King of Kong

“Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.”

Carl Denham, Final scene of ‘King Kong’ 1933

“Kong-Skull Island” debuts today, ahead of much fanfare, glowing reviews, a terrific ride at Universal Studios Orlando, and a budget north of $185 million. I’ll be in the crowd tonight to view this spectacular new film in 3-D, watching the giant ape and his jungle mates do battle with the 20th century.

Yet no matter how big a hit this movie becomes (and the projections are strong for a terrific world-wide gate), it will never eclipse the shock and awe of the original 1933 classic. Meriam Cooper and Ernst Schoedsack’s King Kong brought shock and awe to the depression-era movie audiences longing from an escape from reality. Their use of various ‘new’ special effects made crowds gasp and applaud—the never before seen camera angles, use of miniature rear projection, and stop action effects literally took audiences out of their seats. Think of the last time you saw something absolutely amazing for the very first time—that’s what those movie crowds felt in 1933.

For me, a kid hooked on sci-fi and monster movies in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, the showing of King Kong on television was akin to a religious experience. In the golden age of Godzilla, Them!, and Gorgo, this 1933 epic stood way above the pack. It wasn’t just the big ape—the story line was a classic adventure thriller/love story/great escape, the journey through the jungle was incredible (couldn’t get enough of the Brontosaurus chasing the

doomed crew or the T-Rex battle), and the scenes of chaos in New York City were spectacular. The soundtrack was dynamic (listen to an uncut, full-length version to really appreciate it) and the acting surprisingly strong for a ‘horror’ film (making Fay Wray an instant star). And, those originally deleted scenes! Some pretty amazing stuff indeed!

Now, some 84 years later, we have the 3rd remake of this classic (no, I’m not counting that incredible awful Japanese King Kong vs. Godzilla flick nor the quickly made sequel “Son of Kong”). The first two remakes were nowhere near the quality of the original. The Dino DeLaurentis 1976 flick was incredibly poor remodeling of the original, with special effects akin to a Saturday morning cartoon. Peter Jackson’s 2004 CGI extravaganza was a heartfelt effort on his part to capture and multiply everything about the original—it was, unfortunately, too long, too over the top, and had Joe Black insulting the Carl Denham character. I couldn’t help but think that Meriam Cooper, the original creator of the 1933 classic (and, in real life, an incredible adventurer from whom the Carl Denham character was modeled, and who, as one of the airplane pilots in the finale, was one of the first directors to make an on-screen cameo in his own movie) was whirling in his grave at these remakes.

So as I watch the new version of Kong tonight, I’ll remember that classics are classics for a reason—and the original big ape from Skull Island is still the best!

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