Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Film Review: King Kong (1933)

The original King Kong, shot in 1933 on a soundstage set the benchmark for 'big animal wrecks city' horror films and stilll resonates today with the likes of Cloverfield (2008) and even a 2005 CG remake by peter Jackson.

I quite enjoyed the film, both as a cheezy old film and as an example of awesome set work on a limited budget.

The best way to enjoy King Kong is to do away with predispositions and get in a 'campy' mood, a film certainly not meant to be taken overly seriously .Although impressive, King Kong himself is quite unrealistic but still makes a lasting impression that lasts through seven decades of remakes ans spin-offs. The story is "...the low-budget story of a beautiful, plucky blonde woman (Fay Wray) and a frightening, gigantic, 50 foot ape-monster as a metaphoric re-telling of the archetypal Beauty and the Beast fable" and so the viewer must approach the film, as Jean Cocteau asked of his take on the fable, with the mind of a child ready to believe the unbelievable. The locations on display were shot entirely within the confines of a soundstage, recylcing sets from previous films and is done remarkably well. I originally thought that Skull Island was shot on location, testament to the convincing nature and attention to detail in the set work.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the film is the strange texture on the King Kong miniature model. Roger Ebert mentions this in his review "Haver also observes how Kong's fur seems to crawl during several scenes; the model was covered with rabbit fur, and the fingers of the stop-action animators disturbed it between every stop-action shot. The effect, explained by the filmmakers as "muscles rippling," is oddly effective. " indeed it gives it a very real appearance, making Kong's fur look like it is bristling and moving convincingly with his motions. Little accidentals like this avoid the surgical nature of most CGI monsters, in aids the characterisation of Kong and helps to show that although by no means realistic, it is an idea of a giant life in action. Almar Haflidason in his review for the BBC said "What may surprise you about the film is the richness of Kong's character, which is due to the attention put into the special effects. Even more remarkable is the fact that most modern CGI-dominated monster flicks are unable to capture such characterisation" I think this has something to do with the computer control over how perfect a model is and can be. Imperfection is something that gives life and character to everything, from stop motion models to antique furniture. The effect of Kong's strange rippling fur, amazing attention to detail in both Kong's miniatures and the sets and world that the cast and miniatures roam give some deeply interesting visual and emotional development.

Kong's facial expressions and the effect of the light on his textured hide give a sense of living

There is also a great disparity between the false sets in King Kong and the CG world. Although both portray very realistic interpretations, indeed the film Avatar (2009) is arguably the greatest exaple of a realistic CG world. The buget work by RKO on a sound stage produces a very comparable and convincing world. It might even be that the lack of budget lead to the incredible resourcefulness of the design team to rework old sets into something new and entriely convincing.

Because nothing is holy ;)


  1. Ollie - this is a terrible, unprovable generalisation: 'I'm sure that even in 1933 everyone could see that, although impressive, King Kong himself is quite unrealistic'... unless you've got a time machine, this is unprovable and consequently, of no value! Please - please read the guidelines I put on the group blog to stop students making dumb-arse mistakes in their critical writing!