How one is introduced to a story is a very important prospect. I saw George Cukor's 1964 My Fair Lady a long while before I had the opportunity to watch Anthony Asquith and Leslie Howard's 1938 Pygmalion, and I was surprised at the charms of the story and the love of language so readily apparent. The first time I had ever really seen Hamlet was Michael Almereyda's 2001 modernization starring Ethan Hawke. It is a part of how I fell in love with the story, which is a kind of funny truth, partially given that the film is even better given the context of the original.
The first time I had been through the story of King Kong was the 1976 film by John Guillermin--not exactly ideal to get into the story, which I was somewhat aware of upon viewing the film. I do not think it is the worst film ever made or anything, but there is no wonder, just an antiseptic product by a major studio itching for a hit via a so-called "proven" product. Their neglect is in the truth that it is solely a story that makes a production good; it is the inspiration and fuel that fires the making of it.
That leads us to 2005's version by Peter Jackson. There is hardly a doubt in the world that Peter Jackson loves the story of Kong and that he entered the making of his version with a child-like glee. He seems to have a lot of fun making movies, back even to his early days with the very gory Dead Alive (1987), which is nothing short of inspired and hilarious. He also made the beautiful and wonderful Heavenly Creatures in 1994, which got him and his screenwriting partner Fran Walsh an Academy Award nomination for their writing.
Peter Jackson's early splatter films (like Dead Alive or Bad Taste) give him an easy comparison to Sam Raimi, who started with the infamous Evil Dead films, starting in 1981. Also like Sam Raimi, he loves film making and interesting, sometimes dizzying camera moves. Also like Raimi, he got attached to a big budget whirlwind of a movie series. It is not that Raimi and Jackson do not love their respective properties (Spiderman (2002) and the Lord of the Rings films); it is that some of their earlier sensibilities seem to have gotten maybe a little lost amidst the hubbub surrounding them. I like Jackson's 2001 The Fellowship of the Ring (the extended cut) more than the latter two. When it came to Return of the King (2003), I still liked it, and some moments were stunning, but some of Jackson's tricks became emptier, the battles too big and impersonal.
When Jackson got to King Kong, I feel that creative fuel got lost much more. The guy has skills, but it seems that he got somewhat lost in his role as a producer and in handling such labyrinthine productions, juggling multiple people and huge elements more than really digging deeper. The movie is too clever and aware of itself to be greatly involving; and, having not seen the original, I did not know what the story had been.
King Kong (1933), directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, is one of the great screen entertainments. What a modern audience sometimes cannot see is what really matters: a good story well told. The craftsmanship and artistry are more important than the most modern technologies. I like technology advancing, but I still like to listen to classic music the same way I like watching a classic movie. This is art, and good art stands the test of time. Kong is so engaging that various film makers made sequels and remakes through the years, but it is the original that is the great adventure--the work that went into the stop-motion. The character and such that came out of that work is outstanding. The sound design is exquisite and helps pull the viewer in to a world of such excitement and adventure. The acting, I felt, was very good. I understand what every character stood for, and all made their characters engaging and interesting, and not as bland as they can be in these movies.
When you are introduced to a story, you have to take into account that the telling of that story can really change your perception of it. It is the passion and craftsmanship that help make it all come together so well. You may not think you would like a story only to find yourself transported or moved by it. And you cannot let a year like 1933 get to you either. Great movies exist from all ages in this cineaste's view, and making a version for the modern age is not really all that ideal. Sometimes you should just show people the real thing.