Sunday, January 1, 2017

CLASSIC REVIEW: King Kong (1933)

Happy 2017 everyone. If you don't already know (and if you don't, where have you been?), I'm a huge fan of giant monsters, and in a few short months, one of the most iconic monsters that has ever graced the screen with his presence, will make his return to the big screen. I'm of course talking about Kong. And though part of me is nervous, I cannot deny my excitement at seeing him once more on the big screen. And so to help with the excitement, until this new film is released, I'm going to be reviewing something Kong related each and every week. From beginning to end. And we of course start from the very beginning with an absolutely legendary film. The film by Merian C. Cooper, and Ernest B. Schoedsack, King Kong.

This is a very rare type of review I will do, because there are a few movies out there with such a legacy, such acclaim, that I really shouldn't need to review them. But now and then, I may just wanna add my two cents. But because these films have well earned their legacy and their iconic status, I won't dare rate them. Frankly, I shouldn't need to. I think my words should be enough. Besides...if you call yourself a giant monster movie fan, and you've not seen this 1933 masterpiece, I have only three words for you; "Shame on you."

Before I go on with my review, I may as well talk a bit about my history with Kong. Believe it or not, he was the first giant monster I ever saw on the screen, aside from Sharp Tooth of The Land Before Time or some other kid dinosaur movie. King Kong was the stepping stone for me in my love of giant monsters. Without Kong, I likely wouldn't have gotten into the Godzilla franchise. And I don't think I'd have it any other way.

So with all this said, what are my thoughts on the 1933 classic? Why bother asking?

Despite being over 80 years old, it's a film that has long surpassed the tests of time. The one thing I find myself saddened by nowadays is that the people I'm friends with don't always have a taste for the classics. Not everyone today can watch an 80 year old black and white film, and enjoy themselves. In a world where filmmaking is dominated by large budgets, CGI, celebrity power, and all these other things we've found out how to show on the big screen, not many really care about the old ways anymore, and it's a damn shame. Simply watching clips on YouTube of this movie, I shake my head at the comments of countless people who bash this film for the logic of its time, or how people behave in the film. It's absolutely heartbreaking to see this legendary film mocked by people who really have no idea what they're mocking.

Me? Here's my stance. Despite the film's dated effects, dated and inaccurate science, blatant and at times laughable racial stereotypes, there is a magic in King Kong that still works.  This is truly one of those films that proves it doesn't need to be flashy to keep your attention. There is a wonderful sense of adventure, intimidation, mystery, and thrill in this movie that remains strong all these years later. I'm sure we all know the story by now, in which a large oversized ape-like monster takes a fascination with a beautiful woman, and how his fascination with her eventually leads to his downfall. It's a classic telling of a beauty and the beast type of storytelling that had critics raving back in the day. Watching this in 2017, I cannot help but chuckle at some of the films dialogue. Despite being some of the cheesiest flub you'll ever hear in a movie (by today's standards), there is a hidden charm within almost every line. Whether it's Denham exclaiming how soon they'll proudly show Kong off on Broadway, or Driscoll brooding over how women make him uncomfortable and just get in his way. A favorite line of mine actually comes from the very beginning of the movie when Carl Denham straight up says "I'll find a woman for my picture, even if I have to marry one!" It's the golden age charm of this dialogue that makes you look past any cheese it has.

If you can't already tell, I love the characters of this movie. A few of them made my list of the best giant monster movie human characters a while back. The movie director Carl Denham, the first mate Jack Driscoll, and of course, the beautiful scream queen, Ann Darrow (and that's not much of a joke either, her screams in this picture do get very distracting). All are portrayed wonderfully by their respective actors and actresses, even if by today's standards, this acting is rather wooden by comparison. I will say that I don't often see a lot of development between Driscoll and Darrow to make me honestly believe they'd become a couple in this movie, but the banter between them both is still very enjoyable. Now one thing I should probably address is the racial stereotypes in this film. They're present and easily spotted. Like the Chinese cook, who literally talks like a stereotype ("Me no like crazy brown people."). And of course you have a few white actors playing black-faced natives on Skull Island. It's all behavior that's practically condemned by society by this point. Honestly I just remember when this was made. It wasn't right then, it isn't right now, but why raise hell over it? I'm not gonna censor it, it doesn't need to be fixed, it's just a reminder of the times, and never really bothered me. And I'll admit...I get a chuckle watching the chef trying to volunteer to help find Darrow while wielding a butcher knife. Like I find it hilarious that we'd think someone would behave like that. Rifles being distributed, and this guy volunteers with a butcher knife. Should I feel bad about that? I don't know. I'm just gonna move on.

Watching this movie again, I couldn't help but really take note at how great the music score was. Seriously, it's been in my head all night. Max Steiner, one of Hollywood's key iconic composers back in the day, was originally told to recycle music he'd done in past films. Cooper wouldn't have any of that, and paid him $50,000 dollars of his own money to compose something new, and the result is absolutely incredible. Really amongst the best scores out there, and for its time, absolutely groundbreaking. I particularly love the piece that plays when Ann is being prepared by the Natives to sacrifice her to Kong. The score does a great job setting the mood, and having fun with whatever is going on onscreen.

But easily the best thing about this movie is its special effects. I shouldn't need to explain why. One look at this stop-motion animation, and you can tell you're watching something absolutely incredible. The mastermind behind it all, Willis O'Brien, really did up his game for this picture. He'd already impressed with his stop-motion animation before in the 1925 silent film, "The Lost World", but compared to this, it really was nothing more than a warm up project. While he'd go on with other projects where his animation would only improve (such as "The Black Scorpion" which is a mediocre movie with amazing animation), this really is his crowning achievement. From the monster, to the dinosaur models, to the occasional human models which can get attacked, picked up, watching them try and flee or pound against their attacker,  everything feels alive, and to have a film convey that kind of feeling over 80 years later, is nothing short of phenomenal.

The main setting of this movie, Skull Island remains one of my absolute favorite film places I've ever seen, and one of the places I'd never ever ever wanna set foot on. The film really does show how menacing a place it is. Skull Island I'm sad to say isn't shown in its entirety in this movie, as there was a lot of very famous footage, cut from this film. I'm sure many of you have heard about the infamous Spider Pit scene. For those who may need a visual reference, it makes an appearance in the Peter Jackson remake (but we'll get there when we get there), well this sequence was supposed to be in the movie, but was cut in the end. Even without it, Skull Island does give off the idea that this really is no man's land. An island where literally everything is out to get you. Even the plant eaters of this film. There's an awesome scene in which a Brontosaurus (or Apatosaurus for those who prefer the modern term) actually mauls a sailor, and it's wicked awesome. You can tell there is some very dated science in this movie from the dinosaur behavior, but it's still such a treat to watch.

I've really gone on in this review haven't I?Regardless of a few nitpicks, King Kong is as strong today as it was back in 1933. The legacy of this film is unmatched by any giant monster movie today. To see this film influence such a genre in the way it has is nothing short of incredible. And this is why I say, that despite having believed otherwise before, I'm fully convinced that this legendary film is without a doubt, the absolute best giant monster movie of all time. Surpassing some of my absolute favorite films, such as "Them!" or even the ever so iconic "Gojira". While Godzilla does remain my favorite movie monster out there, I'd be lying to say that his debut film surpasses King Kong. It's just not true.

Why? Why do I say this, when Godzilla has potentially further influenced the Kaiju genre as we know it? Why do I say this, when it's initial message criticizing the use of nuclear weapons has been so hard hitting to this day? Well I'll tell you why.

My father pointed something out to me about this movie that I never really noticed before. Something he told me actually saddens him to the point of never really wanting to see this movie again. This film portrays mankind's uncaring attitude toward how it can treat nature. Seeing Kong in chains as "a show to gratify your curiosity", or seeing him gunned down at the very end, is actually pretty damn haunting today. And...God I hate to bring it up, but in many ways, it's a behavior that's still there. Remember Harambe? No jokes from me, I think the Internet outrage over it went a little too far, but I think my point is made just saying his name (and it'll be the only time I'll say this name). Aside from that, you know there's continued issues from poaching to deforestation, and this film does kinda serve as a grim reminder that it's still very much an issue. Was it this film's intent to portray such a message? Probably not. This was made when such concerns weren't even thought about most likely.  But the message can most definitely be seen, and should be respected. It is a message that is still very much a relevant thing. I'm not downplaying that the messages of Godzilla aren't important, but the threats of WWIII aren't really on the horizon anymore as they were 60 years ago. So as much as I support that message, it just doesn't have much of an impact if you ask me nowadays. The fact that this message can come from a movie that didn't even aim to portray that kind of message really does showcase the kind of film we're talking about.

But if that's not enough, all you need to do is look at this film compared to that of Godzilla and see the influence for yourself. When the producers of Godzilla first saw this film, they wanted to do what Willis did. Shoot Godzilla in stop-motion animation. And there are times in that film that it does come into play. But they didn't have the time for such a time consuming process. I also feel that the story is just overall more classic in Kong. It's just hard to beat, especially when it comes to the films climax. You cannot compare Godzilla's climax to that of Kong, it doesn't even come close. While I understand it's meant to be a more somber climax, it's very underwhelming to me. They very much just kinda...kill Godzilla. And that's it. Yeah there's more to it, but compare Godzilla's underwater death scene to King Kong climbing the then very new Empire State Building, holding Ann in his hands, before making his final stand at the very top, fighting off biplane fighters, and of course, we get that one very classic line of dialogue from Carl Denham; "T'was beauty that killed the beast." It's exciting, tense, and even again...a bit heartbreaking. And coming from a film that was meant mainly to be a fun horror film, there is really just no equal. I can no longer deny this film its proper title of the absolute best of the best when it comes to giant monster movies.

And so once all those giant monster movie fans out there who have yet to see this film, and I know there are indeed a few of you, this is a must see. Even if you don't take away the things I take away from it, even if you disagree with my claim of it being the absolute best, you cannot deny that this is something you need to see at least once. An essential for your collection, and just an all around classic. This is ranked number 41 on the AFI's list of the greatest films ever made for God's sake. What more do I need to say? Go watch it. Go watch it now.

Thanks for joining me on the first entry of my Kong-a-thon. Now don't worry, there are a few films I'll probably go see while doing this, so I don't over-Kong you, but I think this will be...somewhat fun. And I do put emphasis on the somewhat, because there's plenty of crap in this franchise that I'm not looking forward to watching, but...hey. Kong's returning to the big screen. See you next week when I review the...unneeded sequel to this film,  "Son of Kong", and as always, thanks for reading.

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