King Kong

King Kong ★★★★★

Several years before Citizen Kane, King Kong set a standard for the cinematic experience, opting for spectacle and breakthrough special effects. If Kane is a seminal film from an all-around quality point of view, then Kong is a seminal film that built the stage for future blockbusters like Jurassic Park. King Kong is the great grandaddy of the modern summer tent-pole action/adventure blockbuster.

The special effects by Willis O'Brien were surprisingly sophisticated for 1933. He had shown off his work previously in the silent classic The Lost World, and just in that eight year time span between the two films, had perfected his technique. Stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection, miniatures--they're all used here to great effect and shock in some cases. The live-action footage mixes with the animation almost seamlessly. Our modern sensibilities can see the cracks in the facade but the craftsmanship is definitely the biggest takeaway from this version of King Kong. Ray Harryhausen was O'Brien's protégé, who in turn inspired the likes of Spielberg, Cameron, Jackson and countless modern-day filmmakers. Willis O'Brien was also the great-grandaddy of special effects wizards.

The story itself begins a little slowly, with clumsy and awkward dialogue rife with sexism and racial stereotyping; and the cast tends to ham it up, but of course, most films from the early talkie era had contained that acting style, so that should be forgiven. King Kong producers/directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack publicly rejected the idea of hidden meanings in their film, there is no allegorical interpretation to be had. Cooper had been fascinated with gorillas since boyhood and studied a tribe of baboons while filming a movie, and loved the idea of a giant ape battling a giant lizard. So Merian Cooper tells you to take your crazy notion of white supremacist fears and shove it, because this is just a movie about a giant ape. Personally, the white guys do come in and mess everything up without a hint of condemnation, but who cares? Giant ape climbs the Empire State Building and battles planes!

The heart of the story, however, is the telling of a beast struck by the beauty of a woman. He wants to do the right thing by protecting her from the various dangers throughout. He wants to be left alone but will attack when provoked, and he's provoked plenty whether by dinosaurs, pterodactyls or warplanes. Carl Denham represents another threat, that of the greedy Hollywood executive. It's just unfortunate that Denham doesn't get what he deserves in the end, and even gets the movies final, and most famous line.

King Kong is historically significant to cinema. It was the inspiration for all your favorite big-budget films, whether you agree with that or not. Another great thing about Kong is that it looked big budget on a modest budget. That was called skill and talent.

I'm going to tell my grandkids that this is the story of how Grammy met Grampy.

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