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Monday, May 12, 2014

Review: KING KONG (1933)

My son and I recently finished up the list of nearly 90 movies on our BIG LIST and are now working on the "Inspiration List" ... the inspiration for Godzilla, of course.

Today's movie is King Kong (1933).

My son will go first:
(NOTE: The first version I saw was an edited version where the movie starts when the boat is at sea and near the island, but the King Kong original movie is the one we saw today, so then I got real sad because I thought the edited one was better) 
The reason we're watching this now is because this inspired the movie Gojira, one of my favorites. The story is a movie director want an outstanding movie with an island and a cute lady. The only bad part is that the island has mad islanders, Dinosaurs, A mountain of a skull, and a Gigantic Gorilla named King Kong, they capture King Kong and put him in a theater and he breaks out.   
I love everything about this movie. 
So, rating wise, i'll say 4.6 out of 5 Atomic Edits of Brutalness!!
My turn:
Well, first I guess I should explain why James saw an edited version for most of his life.
When he was four, he loved King Kong, but he was bored by the first half-hour of the film (you know, the talky bits).  So I edited it so the movie began with the Venture emerging from that confounded fog.  And I edited out some of the so-called romance between Jack and Ann.  And some of the tribal talk.  Oh, and then I edited in the "Spider Pit Sequence" as recreated by Peter Jackson and WETA.  It was a cool edit. 
On to the movie. 
It's a classic.  I mean ... like Citizen Kane, it established many basics of filmmaking.  (For Kane, it established basics for just about any genre of film, whereas Kong did so for monster and action films.)  Kane is an interesting intellectual exercise to watch, understanding how influential it was.  But I wouldn't say I enjoy watching it.  Kong, though, I do enjoy. 
That's not to say it's without faults. 
People, mostly. 
Look, I understand that acting was a very different profession back then, but I can't stand it.  Dramatically speaking, I can't get invested in a character fully when they are so obviously fake.  The captain, Englehorn, feels real enough, but he's not in the film often.  Denham comes off as hammy but largely unconcerned with what's going on thanks to his greed.  Then there's the relic-of-his-time Jack Driscoll who, apparently, hates women yet somehow falls in love with a dame after a few short weeks.   
And Fay Wray.  She's easy on the eyes and can scream to beat the band, but that's it.  I've seen interviews with her later in life and she was a sparkplug of energy.  The script here doesn't tap into that.  I'm going to chalk it up to it being the way of the world then.  Ladies were supposed to be pretty and needed saving.  That's all. 
I'll just ignore the "natives" and move on.  OK? 
The title character himself, in mechanical form, isn't so hot.  Sure, for 1933, it was staggering, but it differed from the stop-animated models used elsewhere so very much. 
Even though these models, too, differed from each other depending on what scene they were in, it's very easy to see that the best actor in this movie is Willis O'Brien. 
Without him and his skill, King Kong would just be a dumb puppet.  A fur-covered toy holding up a tiny blonde doll on a cardboard building. 
Kong emotes and not in a painfully over-the-top manner.  He is intrigued by Ann (even to the point of drawing censors' ire in 1938).  He is angered by the Tyrannosaurus rex and yet still concerned about Ann.  He looks down at his bullet wounds and is bewildered by the pain and the blood.  Simply put, this is the first time an animated character has been realized in a movie alongside living humans and held his own.  In this case, the character surpasses everyone else on screen. 
O'Brien's skill shines in the action scenes, too.  Anytime you see a dinosaur or monster enter a scene and scratch the side of his head, thank Willis O'Brien.  There's a viciousness to the Tyrannosaurus attack that you don't often see in monster movies, and that's only partially because of the way Kong dispatches his foe. 
It's easy to see how influential Kong was.  Not just on Godzilla, either.  It created a subgenre of so-called "jungle movies": expeditions into the unknown where something magical or monstrous was found and then brought back to the "civilized world" only to have the primitive thing wreak havoc one way or another.  (It's funny to type "civilized" after hearing and watching these Westerners interact with the natives on Kong's island.  I don't know if there was any irony in the writers' minds when they wrote it, but ... oof.)  One of the latest and best movies to copy the basic premise is Ray Harryhausen's The Valley of Gwangi.  But I digress. 
King Kong ... a rightfully influential classic, despite the humans involved.  4 out of five atomic breath blasts.
Here's the trailer:

If you get the disc, you HAVE to watch the special features showing how Willis O'Brien did most of the visual effects.  And here's the recreation of the lost "Spider Pit Sequence" by Peter Jackson and crew:

Here's a fun song by Jimmy Castor:

Up next, a documentary, Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire.

(GIFs from astairewaytoheaven, vousvoulez and wunderbarkino)

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