I recently saw three great King Kong movies, never having seen a single King Kong film before in my life.
Here is a writeup of what I thought about the three flicks and how they differ.
King Kong (1933)
Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, this film started it all off with a bang.
The movie depicts a group consisting of a director, his film-crew, an actress, and a ship’s crew, who all travel together to an undiscovered island to film a docufiction.
They find a tribe living on the island, who kidnaps the actress Ann Darrow, played by Fay Wray. They offer her up as the latest “bride” for their giant gorilla god and protector, Kong.
When Kong carries Ann off into the jungle, the rest of her fellows chase after him.
But the island is filled with dinosaurs and other pre-historic beasts, so a most of them die in the rescue-effort.
Even Kong has to defend himself against the islands other inhabitants, and in one of the series most iconic scenes, King Kong fights the king of the lizards, a T-Rex.
Eventually Ann Darrow is saved by the sailor Jack Driscoll, played by Bruce Cabot.
But the director Carl Denham, played by Robert Armstrong, wants to capture the beast to bring him back to New York as an attraction.
And with the help of some bombs filled with sleeping gas, they do.
On the opening night of ‘Kong, The Eighth Wonder of the World’, Kong breaks loose.
He finds Ann, and carries her up the Empire State Building.
Four armed biplanes are dispatched to take him down, and after a harrowing battle on top of the building, Kong falls to his death.
Carl Denham closes the movie by stating “Oh, no, it wasn’t the airplanes. ’twas Beauty killed the Beast.”
This is a really good film, but it is has its flaws.
Ann is little more than screaming eye-candy (even for the ape), there is an enthusiastic asian boatman who can’t pronounce Rs, and the only black people featured in the movie are savage tribespeople, despite much of the film being set in New York.
But while the movie is socially dated, the special effects holds up very well.
This being the last film I saw out of these three, I had more fun looking at all the clever ways the filmmakers managed to represent the giant beasts before computer-generated imagery, than I had by the story itself.
Kong is mainly portrayed by stop-motion animation, but that effect is mixed with matte painting, rear projection, miniatures and full-size mechanical constructions of Kong’s head and arms.
Some of the things they accomplished by mixing these methods are impressive to this day, which brings to mind how even CGI is best served by mixing with practical effects.
You can’t beat real physical presence.
King Kong (2005)
Directed by Peter Jackson, this film is a true remake in every sense of the word.
Not only is the story following the exact basic plot-structure of the original, but many of the same scenes are represented aswell.
But Jackson expanded on the story, and in many ways improved it with those expansion.
We get a deeper understanding of Ann Darrow, played by Naomi Watts, as not only eye-candy, but as a struggling juggling stage-actress.
Ann later uses her dancing and slapstick-routine to win over Kong, giving a better explanation as to why an ape would care about her than “She’s a pretty blonde”.
Kong himself is portrayed by Andy Serkis, with the help of CGI.
His performance in this film really proved that he was not a one-hit-wonder with his performance as Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ movies, and the fact that he also portrays Lumpy (the ship’s cook, barber, and surgeon) proved that he did not have to rely on CGI to give a good performance.
I have yet to see any of the ‘Planet of the Apes’ films, but I do look forward to seeing how differently he portrays Caesar, the chimpanzee main character of the reboot series.
The cast is filled with various other interesting characters, but I won’t go in detail on each of them.
But I do think I should mention Jack Black as a more despicable and opportunistic take on Carl Denham, and Adrien Brody as the screenwriter Jack Driscoll, the male love-interest.
The parts of the film that are set in New York are conveyed as a 1930s period piece, and feel even more 30s than the King Kong film which was actually from 1933.
And Skull Island, Kong’s home, is now not only inhabited by tribesmen, dinosaurs and a giant gorilla, but also other giant versions of well-known animals, like bats and various bugs.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, this film takes the Kong mythos in a whole new direction.
While the previous films were set in the 30s, this is a 1973 period piece, with visual and auditory signifiers of that period peppered all over the movie.
This film is more ‘Apocalypse Now’ than ‘The Lost World’.
Instead of a crew of filmmakers, this film features a crew of researchers led by Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, who travels to the newly discovered Skull Island to discover the creatures residing there.
Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, played by Samuel L. Jackson, leads an army helicopter squadron newly returned from the Vietnam War, and this squadron serves as both transportation and the escort for the rest of the group.
Bill Randa also brings along his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), the tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the biologist San Lin (Jing Tian) and the anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
If there is any character who fills the role of “beauty” in this version of King Kong, it would be Weaver.
But she mostly fits the bill by being a woman who gets picked up by Kong, only this time as an attempt to protect her from the films antagonist monsters, the skullcrawlers.
For Kong is more than a mindless beast in this film. He is a defender of humanity, and the first line of defence against giant monsters crawling out of the center of the Earth.
The actor who portrays Kong, Terry Notary, appropriately gives Kong a more heroic stance, while still keeping his animalistic nature intact.
The beasts of Skull Island is even more inventive than in previous entries, featuring absolutely massive water buffaloes and large flocks of saw-beaked carnivorous birds.
The breakout character of the piece is the U.S. Army Air Force lieutenant Hank Marlow, played by John C. Reilly, who crashed on the island during World War II and had to survive there with the natives until ’73.
Speaking of; this film also has the most respectful representation of the natives, even if the 2005 film’s use of them is perhaps more fun.
This film has the most fun with the premise of Skull Island, and the direction is really good.
While the other films tried to treat the story with as much gravitas and respect as possible, this one goes absolutely bananas, and tries to give most characters at least one insanely badass moment each.
During the course of the story it is made clear that Bill Randa is actually the creator of a monster-hunting organisation named Monarch.
And by the end of the film we are teased by the roar of Godzilla, getting ready for his appearance in ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ in 2019 and ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ in 2020.
So I’ll probably do one of these for Godzilla movies next year.