February 23, 2006

We Three Kongs, part 1 (1933)

After seeing the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong in December, I felt the need to go back and watch the 1933 original. After seeing the original, I felt the need to go back and watch the 1976 version, despite it being universally reviled and mocked. And then I had the idea to write a post titled "We Three Kongs," comparing the three films. Initially I thought the pun was clever, but as I write this I realize that it doesn't make any sense--nothing in any of the movies refers to anything present in the "We Three Kings" Christmas carol, as far as I know. Regardless, here is part one of three: notes on the original 1933 King Kong (notes on the '76 and '05 versions will follow). Kong incarnations that I didn't watch: King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong Lives, King Kong Escapes, Kong: The Animated Series, and King Dong.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the basic storyline that all three movies follow, I should also offer some sort of spoiler alert: some sort of spoiler alert.

King Kong (1933), dirs. Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

This is a classic film, one of the greatest adventure movies ever made, but I must say: acting standards have improved considerably since 1933. There are a number of reasons for this improvement, chief of which is probably the gradual realization over the years that stage-acting, projected on a 50-foot screen, comes across as mere over-acting.

Kong, circa 1933, looks like a joke by today's effects standards (as you'd expect); he jerks around at about 3 frames per second, and has about 1/10th the mobility of the 2005 Kong. I can imagine the frat guys in the back row openly mocking the hilarity of this "effects extravaganza."

Which would be the one-quadrillionth time a frat guy had no idea what he was talking about: for the time period, these effects are amazing.

Great quote from Carl Denham upon seeing a stegosaurus--an animal that's been dead for millions of years, and never before seen by human eyes: "Hey look at that. Get quiet so he doesn't see us."

In line with current American policy, he quickly arrives at this conclusion: "Give me one of those bombs."

King Kong must be a favorite of the Creationists, due to the realism of the dinosaur-and-human interaction sequences.

Not having seen the original, I thought Kong playing with the T-rex's broken jaw was a great touch by Peter Jackson. Nope; it's straight out of the original.

One of my most common complaints about movies in general is their belittling take on human death. Someone dies, plot moves on. But this quote from the captain takes the cake: after finding out a dozen of his men were killed by Kong, he says remorselessly, "all those men lost. That's incredible." It is not addressed any further.

Fay Wray shows more skin in '33 than Naomi Watts does in '05. Did Kong just remove her bodice?

Fay Wray is also hotter than Naomi Watts.

The first mate just offered Fay the largest flask I've ever seen. Not a hip flask, or a jacket flask--a backpack flask.

Oh--apparently it's supposed to be full of water.

White people have been stepped on by the giant ape, but from his decision to pick up and chew on one of the natives, we can infer that Kong like dark meat.

Terrific music cue upon jumping forward to New York City--it thrusts us into the speedy "modern" city (where a man complains about a ticket to see Kong in the flesh costing $20 --equivalent to a $300 show in today's dollars).

They do a lot with the Academy aspect ratio--lots of wide shots, which convey the size of Kong relative to humans better than the later cinemascope versions do (because of the extra vertical space in the frame).

--

And those are my notes on the OK (Original Kong). My apologies, if you thought you were going to get some sort of cohesive, structured post comparing the eldest Kong to its two younger siblings. Instead, you just got a series of disorganized notes. At least you have two more to look forward to!

Your Comment