Thursday, 24 October 2013

Film Review - King Kong (1933)

The original King Kong (1933) was directed by Merian.C.Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack. At the time King Kong was released it amazed thousands of viewers, due to its extraordinary visuals and special effects for its time, mainly because of one of its main characters, King Kong. Kong was a character that audiences viewed in awe, never before had audiences seen a monster depicted on screen at the size of Kong. "The title character, the creation of stop-motion effects wizard Willis O'Brien captivated audiences and started a world-wide love affair with a giant ape." - James Berardinelli (2012) 

King Kong is about an ambitious film maker who has ideas for creating this out of this world film between woman and beast, essentially, like Beauty & the Beast and so sets out to search for his beauty, before heading out to the island with the famed legend of King Kong. While out on the island the leading lady, Ann, gets stolen from the local tribe to be Kong's bride and from there, after endless minutes of screaming, she is kidnapped by Kong and held captive, but more as a friend or love interest rather than a victim. Ann's love interest and the other crew members set out to rescue her, facing many beasts along the way, such as Lockness monster and a Triceratops, which King Kong fights off before running away with Ann. Once Ann is saved the film maker becomes greedy and wishes to capture Kong and bring him home to his "Civilised" world to make lots of money from this freak circus act. However his plans go awry when Kong escapes, kidnaps Ann again and wrecks havoc on the city before he is eventually overthrown.

When looking at King Kong in contemporary times, the classic film hasn't really aged well, the frame rate is incredibly slow and jumpy, and animation isn't as smooth as it could have been. The creators had the technology to create this ambitious film with the miniature model of Kong and they clearly had the technology to use frame rate to animate him, but they could have used more shots than they did to make it move smoother. In addition, the scenes where it shows Kong's face up close, in an attempt to ignite a sense of fright within us, the audiences, it is more comical than scary in modern times. Although this is a famous cliché in a lot of old films when modern audiences watch them, these shots of Kong seem more comical than other old films, adding to argument of how King Kong hasn't aged all too well. Nevertheless on a positive note it marked a milestone for film making, encouraging new film makers to follow in its footsteps of creating a larger than life character. Godzilla and Jurassic Park are exemplar examples of films that were largely inspired by the original King Kong. "It is the granddady of all monster movies that came after it, it's shadow stretching longer then the Empire State building over all those that followed in it's immense wake." - Jeremy Redlien (2011)

There is a lot to offend audiences in King Kong nowadays. The old-fashioned character persona's and social norms of the time are questioned in today's society of equilibrium. For a start, the female protagonist of the story, Ann Darrow, Ann is the typical pretty blonde damsel in this film, ultimately, she is useless and highly dependent, unable to do anything for herself. This stereotypical example of a females role in society offends feminists in contemporary times, in almost all films nowadays the main female protagonist is useful in some way and can look after themselves fairly well. Due to equilibrium today's society tries to maintain, with equal rights in both men and women, however Ann, is a different story. Throughout the film, after she is greeted with Kong, she continuously screams, and waits around, without trying anything herself. Ann just stays in place screaming, in hopes her knight/s in shining armour will come and rescue her, making her a useless character in terms of common sense and ability.

The representation of females being stupid and unable to do anything without the assistance of a male offends feminists. Even before Ann lands on the Island she is treated with disdain on the boat by other men, as it is a classic old-fashioned myth that a woman on board brings bad luck to sailors and she only really gets the acting job because she is pretty, it is only later the director finds out she can scream really well which is perfect for his film but the act of screaming itself is a sign of weakness, she is also highly naive. All these characteristics are despised by feminists who stand for women being just as strong as men. However, feminists have to realise all of this was the social norm at the time this film was made, 1933 was a time when most women were still just housewives catering to their husbands every need and looking after children. 

Another top offence from this movie is how racist it is, even using the known crude word to describe the African tribe in the film, but again this word was used informally and on a regular basis at the time this film was made. In the 2005 remake of King Kong from Peter Jackson, Peter Jackson had difficulty re-creating the film without it coming across as racist as the tribe are not only described in this offensive way nowadays but the characteristics, fashion and personality of the tribe in the film is seen as highly stereotypically racist. The Asian crew member of the ship is also a reflection of how racist this film is in today's society, with how they depict his accent and the way he talks. 

This film is great in terms of its backgrounds and camera shots , there are numerous iconic film stills from this film, shots filmed in massive environments, with the iconic Empire State building scene with Kong fighting off planes, whilst keeping Ann safe. The camera angles greatly show how vulnerable Ann is throughout the film and how large Kong is on a scale, especially with his great battle with a Triceraptops, which became the reason for a famous film later on. Although the frame rates look quite lazy in this film,  the scene where Kong is fighting the Triceraptops is impressive as they manage to carry out an action packed fight between the two larger than life beasts and make it entertaining for viewers to watch even now, especially being as they are both just miniature little figurines in real life. "The amazingly violent battle between Kong and a Triceratops that goes on for several minutes is perhaps the finest piece of stop-motion animation ever created for the screen." - Richard Scheib.

In conclusion the original King Kong was a huge film, set out for ground-breaking goals in special effects and animation for its time period, and it succeeded. And although it is outdated in terms of it ideology, character personas and use of technology it still remains a highly influential classic, with outstanding camera shots, that will be remembered in the world of film-making throughout history.

Berardinelli, J King Kong (1933) (2012) [Online] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)
Redlien, J Classic Review: King Kong (1933) (2011) [Online] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)
Scheib, R King Kong [Online] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)

Fig.1 King Kong (1933) [Poster] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)
Fig.3 King Kong (1933) [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)
Fig.4 King Kong (1933) [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)
Fig.5 King Kong [Film Still] At: (Accessed on 14.10.13)

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