Film Review - Merian C. Cooper's and Ernest B. Schoedsack's "King Kong" (1933)

Fig. 1 - King Kong Movie Poster

“It was beauty killed the beast.” The ever talked about and reproduced “King Kong” directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack in 1933 is one of the most memorable of films to have made cinematic history. The story of “Kong”, the gigantic gorilla inhabited on a remote island far out to sea, was made notable for Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation, Max Steiner's musical score and Fay Wray's performance as the high pitched screaming ‘damsel in distress’.

The story of “King Kong” is relatively easy to follow; a film crew travel to a far off island in search of a mysterious legend of a giant ape inhabiting said island. But upon arrival, the crew happen upon a ritual being performed by the stereotypically portrayed tribesman where they offer the most suitable of the women to “Kong” himself to be his “bride”. The only female among the crew is spotted and perceived to be the perfect offering to this great beast. 

The story then follows the crew’s adventure around the island to save Fay Wray’s character, Ann Darrow. Wray was particularly well known for her nickname, “The Queen of Scream”, as portrayed within the film. The ‘damsel in distress’ trope is a well known one, and some would argue that “King Kong” embodies that, in a way that “Kong” is therefore portrayed as a big brute, and delicate Ann is in need of saving. There seems to be a continuous pattern of constantly having to save the girl within this classic, therefore causing a sense of adventure and excitement. But also causing a stir within today’s audiences. Within the 1930’s it’s assumed that this level of racism and sexism was somewhat the norm. As Mark Chalon Smith had stated, “Beyond its pure escapist value, Kong has been interpreted as a symbol for persecuted blacks and seen as a metaphor for man's destruction of the environment, natural order and other things.”

Fig. 2 - Ann being taken to Kong

Rogert Ebert also pointed out, “Modern viewers will shift uneasily in their seats during the stereotyping of the islanders in a scene where a bride is to be sacrificed to Kong (it is rare to see a coconut brassiere in a non-comedy), but from the moment Kong appears on the screen the movie essentially never stops for breath.”

Fig. 3 - Kong battling the dinosaur

Story-wise, the overall rendition is somewhat charming and compelling, despite the repetitive destruction. Admittedly, there isn’t a moment that doesn’t engage your attention, as the spacing of sequences involves a battle scene involving “Kong” and another creature, back to back. There is definitely plenty of action involved.

And within the 1930’s, this film was the embodiment of how advanced the special effects were for that time. However, times have changed and technology is advancing rapidly. As James Berardinelli has stated, “While the original King Kong still sits upon the throne of our memories, advances in technology and acting have dated aspects of the production.” With the use of live action projection, animatronics and stop motion animation, “King Kong” was able to achieve the main aspect of what directors Cooper and Schoedsack were potentially aiming for. It is no surprise that this would have been quite the spectacle for an individual with a fresh mind towards this form of VFX, but as Laurie Boeder states, “In 1933, no one had ever seen anything as spectacular as King Kong, but the special effects that were groundbreaking in their day seem cartoonishly crude now.”

Fig. 4 - Kong put on display

Although “King Kong” may not be the most technologically advanced piece of cinematic work, it is certainly one to leave an impression on it’s audience. With it’s own original take on the classic tale of “Beauty and the Beast”, this partially melodramatic tale is charming and somewhat captivating. Even if one were to watch it purely for the purpose of it being famous, it is a spectacle to recommend. In a way, “King Kong” really is the “eighth wonder of the world”.

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Bibliography:

Ebert, R. (2002) 'Great Movie: King Kong' In: http://www.rogerebert.com/ 03.02.02 [online] At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-king-kong-1933 (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Boeder, L. 'King Kong - The Original' In: http://classicfilm.about.com/ [online] At: http://classicfilm.about.com/od/earlysciencefiction/fr/King_Kong.htm (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Berardinelli, J 'King Kong' In: http://www.reelviews.net/ [online] At: http://www.reelviews.net/php_review_template.php?identifier=172 (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Smith, M. C. (1991) 'FILM: Everything's Monkey-Dorey in "Kong"' In: http://www.latimes.com/ [online] At: http://articles.latimes.com/1991-10-24/news/ol-253_1_king-kong (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Illustrations:

Figure 1. King Kong Movie Poster (1933) [Poster] At: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f3/Kingkongposter.jpg (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Figure 2. Ann being taken to Kong (1933) [Movie Still] At: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1672578816/tt0024216?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_20 (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Figure 3. Kong battling the dinosaur (1933) [Movie Still] At: http://www.imdb.com/media/rm3103247360/tt0024216?ref_=ttmi_mi_all_sf_2 (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Figure 4. Kong put on display (1933) [Movie Still] At: http://dionwynhughes.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/kong-king-kong-1933.jpg (Accessed on 13.10.14)

Comments

  1. Hi Chelsea!
    Firstly, sorry - your 'Metropolis' review seems to have slipped through the net...I have read it, promise!

    Anyway, back to this one - again, you have put a lot of thought into this review. I was interested to read the quote regarding the use of the black stereotype as a symbol for the persecution of the blacks... I am assuming this is a contemporary reading, so it might have been interesting to dig a little deeper into the change in how the audience perceives certain characters.

    Just one other thing - although you are now introducing your quotes, you have forgotten to reference them afterwards :) You still need the name and date in brackets...oh, and don't forget to italicise them! :D

    Bring on 'A Space Odyssey' !

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