On this day ten years ago, Peter Jackson’s King Kong hit theaters. It was the director’s first film since the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which garnered widespread critical acclaim, tons of awards, and box office revenue that can only be calculated in the billions. Expectations were high and people were fascinated with the thought of Jackson taking on the giant ape, whose first appearance dated back to 1933.
In order to discuss the remake (which is the second time the giant ape has been rebooted, first in 1976), I feel that it’s important to go back to the original and talk a bit about why the film is so important and still commands such a grip on audiences.
If you haven’t read about Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Shoedsack’s King Kong, I highly suggest finding some material. The techniques used in creating the film are widely considered to be some of the most astonishing and important advancements in cinema to this day. Allow me to give a few examples.
When it came to mixing real life footage with stop motion, that was a tall order back in the day. After all, how can you make it seem like Fay Wray is moving naturally while stop motion animators have to move a “25ft gorilla”? Well, one of the ways they did some of those scenes was through the use of mini projector screens. The special effects team took footage of the actors doing their thing (basically wildly gesticulating and shrieking in horror) and would project one frame onto a mini screen that was placed in the stop motion set. Then, when Kong was moved for the next frame, they also clicked the projector forward one frame, making it seem like both movements were happening at the same time. Over and over again, they did this so that the final product could be played at regular speed and seem like all the action was taking place at the same time in the same world.
Additionally, the original was known for its magnificent score by composer Max Steiner. One of the great tricks he used is known as “Mickey Mousing”, a technique by which the music matches the events and actions occurring on screen. A perfect example is when Kong is scaling the Empire State Building in New York after his escape and the music raises along with each level that he climbs. Or when the planes are shooting at him and they’re spiraling downwards, the music does the same thing.
These are only two examples of the creative majesty of the 1933 King Kong, a film that was placed in the National Film Registry and was labelled as being “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress (thanks Wiki). My recommendation is to find some literature about this movie and really read into it, especially for anyone out there who is an aspiring or even currently working filmmaker. It is considered by many, and rightfully so, to be a crowning achievement in cinema and everyone should watch it at some point in their life.
Coming to 2005’s version, I’ll fully admit that I find it to be a flawed movie. It had a lot going for it, including some of the most impressive (at the time) CGI effects ever seen on film and a cast of very notable and acclaimed stars. Additionally, they got the master of motion capture work, Andy Serkis, to portray the titular creature, which gave Kong a depth and personality that wouldn’t have otherwise been achieved.
Jackon’s King Kong was a commercial success, drawing in over half a billion dollars in worldwide box office on a $200+ million budget. It also generated over $100 million in home video sales, basically making sure that everyone and their mother had a copy on their shelf.
On top of being a commercial success, many outlets also heaped praise upon it and the film took home three Academy Awards (Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing, and Best Visual Effects), each of which were well deserved. It was also considered by many to be one of the Top 10 films of the year.
However, many complained about the uneven pacing and the somewhat bloated running time, which was nearly twice as long as the original film. It felt like Jackson was trying to create an epic film that took everything from the original and amplified it to new highs. But what I felt was lost in translation was that sense of magic, that wonder that comes with watching something beautiful and awe inspiring.
I enjoyed the film when it came out and I recognize that it was a passion project for Jackson, a film that he wanted to make out of sheer love for the property. And what’s not to love? It’s a magnificent story, one that shows that appearances can be deceiving, that there are things humanity should simple not meddle in, and that we shouldn’t immediately fear that which we don’t understand.
I think that’s why there is a push for new Kong movies. The messages these movies produce are rather timeless and seem to be applicable with each generation. As for Kong battling Godzilla, that’s just going to be badass. No other reason needed.
What are your thoughts on Jackson’s King Kong? Let me know in the comments if you’re a fan, a hater, or, like me, someone who was more in the middle.