King Kong is a staple of monster movie history; that 25 foot ape has been rampant on our screens for over 80 years, often with Ann Darrow, sometimes with Godzilla, once with Jeff Bridges. Yet another adaptation is hitting our screens this week with Kong: Skull Island, starring Brie Larson and Tom Hiddlestone, so what better time to revisit a couple of Kong’s most popular films. First, let’s take a look at where it all started, all the way back in 1933 with the ape’s debut.
Whilst I doubt there’s any of you out there who doesn’t already know the story, I will say now that there will be spoilers, just in case.
So yes, the story is one that pretty much everyone knows, at least, every film buff knows; Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is an adventurous filmmaker, setting sail for a mysterious island to shoot his latest picture. With lead actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), they come face to face with Kong, who takes Ann, thus leading the crew on a adventure to get her back.
It’s not a question of whether or not King Kong is a good film; of course it is, especially for it’s time. It’s a question of whether or not it holds up, and that is debatable. There’s still a lot that’s quite clearly good, such as the performances, cinematography, and special effects. But sadly, the film is a tad dated. The plot and characters feel thin, and the dialogue especially dates it to the 30s, with all the “Oh we can’t have a woman on board, women are just nuisances, no place for a woman on this ship” Okay, women are terrible, we get it, but this was par for the course in this time. In fact, that statement applies to every questionable aspect of the film; what doesn’t hold up now was fantastic in 1933, and that’s why this film is hard to criticise. Looking beyond things like that, there aren’t really any internal flaws as such, or anything wrong with it on a film making level. Even if the story and characters aren’t fleshed out enough, that’s just how films were made back then. So it can be a little difficult to watch, but there’s really nothing wrong with it. Well, I say that…Kong’s face is impossible to take seriously. The ape is something to marvel at, with the stop motion technique being used extremely well, and all the far shots are great to look at, but the close ups…It strips the character of any terror or dominance.
So the film’s watch-ability today can be damaged with some of it’s dated material, and some of it can be damaged by context. If someone today watches it for the first time, it’s almost certain that they already know the “It wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast” line, and so the set up for that dialogue will come off as bad exposition or foreshadowing, when in reality that’s not the case. Or it may be that the romantic subtext of the story is definitely underplayed in comparison to how other adaptations have gone about it. It’s not as obvious as, say, Peter Jackson’s version, but it’s definitely there from Kong’s perspective and does feel real, especially adding poignancy to the film’s iconic conclusion. That whole climax is masterful; there’s just something about watching film history in front of your eyes, a sensation that’s frankly unmatched. To see where it all started is just wonderful.
While King Kong may not hold up as well today, there’s no denying it’s place in the world of film, and ultimately is a film that you’ll appreciate more than you’ll enjoy, but that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Next, we’ll be having a look at Peter Jackson’s 2005 interpretation. Boy, is there a lot to talk about there…
Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now