sequels.

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    1. Ha! Well played, sir.

      The movie is still beautiful in its way.

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  3. I love watching the older movies like this. I can appreciate all the early hard work that when into movies like this.
    Plus all the movies that followed with all the lizards with glued on spines that stood in for creatures of the past.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. One definitely appreciates the hard work. No CGI, all that stop-motion animation had to be done by hand. It's a far cry from Wallace & Gromit but it all had to start somewhere.

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  4. It's got to be better than the Peter Jackson indulgence that was the 2005 remake.

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    1. I've never seen the Peter Jackson remake but if reviews are to be believed, it seems most would agree with you.

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  5. The King Kong plot was and is a good one, so it would definitely hold up to the test of time, but the snippets of life in 1933 that creep in are interesting, too. You hit the nail on the head with the portrayals of women, etc.

    The 1976 remake with Jessica Lange wasn't so bad, but I haven't seen it in a while and I'm noticing that I tend to remember things better or worse than they actually were at the time. The 2005 remake was a stinker, I thought.

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    1. I haven't seen the '76 movie either. I don't know if I admire the original enough to interest me in the remakes but you never know. It could be a good binge evening sometime.

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  6. The movie does have stunning visuals, but probably doesn't hold up after all these years. It's a classic though.

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    1. All those effects had to start somewhere, though, right? Like Star Wars, it was a movie that clued everyone in to what was possible in film.

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  7. I haven't seen it since I was a kid. I should probably give it another viewing.

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  8. I don't recall ever seeing the original King Kong. Definitely curious! I can imagine the special effects aren't that special now. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. It's fun to watch and ponder the creative explorations in an earlier era of cinema.

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  9. Neat. Looks like a great movie.

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  10. Sounds like a great movie, thanks for sharing about it!

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  11. So many different versions. When I think about "the original Godzilla," I always assume it means the one with Jessica Lange! Nope, not at all. I do recall getting 3-D glasses at 7-Eleven when I was a kid because they were airing King Kong on TV (with Jessica Lange) and they said it would be in 3-D.

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    1. 3-D glasses at 7-Eleven... those were the days.

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  12. I haven't seen this movie or the remakes. I need to change that.

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  13. I like your assesment of this film. I have a soft spot for classic to begin with, so I'm tend to put sci-fi classics on pedestals. There are issues witht this film from a cultural stand point, but appreciate as a sign of how far we've come in so many areas. Good review.

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    1. If one loves the genre, King Kong is essential viewing. Even CGI had to have something to build upon.

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