King Kong (1933)

I felt like I should include the year with today's movie, because there are quite a few versions. You've got your 1970's King Kong with Jeff Bridges, who looks exactly like my friend Barry. Then you've got the 2005 why-did-this-happen Peter Jackson version. This one is the classic, the 1933 version with Fay Wray, co-directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. I haven't seen this movie in a long time, and it was fun to watch it again. It actually made me hate the Peter Jackson version a little less, because I saw what a straight remake it actually was. Can you believe I forgot there were so many dinosaurs in the 1933 film?

It was great to see this movie after so long, and it was fun to watch it with my family. It's hard to not love King Kong, especially because we have it to thank for every exciting creature-based movie ever, like Jurassic Park, Jumanji, Alien(s) and other such classic films.The special effects are clearly dated, but I thought they were really impressive. I'm also dumb, and often forget what sort of technology there was in 1933, so I did sort of just gape at this movie and thought it was all quite good.
I hope that you know the plot, from at least one of these versions. A group of filmmakers go to an island to film some junk, and end up finding dinosaurs and a giant gorilla, King Kong. The natives in the area steal the film's leading lady and donate her to Kong. The group then tries to rescue her, fighting off what I thought were peaceful dinosaurs. They get her back, and capture Kong to take back to New York as a freak show, basically. Of course, he escapes from his chains, scoops up the cute blonde, and heads up the Empire State building. There, he is tragically gunned down by planes, and the director of the film muses, "It was Beauty killed the Beast."

I think the special effects are always sort of the focus of discussion in films like this, since it's really the point to the whole movie. It obviously looks dated - the screen effects are really obvious, the claymation is not too slick, but something is still interesting about it. I was actually a little grossed out during the scene where Kong breaks the jaw of a T-Rex, and blood starts oozing out. It felt sort of...I don't know, not real, but eerie, because you could tell the model was gripping onto an actual thing. Then, later, some of the men walk by the T-Rex, and it's still breathing slightly, and blood is still oozing out of it's broken mouth. It's creepy, and sort of unnerving. Ebert mentions something else I liked - the odd moving hair on Kong. It was just being mused up between shots, but it gives him a creepy, life-like feeling, or at least a sense that something strange is going on with the model. Maybe it's just me, but I have a little place in my heart for these sort of effects, since they still sort of work.

Ebert has a great little fact about the special effects. He writes, "The visual techniques are explained by film historian Ron Haver, whose commentary track on the 1985 Criterion laser disc was one of the first ever recorded. He is amusing in describing how some live-action scenes were miniaturized to make the Kong model look larger; searching for the right screen to project them on, the filmmakers hit on a screen made of condoms, to the consternation of a nearby druggist who could not understand their orders for a gross at a time" (Great Movies II, 230). I thought I had heard every little Kong tidbit imaginable from my dad, but I never heard this story! It's pretty great, I had to share. :)

King Kong is different than other special effects-based movies, though, because it has a good message. I like that Kong isn't just a mindless killing machine. He is out of his element and his domain, and viewers understand that and feel bad for him. He never hurts the girl he captures, although he is sort of pervy with her - but no harm is done, except for, yunno, emotionally. He protects her from some nasty dinos, and seems like he tries to keep her out of harms way. Then, when he's taken to New York, you just feel bad for him, chained up and confused and scared and stuff. Well, I feel bad for him, at least. It's good to have some emotion mixed into the story, since sometimes movies like this really don't have too much of that.

Overall, it was really fun to re-watch this. It had been a long time since anyone I know saw it last, and it was sort of interesting to all of us to view it again. Sure, it's a little dated, but I still like it. It's sort of charming and creepy at the same time. If you haven't seen it for a while, it's worth checking out again!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on King Kong
Buy or rent it on Amazon
Also, just because - 
This is Barry.

This is Jeff Bridges.

The Last Laugh

Kind Hearts and Coronets