“I’m going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive – a show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World.”
There are some movies that just stop you in your tracks and demand to be appreciated. When King Kong was being produced back in the early 1930s, Hollywood cinema was still an experimental playground just starting to take a familiar shape. The Academy Awards were only in their 6th year (tragically giving the film not a single nomination), and the only thing remotely similar to King Kong in its scope was The Lost World from 1925, another monster movie in which Willis O’Brien would develop the use of 3D models to create gigantic creatures. He wouldn’t perfect this art, however, until King Kong. This is a movie that I not only overwhelmingly enjoyed, but I was blown away by how innovative and striking every second of the film proves to be.
Robert Armstrong portrays Carl Denham, a famous filmmaker known for his exotic pictures shot on location. He seeks out a leading lady to join his crew for his newest and most ambitious adventure: a voyage to the mysterious Skull Island, rumored to contain dinosaurs and other enormous creatures. When the crew is horrified and amazed by what they find on their journey, Denham and his crew must compromise their own safety with creating a stunning motion picture and potentially bringing these wonders back to the rest of the world. It’s a wondrous adventure filled with epic creatures and exciting turns of fate for its leading characters.
The obvious significance of King Kong is its special effects, and they are well worthy of their reputation. Willis O’Brien has perfected a stop motion style that he literally had to invent for these movies, and the film comes across like a genuine labor of love. Every frame of these iconic scenes had to be modeled in a tedious stop-motion style, but the end result is simply stunning. With a bit of perspective, King Kong becomes one of the most impressive movies ever made. The effects have a sense of charm due to the stop-motion animation, and you can tell that the creative team had a lot of fun on this film. The creatures move in sweeping motions that create an dynamic energy to the film’s frames, and Kong himself holds a presence of greatness so that you really can’t take your eyes off him.
This is also a movie with an iconic narrative: a sweeping tale of adventure that culminates in a triumphant finale. It’s easy to see why the film was (poorly) remade by Peter Jackson in 2005 and has been remade once again with a release date later this year. More than Godzilla or other iconic monster movies, King Kong seems to have the smoothest, most exciting story. The film wisely leaves Skull Island shrouded in mystery, allowing its audience to interpret the conditions that allow these creatures to roam. The movie is also surprisingly focused. If you watched the 2005 version first as I did, you’ll expect a 3 hour slog ripe with unnecessary tedium. However, the original King Kong is only about 90 minutes and feels even shorter. There’s a wonderful sense of pacing where only the highlights, the most exciting bits of the film are included. For this reason, I’ll prefer the 1933 King Kong to the remake any day. I’m not sure of the runtime for the upcoming Kong: Skull Island, but hopefully it learns a lesson from Peter Jackson’s failure and keeps its story brisk.
I’ve been noticing a common thread in films that I’ve enjoyed watching lately, and that thread is artistry. Attention to detail and an ambitious artistic vision is paramount to an innovative film, especially one of this scale. King Kong isn’t just a showcase of some incredible special effects with a beautiful, exciting story; it’s a product of love. Films like this one are striking, inspiring, and push the cinematic medium forward. It’s an American classic, and it’s one that I would highly recommend.
Films Left to Watch: 900