The Historical Significance of Kong

        King Kong is arguably the greatest giant monkey movie ever made, but what does it have to contribute to the history of cinema? How do it and its subsequent remakes reflect the concerns of the three generations that developed those films? How do the technologies employed in the making of these three films help to tell the narrative of the story?

         First off, King Kong (1933), directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack, was significant because it was the first “block-buster” monster movie. This was due in part to the stop motion animation, which was revolutionary at the time, and the unforgettable ness of King Kong as a character. He became an icon for all things that were gigantic. Not many movie characters are known by almost everyone the world over, but Kong is. In the years that followed there were many giant monster movies; and there still are; however, none of them except Godzilla reached anywhere near the level of success that Kong achieved. In addition to the influence it had on the plot and story telling of movies, the technical effects it helped to pioneer are still in effect today. Stop motion animation was not invented by Kong’s creators, but they did help it to reach new heights. Stop motion animation is still in limited use today; it was used for part of the effects in Jurassic Park, and is also used in more contemporary TV shows such as Gary and Mike (2000), Moral Orel, and Robot Chicken.

         King Kong has generated two official remakes, along with sequels, offshoots, and a cartoon series. The first remake was done in 1976 by director John Guillermin, in which an oil company took the place of a film studio and an environmentalist took the place of a first mate as the lead male love interest. Here the stop motion animation was replaced by a man in a suit and a giant mechanical had. In the 1933 version Kong was a monster, a beast from the unknown to be feared. In the 1976 version, King Kong is now a member of an endangered species--a poor creature taken out of its element, forced into captivity. This is a reflection of the times as war no longer was the big concern anymore, and instead the country worried about how to become more eco-friendly.

         In Peter Jackson’s masterpiece King Kong (2005) the setting returned to the original film, even some dialogue from the first film was used. The introduction of computer-generated graphics gave Kong a depth of character, which could not have been achieved before. Suddenly Kong had a soul of his own, not just a meaning forced on him by situation and other characters. Now Kong had battle scars; he had an attitude; and most importantly, he had humanity. Before now we had always wished Ann’s escape, but now we worry about Kong’s feelings. That is what we do these days; we put human faces on monsters so we can better understand them. In some movies, this does not work, such as the case with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2004).

         The narratives of the three versions of Kong differ slightly; however the ploy is the same. The characters all go to an island; the girl always goes to the island, gets kidnapped by hostile natives to be offered to Kong. Kong always falls in love with her only to be heart broken when she is rescued. Then Kong is captured only to escape and try to rescue her from his captors. Then he dies. The first film tells the narrative of a brand new world, one that is exotic, unknown and frightening. As exploration of the globe became less and less commonplace, the moviemakers became more interested in the unknown. Stop motion looked real enough to get the audiences of the time to believe in the unknown. In 1976, clay became rubber, steel, and flesh making Kong appear to be a more pitiable creature. It made him seem more real to the audience of the day, and made them sorry to see this magnificent beast die. This is probably why they only showed a fight between him and a snake, to get him to seem more loveable and eco-friendly. In 2005, Kong became a computer-generated character; by now this is nothing spectacular. In fact, that is the point. By drawing our attention away from the now mundane special effects, we are able to focus on the soul of the character, provided by his computer-generated eyes.

         As a novice film critic I am going to go out on a limb and revise my earlier statement and say that King Kong is unarguably the greatest movie about a giant monkey ever made. It has meant so much too so many, it will be interesting to see what this classic film and its remakes will mean to generations yet to come.

Brad Galloway

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