King Kong

King Kong ★★★

1st Merian C. Cooper, 3rd Ernest B. Schoedsack (after Dr. Cyclops and The Most Dangerous Game)

Watching a film in the cinema is something I don't normally hold much stock in. If it looks good on a small screen, then that's alright by me. Sometimes, though, you come across a film that really only works on a big screen. Gance's Napoleon is one, and King Kong is another. Viewed in the comfort of my bedroom with a punnet of grapes, the DVD copy playing on my archaic laptop, the flaws inherent with the screenplay are all too clear. Despite setting the template for all monster films to come, the screenplay is painfully threadbare in its characterisation, especially for Fay Wray's Ann Darrow. Her role is to cling to the arms of the men, repeat what they say and scream when needed. When Kong kidnaps her, the narrative degenerates to a series of vignettes designed to show off the monster art. For this reason, the film works best on a big screen, where the inherent flaws of the screenplay are far less obvious and you are more dazzled by the sheer scale of the ambition. And that's not even talking about the very dated Imperialist politics of the screenplay. It's easy to see something of Cooper in the character of the film director, eager to see the world and record its exotic wonders. But in the climate of 2020, it comes off as terribly dated and patronising, especially towards the natives who fear and worship Kong. But this has been written about so many times that it's kind of pointless for me to get into it.

However, one of the advantages of the small-screen viewing is seeing how all the little pieces of the production come together. As I've said a number of times, the concept of the work that goes into making a film is fascinating. This isn't just the idea of being in front of the camera, but the art direction, the second unit direction and how the various special effects were integrated into the final product. It's something that changed significantly with the introduction of CGI; the fingerprints that exist all over the celluloid are gone, which is a tremendous shame in my eyes. In King Kong, the real joy is seeing how the stop-motion monsters are integrated into the live action elements. The scene where Kong shakes a tree is especially good for how everything holds together, 87 years after the fact. The stegosaurus and the two people walking beside it are also great for just how the model footage works on the screen in front of the actors. It's all really lovely to look at and gave me a great deal of pleasure. But overall, maybe I need to watch it on a big screen next time.

Ernest B. Schoedsack in Order:
1. The Most Dangerous Game
2. Dr. Cyclops
3. King Kong

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