Thursday, 15 October 2015

Film Review: King Kong (1933)

Fig1: Film Poster for King Kong

King Kong, 
a 1933 action-adventure film directed by Merium C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsuck, tells the story of a film crew going to a mysterous lone island in the hopes of finding the beast known as Kong. The film is an intuitive special effects classic, using models, miniatures and layering on matte paintings to give Skull island a more immersive feeling, basing the idea in the films concept art of paintings from 100 years prior. Stop-motion animation was also used for not only King Kong but for the other giant creatures living on the isolated island, and with clever editing, it was possible for the stop motion and the live action scenes to be merged together.
"In recent years I have focused on the remarkable special effects, based by Willis O'Brien and others on his f/x work in "The Lost World" (1925) but achieving a sophistication and beauty that eclipsed anything that went before."-
Roger Ebert from the website
Fig 2: Promotional Image showing King Kong towering over New York City

However the film is also dated in its characteristic of women and people of colour. With the only woman in the cast being a doll like, more like a prop than an actual character who was more like a screaming prop, to be saved from the big strong male characters and never thinks to stand up for herself. The movie also depicts a racist view of other nationalities, regarding the stereotypical chinese member of the crew and the depitiction of the natives on the island. Making the natives brutish and animalistic in their ritual like behaviour for the big ape.
"Beyond its pure escapist value, Kong has been interpreted as a symbol for persecuted blacks and seen as a metaphor for man's destruction of the environment, natural order and other things."-Mark Chalon Smith from the Los Angles Times

The story starts with film director, Carl Denham, setting up a ship to go off to sea. Before they leave the next dawn he heads out to find his leading lady for his newest film, finding a young lady called Ann being stopped for shoplifting. He then takes the girl on board the ship much to the first mate's, Jack Driscoll, disapproval. They set sail for the isolated island named Skull Island in search for the legendary Kong. When they arrive they are met with the island natives in the middle of a ritual to sacrifice one of the girls beyond the gate that blocks their village from the rest of the island, but when they see Ann, with her blonde hair and white dress they are mesmerised and want to use her as the sacrifice instead. Even through the efforts of the crew getting Ann to safety by getting her back to the ship, she is kidnapped by the natives and strapped to two stone pillars as a gift for the mighty beast Kong, who turns out to be a giant gorilla. The film continously moves between Kong fighting many other creatures that inhabit the island and the crew of the ship, including Jack who had fallen in love with Ann and wants revenge for the ape taking his girl.
Fig 3: Shot of the big Finale of King Kong

Eventually Ann is saved and Kong is capture and sent to America and is part of a stage show, showcasing the "Eigth Wonder of the World". Carl allows a group of journalists to take pictures of the beast,  which angers him, breaking out of his shackles. Kong then rampages the streets of New York City until he happens upon seeing Ann again as he begins to ascend up the Empire State Building. Grabbing her, he continues up the building while Jack and Carl call for assistence from the police and the airforce, to shot the ape when he reaches the peak of the Empire State. The ape is shot down, letting go of Ann in the process. Jack and Ann then embrace, while Carl tells the police that it wasnt the airplanes that killed Kong but that it was"Beauty that killed the Beast".

The editting for the film is amazing, the way the shots of stop motion and live action were layered onto eachother so that they could play simultaneously, so that an action scene of the stop motion Kong versus a T-rex could happen alongside the live action Ann trying to escape from the apes clutches. The way Skull Island looks is quite phenomenal as well, the way of layering on matte paintings with props from the set gives the island a sense of vastness in such a tight space like the jungle. Even the range of camera movement is much more complexed then the likes of "The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" and "Metropolis", with the use of closeup shots, long shots, establishing shots, and tracking being used.
"Through multiple exposures, processed "shots" and a variety of angles of camera wizardry the producers set forth an adequate story and furnish enough thrills for any devotee of such tales."- Mordaunt Hall from New York Times

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