Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Space Oddities: King Kong

It is difficult after watching a remake of a film to go back and watch the original, especially when the gap between the two are several decades apart, and think positively about it. In Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack's "King Kong" (1933) it is obvious how special effects and society has evolved. Views about racism and sexism have drastically shifted since the original film, giving us a snapshot of what culture was like during the time. This causes the original to become an awkward film to view if the audience is not prepared for the rather severe racist and sexist portrayal of characters and ideas. Luckily, after looking past those factors the film remains intriguing and engaging.

Fig. 1 King Kong(1933)
For its time, 'King Kong' undoubtedly presented "impressive effects that were not only technically brilliant, but also highly imaginative in terms of cinematic action," (Haflidason, 2001).  For a viewer in the 1930's it must have been terrifying to see a giant ape demolishing New York City and fighting vicious reptiles on Skull Island. Todays viewers are often less impressed by the creative camera angles, layering of matte paintings and props, and stop-motion animation. Motion-capture CGI used in the 2005 make the original incapable of keeping up when it comes to special effects and realism.

However, the original 'King Kong' is still a successful monster movie despite its dated effects. The layering of scenes and use of stop-motion make the creatures featured have a somewhat jerkiness to their movement, making them more monster-like and surreal. Kong in the 1933 version does not appear to be capable of communicating or reasoning with humans which makes him a much more frightening character. He seems to only care about what he wants, which is Ann Darrow (Fay Wray). He is willing to take on any beast that threatens to take Ann from him, but it is unclear if cares for her wellbeing or just protects her because she is his 'toy'. Considering sexism and racism during the time period the film was made, it is most likely the latter of the two.

Fig. 2
In the 2005 version, Kong seems able to communicate and understand other humans therefore making him somewhat less unpredictable and threatening. It is also obvious in the 2005 version that King Kong truly cares about Ann's safety as they develop a mutual relationship/friendship. This completely changes the mood of the film. In the 1933 version, Kong was not a relatable or like-able character as he becomes more brutal and intimidating after killing various creatures. This includes a T-Rex, a serpent creature and a pterodactyl in order to continue to possess Ann. Maybe in this respect the 1933 'King Kong' is a more successful 'monster movie' since it is difficult to sympathize with this version of Kong.

It is obvious that this film wanted to show off its many special effects as often as possible. 'King Kong' starts off rather slow in comparison to the rest of the film, "...but from the moment Kong appears on the screen the movie essentially never stops for breath," (Ebert, 2002). This can become tedious considering some fight scenes did not make sense. For example, various dinosaurs attack Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) and the other sailors as they pursue Kong into the jungle to save Ann. However, the types of dinosaurs that attacked them were herbivores (or at least looked like herbivores) so it didn't make much sense why they would attack the crew. After seeing Kong get attacked several times since capturing Ann, it's easy to wonder how the ape or any creature could survive on that island for long with so many threats. However, it is also enchanting and leaves you wondering 'what is going to happen to them next'.

Fig. 3
Even now the special effects make the film enticing, but in a much different way than they were in the 1930's. Techniques used in the original are not often used used anymore due to CGI and modern technology. It's impressive thinking about how much time went into creating all of the stop-motion scenes and how the people who created it managed to layer it with various other elements to make engaging, coherent scenes. Although not realistic, it is easy to get caught in the moment, "...after the audience becomes used to the machine-like movements and the other mechanical flaws in the gigantic animals on view, and become accustomed to the phoney atmosphere, they may commence to feel the power," (Bigelow, 1933). Unfortunately, there are also painfully awkward close-up shots of Kong's face which can easily spoil the immersion that the distance shots have created through clever camera angles and layering.

Despite occasional flaws and awkwardness, this film deserves both admiration and respect. Without the original 'King Kong' we wouldn't have the special effects, monster movies and Blockbusters that we have today.

Bigelow, J (1933) Review: 'King Kong' At: http://variety.com/1933/film/reviews/king-kong-2-1200410783/ Accessed on: 6/10/2015
Ebert, R. (2002) King Kong At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-king-kong-1933 Accessed on: 6/10/2015
Haflidason, A. (2001) King Kong (1933) At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/01/30/king_kong_1933_review.shtml Accessed on: 6/10/2015

Illustration List:
Figure 1. King Kong (1933) [Poster] At: http://www.thinkcreatedream.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/king_kong_poster.jpg Accessed on: 6/10/2015
Figure 2. [Screenshot] At: https://fogsmoviereviews.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/shot0032.png Accessed on: 6/10/2015
Figure 3. [Screenshot] At: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/villains/images/5/57/Apa.png/revision/latest?cb=20140711175200 Accessed on: 6/10/2015

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