King Kong

King Kong ★★★★½

Ah, the 1930s. If you were a movie director in need of a beautiful young woman to come and star in your next big picture, all you had to do was comb the streets and grab whichever one took your fancy.

Improprieties of the period notwithstanding, it’s impossible to overstate just how influential this film must have been. Though the concept of the “blockbuster” did not enter the public consciousness until the release of Jaws in 1975, this film must surely be regarded as one of the forerunners. As an action-packed spectacle it drew in huge crowds and delivered vast box office returns. A large part of its appeal was due to its groundbreaking special effects, which can be attributed to the efforts of pioneering stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, who brought the various creatures of the film to life. The puppet of Kong, in particular, is given such lifelike personality—always observing his surroundings curiously; toying with the corpses of the beasts he’s killed; at times tenderly protective of his captive, Ann Darrow; at others cheekily playful. These characteristics are very subtly integrated into the animation, but they give Kong a vivid presence.

Watching Kong and the other beasts of Skull Island lurch shakily across the screen might seem tame by modern standards, but I can only imagine how terrifying they must have seemed to audiences in 1933. It’s also brutally violent for a film of the era—at one point a brontosaurus mauls a number of men and flings their corpses like rag dolls; at another Kong grabs a fallen trunk of a tree and shakes off its clinging sailors, plunging them to their deaths down a rocky ravine; shortly after he does bloody battle with a T-Rex and tears its jaws in two. In fact, there’s a tussle between Kong and some prehistoric beast every ten minutes or so. The whole thing is brimming with action.

And of course, the pinnacle of the entire film is the climactic Empire State Building sequence, which is just so iconic. Creator Merian C. Cooper evidently knew he was on to a winner here, because this sequence was his initial vision for the picture; every other aspect of the story was built around it. It's every bit as good as I hoped it would be.

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