Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Film Review: King Kong (1933)

Fig. 1: Original theatrical poster by Keye Luke
King Kong is in many ways a reflection of the time it was made. Whether symbolically or literally, it shows the attitudes of white Americans towards minorities and women through a story about a giant ape. Fay Wray is portrayed as little more than a damsel in distress, who constantly needs saving and falls in love with a man who is frequently rude to her, the natives of Skull Island are an offensive stereotype, and Kong is introduced by the words "He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive - a show to gratify your curiosity." enforcing the idea of Kong representing minorities who were taken from their daily lives and forced into a life of servitude for the happiness of their captors. 

Though it is not made obvious, Carl Denham (fig. 2) is largely the villain of the film. It is because of him that the lives of so many other characters are ruined. Ann is kidnapped and traumatised, a good majority of the crew taken to Skull Island die horribly, along with several New York residents at the end of the film, and the village the natives to Skull Island live in is destroyed and left unprotected. Despite this, the only characters portrayed as "bad" are the natives of Skull Island (fig. 3) and Kong himself. 

Fig. 2: Carl Denham films Ann on the ship.
Denham is not shown to receive any repercussions for a situation which is in many ways his fault, Jack Driscoll continuously insults Ann up until the point where he suddenly falls in love with her, and yet the audience would have been expected to walk away from the film believing these men were good. However, attitudes have changed since then; "Modern viewers will shift uneasily in their seats during the stereotyping of the islanders" (Ebert, 2002). For any modern viewers watching the film now, the attitudes of people in the 1930s must be kept in mind, otherwise the film is difficult to watch.

Fig. 3: Natives of Skull Island.
Something King Kong must be highly praised for, are its special effects, considered to be groundbreaking for the time. The film uses stop-motion animation and rear projection to create the scenes involving Kong and various other large creatures that live on Skull Island. Live-action scenes would be miniaturised to make the Kong model appear larger, and in many scenes "Kong's fur seems to crawl... the model was covered with rabbit fur, and the fingers of the stop-action animators disturbed it between every stop-action shot." (Ebert, 2002). 

Fig. 4: Ann in the giant hand of Kong.
The models for Kong were all 18 inches high, except for the model used for the scenes in New York, which was 24 inches high as the director, Merien C. Cooper, felt Kong needed to look bigger while in New York. A twenty foot high head was also made for Kong, as well as a giant foot and hand (fig. 4). The head was operated by three people, who pulled leavers in order to create different facial expressions for Kong, while the hand was used for close-ups of Ann being held by Kong, and the foot used to show people being crushed. 

Overall, King Kong majorly influenced the film industry. The story is simple, but visually the film is incredibly interesting, even today. The animation looks as old as it is, but has a style to it that makes it something of a work of art. Since the film was made, there have been major leaps and bounds in animation, but does photorealistic animation look as interesting? Scenes in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel use miniature models, that are incredibly detailed, yet clearly not real. This makes these parts of the film more engaging, and it's the same with King Kong. The beginning of the film, which mostly involves scenes on the boat to Skull Island, are nowhere near as enthralling as the scenes with Kong and various other beasts on the island. The animation made King Kong what it was, and it is thanks to the amazing work of the animators that it continues to be a well known film today.

Figure 1. Original theatrical poster by Keye Luke (1933) King Kong [Advertisement] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Kong_(1933_film) (Accessed on: 09.10.15)

Figure 2. Carl Denham films Ann on the ship. (1933) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merien C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] United States: RKO Radio Pictures. At: http://kingkong.wikia.com/wiki/File:Carl_Denham_1933.jpg (Accessed on: 09.10.15)

Figure 3. Natives of Skull Island. (1933) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merien C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] United States: RKO Radio Pictures. At: http://pyxurz.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/king-kong-page-2-of-5.html (Accessed on: 10.11.15)

Figure 4. Ann in the giant hand of Kong. (1933) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merien C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] United States: RKO Radio Pictures. At: http://www.bookdrum.com/books/gravitys-rainbow/9780099533214/bookmarks-276-300.html?bookId=12485 (Accessed on: 10.11.15)

Ebert, R. (2002) 'King Kong' In: www.rogerebert.com 02.03.02 [online] At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-king-kong-1933 (Accessed on: 09.10.15)

1 comment:

  1. Well-written review Eleanor :)
    Try and make sure that you use a broad selection of sources for your quotes, rather than just rely on one, as this will give you more depth in your discussion.
    Bring on the next one :)