Imagine a boy. Eight, maybe nine years old, not quite old enough to really understand the world but old enough to know that there’s something beyond the front door. He has his toybox overturned and is holding an action figure in both of his hands. One of them is a plastic monkey his dad bought in a garage sale, the other a dinosaur which he got at some fast food restaurant. He makes them exchange grunted threats. Maybe he stole his sisters barbie to give them a reason to fight over. When he’s done having them talk trash to each other, they run at each other and their mighty bodies collide. He smacks their unmoving plastic bodies against each other. The arm of the dinosaur break off. What this boy is experiencing it nothing less then the greatest showdown in all of history. And that is what King Kong is the cinematic equivalent of.
The movie starts off with film director Carl Denham who decides to go to an island and shoot a movie. He can’t find an actress, so he goes out and just picks one off of the streets. And away they go. The scenes on the ship, which make up the first half hour of the movie, are clearly shot on a soundstage and feature some of the most transparently expositional dialogue ever. But instead of it becoming annoying, it gives the movies a certain charming naivety, which is great to watch.
The actors are so clearly reciting their (godawful) lines it’s like watching the most awesome high school play ever. So they arrive on the island, are attacked by the natives, and then a giant monkey messes up everybody’s shit. Alright, this is what we came here for! Kong is made by a combination of different special effects and still looks great today. The effects don’t look anywhere near realistic, but they’re great fun and very cleverly done. The movie really doesn’t mess around after Kong is introduced: almost the entire time he is onscreen he is either killing something or celebrating his latest kill by pounding his chest. He reminded me a little of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
This movie was released way back in 1933, and has since become one of the most iconic movies of all time. Kong and Fay Wray on the Empire State Building is one of those images that everybody recognizes, whether they like movies or not. So when I sat down to watch it I really didn’t expect it to be this much goofy fun. Why this is still listed as a horror movie on IMDb is beyond me: there is absolutely nothing scary about the film. I can imagine this being a shocker to a 1930′s audience, but as time went on it has transformed into a completely different movie. Which is probably the best thing that could have happened to it: many films of the era tend to feel melodramatic and slow, but Kong still moves at a brisk and light-hearted pace. Not many movies of almost 80 years old can pull that off. Hell, not many people of 80 can pull that off.
You might have seen the 2005 remake of this movie, and it’s interesting how completely different they are when they follow the same story so closely. Much of this has to do with the characters: Naomi Watts plays a down-on-her-luck Vaudeville actress who gets a strong emotional connection with Kong in the remake, Fay Wray plays Fay Wray minus anything resembling a personality in the original. Jack Black played a slithery, manipulative filmmaker who was obsessed with power, Robert Armstrong plays a filmmaker who just sort of decides that faraway islands are neat. But it’s mostly an issue of tone. The remake was an impressive action film, which I actually found rather touching. The original is, in essence, a movie about a giant monkey who punches a dinosaur in the face. And that is something I can wholeheartedly get behind.
Have you seen this movie? What were your thoughts on it? Let it be known in the comments!