With the DVD release of Cloverfield coming up, I felt this would be as good a time as any to pay tribute to the original “monster attacks New York” film, that being the original King Kong from 1933.
Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a famous film director who will go to any lengths necessary to shoot his “animal pictures”, picks down on her luck Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to be the star of his next film.
With nothing to lose, Ann accepts. They set sail aboard the ship Venture along with cameras, film, extra crewmen and plenty of guns and explosives. Denham keeps the destination a secret but eventually reveals that they are headed to the remote Skull Island where he hopes to catch on film the legendary Kong.
King Kong started off the trend of monster movies, which deals with the epic struggle between human beings, and one or more monsters. Unlike most monster movies, King Kong is not just the first and most famous example of the genre but it is considered to be one of the landmark films in cinematic history.
King Kong, the monster, would become a cultural icon being featured in several sequels, including The Son of Kong, which was released the same year (1933) as the original.
Without King Kong there would be no special effects, no Jaws and certainly not the two King Kong remakes in 1976 and 2005. King Kong is the movie that many directors and special effects artists point to when asked where their fascination with cinema originates.
The sequence with Kong fighting off airplanes while atop the Empire State Building remains one of the most iconic scenes in any film.
The effects in King Kong, which involved groundbreaking stop-animation work from Willis O’ Brien and optical effects by Linwood G. Dunn, may seem dated and awkward today but they changed the course of films back in 1933.
Much of what is done today with CGI animation has its roots in King Kong’s stop motion model animation. It was the first hit film to present a life-like animated central character. It was also considerably violent in depicting scenes of Kong killing and eating humans.
Many of these scenes, including the one where Kong picks a sleeping woman out of her room then drops her to her death were cut due to censorship but are restored in the DVD version.
Even though “talkies” or films with sound had been around for 4 years, King Kong was the first big Hollywood “talkie” to have a thematic musical score, which came from the greatness that would be Max Steiner.
Despite being released in one of the worst years of the Great Depression, the film was the highest grossing film in 1933. Even today, it is hard to beat the film’s non-stop thrills and excitement.
Some may find the acting laughable but when you realize that the humans are meant to be tongue-in-cheek, you’ll have a much easier time getting into the film.
You’ll be surprised, given the havoc and destruction Kong causes, how much you find yourself pitying the poor beast when he is shot down from the Empire State Building.
I recommend Warner Brothers’ 2 Disc Special Edition of King Kong released in 2005 for those who seek the definitive copy of the film. The picture and sound are superior for a film that’s well over 70 years old and it contains a Kong sized set of extras and documentaries.
For those who liked Cloverfield (and I was not one of them) be sure and pay your respects to the Kong.
Cloverfield hits DVD on Tuesday, April 22nd, and is available for pre-order at Amazon. It is available for pre-order at AmazonUK for a June 9th release. Visit the DVD database for more information. Click Here to enter to win a copy of the Cloverfield DVD!