King Kong

King Kong ★★★½

Oddly coincidental that directly after Monkey Business, I should watch King Kong for the first time.

This was likely the film sitting atop my "List of Shame," and it feels great to check it off. Despite some complaints, it pretty much lived up to my moderate expectations.

The story gets off to a relatively rough start, with tons of tedious exposition-via-dialogue made worse by acting that manages to be simultaneously wooden and over-the-top by nearly everyone involved.

But once we get to the island, things look up in a big way.

The groundbreaking special effects herein don't exactly hold up by modern standards, but they are nonetheless extremely impressive for their time. The matte paintings are particularly fantastic, and they're complemented by excellent lighting that adds a layer of authenticity to the lush sets.

The stop-motion and animatronic creatures may be more comical than frightening today, but the action scenes are still fairly thrilling. It does get a little old watching Kong fight a new creature every five minutes though. After he'd already bested 20 men, a T Rex, and a gigantic snake, watching him battle it out with a pterodactyl felt a little like overkill.

Our characters are stereotypical and have little depth, but they are nonetheless distinct. It's unfortunate that our supposed hero is such a typically rugged misogynist and even more unfortunate that our helpless damsel-in-distress falls in love with him despite it, but hey, it's the 30's.

Likewise, there are plenty of sore spots in terms of the racial elements in this film. I wouldn't go as far as to call it outright racist, and I really don't think the giant ape is a parallel for anti-black sentiments, though people are welcome to disagree, but the comically broken English spoken by the Asian chef and the coconut-brassiere wearing natives might cause some to understandably shift in their seats.

Though the camera rarely moves, there are a few instances of creative shots, such as the perspective of an airplane tail-spinning, or a shot on the ship showcasing Skull Island through the port window. The composition is generally strong, and though the editing isn't particularly avant-garde, the shot selection and sequencing is smart, particularly during the later action scenes. Some of these sequences are a tad overlong, but it makes sense to milk the action for all its worth given the then-wondrous spectacle of the effects and the thin plot.

Though King Kong does contain a strong and substantiated theme about beauty and the beast, it's so hammered in that it detracts from the idea and from the otherwise excellent (and quite famous) closing lines.

The sound design is a plus, with an effective score that encompasses plenty: ominous, romantic, thrilling, horrifying. It's a really nice piece of work, and it helps keep together elements and scenes that are otherwise mildly fragmented. One moment in particular struck me as wonderfully attentive to detail near the end of the film, in which a woman is thrown from her window towards the ground and her scream fades into the sound of an approaching siren.

There are items of logistical questionability, of course: If you fall from 200+ feet into still water, you don't swim away. You fucking die. And there's no way in the world they get him off that island without having prepared for it. You don't build a raft that can support literal tons from what's laying around in a matter of hours, and even if you did, there's no way to keep him contained during the journey. Also, they can't seem to decide how tall Kong is supposed to be. Still, there are fewer of these types of things than you'd probably expect in a film like this.

It won't inflict the kind of eye-widening it did back in the early days of film on modern audiences, but King Kong is a technically impressive and enjoyable creature feature.