Review: King Kong (1933)

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I am not messing with any giant ape, but then again I also wouldn’t build a giant wall that just so happens to have giant ape sized doors that said giant ape can walk through!

Screenplay By: James Ashmore Creelman, Leon Gordon & Ruth Rose
Directed By: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest B. Schoedsack

Reviewing, or critiquing, King Kong is fairly easy. For all the meaning that can be gleaned form the film, or all the talk that can take place about the stop-motion effects or King Kong’s place in movie history as the first “blockbuster” what watching King Kong boils down to is whether or not you had any fun with it? I did, I had fun from beginning to end, for different reasons of course. In the beginning King Kong is fun because of the far too sappy dialogue and the wooden acting, but then you hit the island and it becomes fun because of the giant ape and his exploits. Fun, who would have thought that could be the driving force behind a movie?

King Kong was innovative in the motion picture industry, and despite the dated nature of the stop-motion animation used in King Kong, it still looks terrific. Yes, young kids who don’t understand the idea of time passing or can’t get any grasp on what was great in 1933 will look at King Kong and laugh. But, that’s when you kindly sock them in the mouth and then turn away like nothing happened, they aren’t your kids after all! Kidding aside, King Kong looks great, the stop-motion is still as alluring today as it was when it was released in 1933 and when I first saw it back in 1989. It is important that people realize how revolutionary the technology employed in King Kong was not just for its time but for the movie industry as a whole. The next time you sit down to watch some special effects laden extravaganza, remember that if not for King Kong you wouldn’t be able to see the wonderful effects of green screen and modern CGI.

There have been a couple of remakes of King Kong, one in 1976 and one in 2005. The most infamous is the 2005 version, because that is the version that managed to get King Kong all wrong. What that film changed was the fast moving nature of the the story and of Kong himself. In the 1933 King Kong, the story moves at a brisk pace and Kong is a force of nature, not meant to be controlled by anyone, including himself. 2005’s King Kong was a laborious event, tedious and drawn out, removing all the fun from the story in favor unnecessary CGI effects, long whimsical camera shots and a story that was so boring that I think a few kids aged ten years due to geriatric inducing boredom while watching the movie. Beyond that, the 2005 King Kong created a Kong that wasn’t a force of nature, but rather was just a giant special effect. King Kong is fun and it is fast, the 1933 version understands that.

King Kong does carry some flaws with it, beginning with the opening overture. I hate overtures and intermezzos with a passion, they are completely useless and serve no purpose at all in cinema. Any movie that employs them is automatically docked a few points in my eyes, so sorry King Kong but you’ve already been staggered right out of the gate. Outside of that there is the stilted nature of the pre-Kong movie with all the wooden acting and clumsy dialogue. There are also the ragdoll people that Kong throws around at various points in the movie, while the rest of the stop-motion works wonderfully, they do not. But, as I said above an engaging, fun and fast story balances out the few flaws contained within King Kong.

I would be remiss in not quickly mentioning the allegories that King Kong does contain in my eyes and the ones that people have attached to King Kong over the years. The allegory I took away from King Kong was that of beauty and the beast and how the beast wasn’t evil, he was just guided by love and mistreated by people he didn’t understand. I believe that line of thinking is essential to liking King Kong, because if you don’t feel sympathy for Kong as he stands defiantly atop the Empire State Building then I don’t think the movie can work for you. Aside from that over the years people have looked at King Kong as a message on the last stand of humanity against modernization as well as the more animal instincts of man in regards to woman. A popular racist allegory has been that of Kong as the black man seeking to dominate the fair haired white woman and how society rightly destroys Kong, the black man, for his defilement of the pure white woman. I don’t share that view, but like any allegory it is there if you look hard enough.

At the end of the day King Kong remains a classic and it is still one of the best blockbusters the movie business has ever seen. Fun combined with a sense of grandeur still permeates King Kong to this day, and while others have tried to one up the 1933 version, nothing beats the original. If you want a lesson on film history and want to have some fun at the same time then you can’t go wrong with King Kong.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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7 responses to “Review: King Kong (1933)

  1. Hi there, I’m trying to find a good pic of the face of the original 1933 King Kong to use as reference for a Potrait painting I want to do . The one at the begining on this blog is pretty good but I’m afraid i need to get a slightly better resolution image.
    Can I ask you where this image come from? Many thanks, Isabel

  2. It was taken by my brother, a screenshot from an old DVD he had of the movie. We don’t have the DVD anymore though, sorry.

  3. I would take it easy with your anti-overture crusade. In spite of your negative attitude, they served a very useful function. For “prestige” films, the overture was a device to give people time to get into their seats so that they wouldn’t come in late and disturb people who were trying to enjoy the picture. The better overtures (like Kong, and the ultimate one being Gone with the Wind) gave you a nice “Reader’s Digest” summary of the best melodies and themes of the movie, so you could record it as a keeper if you didn’t want to hear the whole soundtrack.

  4. That’s all fine and dandy, and if other people like them or find them useful then I’m not going to quibble with that. For me personally arriving late would never be a problem, and if it was I would have no one but myself to blame, hence an overture shouldn’t make up for my lack of planning. As for the second part I don’t feel that counters the padding out effect that overtures have on movies, I’m not a fan of filler for the sake of filler, and for me that is what overtures end up being.

  5. My grandfather, Buck walters, was the stunt man who carried Faye Raye down the cliff on his back. He was also a camera man for MGM and a great friend of Jerry Lewis.

  6. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Horror Bonanza! | Bill's Movie Emporium

  7. That’s great to hear Kris, sounds like he had a pretty interesting life.

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