King Kong: Well ahead of Its Time

         King Kong, a 1933 film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, was well ahead of its time in animated effects. Although many would admit that the special effects in this film are a far cry from those of today, they were quite stunning for their time. Not only did this film exemplify the use of stop-motion animation, blue screen, and puppet-like mechanics; it also showcased an extraordinary use of miniature sets. Some of the most spectacular effects include the fight scenes between King Kong and the T-Rex, the chase scene between King Kong and the film crew, and the scene in which King Kong scales the Umpire State Building.

         Willis O’Brien is credited with the superb use of animated effects in King Kong (Cook 246). For instance, he was responsible for bringing King Kong and the dinosaurs to life by manipulating scenes frame by frame and creating the illusion of movement by stringing still frames together. There were actually three different “King Kongs” in this film: the paw itself, the full body, and the head of the giant ape. These were carefully manipulated and switched back and forth on camera to create the impression that the beast was one single, detailed being. For instance, the scene in which King Kong scales the Empire State Building, he is shown full-bodied, from a distant, but also close up when his paw is wrapped around Ann.

         The use of miniature sets in King Kong was also quite stunning for the time period. One of the most intricate scenes was that of the storming scene on the edge of the island, on which Skull Mountain is located. Here, all of the villagers’ huts were created on a small scale in order to effectively portray King Kong’s crushing force. Although it is somewhat obvious that the scene is actually a scaled down model, the incorporation of attention to detail certainly helps in creating a sense of believability. Some of the most amazing recreated miniature scenes were those of the jungle. These scenes were amazingly lifelike with the various flora and fauna, small jungle creatures, and the inclusion of details such as spider webs and tree roots.

Work Cited

Cook, David A. A History of Narrative Film. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2004

Jenny Meier

Table of Contents