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How has King Kong evolved during the time of 1933 and 2005?
King Kong (1933) was directed by C. Cooper and Ernest B. and a re-make in 2005 was directed by Peter Jackson. Between the two dates some things has changed which make significant changes both in the story and its production.
King Kong is a story about a giant ape which was captured from Skull Island and taken to New York City, after film-maker Carl Denham decided to shoot his upcoming movie on the island with the beautiful, blond actress and lead lady Ann Darrow. When Ann is kidnapped by the natives inhabiting the island, she is sacrificed to Kong as a bride; instead of killing her, Kong takes her with him. When the rescue team saves Ann, they take Kong with them as well to New York, where the confused ape escapes and finds his death, shot down by planes and falling from the Empire State building.
This movie was considered to be a great success and still is, with the early techniques used to create this sci-fi, horror and fantasy movie. Since its release in 1933, it has been a huge inspiration for most monster based films that has been made since then. As it was always an iconic movie, many re-makes has been made, most of them nowhere near the success of the original one, or simply are just ridiculous compared to it. There are two re-makes that drew the attention of the public; one is 1976 directed by John Guillermin and the other one in 2005 directed by Peter Jackson. However, although King Kong is a very original tale and has an engaging story line, it cannot be mistaken that the relationship between Kong and Ann is highly inspired by ‘Beauty and the Beast’. “When at last all of the great love stores throughout history have been transcribed for posterity, it is doubtful that any will have achieved great cultural, sociological or romantic significance than C. Cooper’s cinematic re-telling of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ fable, King Kong.” (, 2005:74).
The first factor that has changed since the first King Kong movie and the 2005 one is the racial and other issues that have been displayed in the 1933 film. “As popular culture, the King Kong films reflect Americans' fascination with racial imagery, sex, and violence. The film also deals with the themes of barbarism versus civilisation, of beauty and the beast.” (Tyler, 2005:175). The racial issue progressed and with time, as more King Kong movies were made, the less offensive they got. As in the original film, natives are portrayed as barbarian black people, in grass skirts and bones through their noses with incomprehensive chanting. It is also said that Kong represent a large black male, and his uncivilised behaviour is in connection with his race. In the 2005 re-make these racial stereotypes are not that noticeable, as the races are not that distant anymore as in the 1930s and American society looks at black people differently. Another issue that seem to appear in the original King Kong is how the females are treated as objects, rather than individuals, for example when the native chief wants to exchange multiple women of the tribe for one ‘golden’ woman. Or how the crew member question why Ann is brought and is the leading role in the film, as she is a female and seem to be annoyed with her.
|Figure 6: Natives, 2005|
When the original King Kong was made in 1933, there were not abilities to use computer to create Kong, dinosaurs or anything that today’s filmmakers are able to simulate with CGI. 'As film technique advanced, split-screen matting was developed. Split-screen (aka Stationary matte) is a process that places separately photographed images alongside one another in the same frame, usually in side-by-side or top-and-bottom combined.' (Morton, 2005:59) This technique appears during the film most of the time when the giant ape appears on screen. The budget for the production ($500,000) was more than double of a usual A-level movie, however the director and design team decided to use props that have appeared in other movies to cut the spending lower. So instead of travelling for shooting they created all scenes artificially in the studio. They have used the same trees to make the jungle shots, however, Kong had to be made multiple times (specifically four), which resulted in the character slightly changing his appearance, as the story moves on. The aim of the overall look of the puppets, was to not completely look like an ape, which they achieved by making the torso more toned and anatomically more human-like, as they thought the belly would create a humorous look. Furthermore, to make specific landscapes appear bigger and show space, they have used matte paintings as an illusion. Less problem occurred when the 2005 re-make was filmed, as the computer generated environment, Kong, dinosaurs and everything else. The budget of it is huge compared to the original, as they had $207,000,000. In the book of Jenny Wake's The Making of King Kong, The Official Guide to the Motion Picture (2005) all the preparations are shown, from concept art and clay figures of the dinosaurs to the huge jungle and New York set. In this re-make's case, most of the environment was built in the studios. Considering that they had no need for a puppet Kong to make, the audience is presented with the same appearance throughout the story, as the gorilla was entirely computer generated.
|Figure 8: CGI, 2005|
|Figure 7: Kong puppets, 1933|
Lastly, what appears to be a big change between the two films, is the character development of Ann and Kong and the overall relationship between the two. In 1933 the affection between the two characters appears to be much one sided, as Ann (Fay Wray) constantly screams and is frightened of the giant ape. Also the relationship is less 'romantic' and appears as Kong looks at the beauty more like a trophy and with less feelings. In 2005, the overall relationship between them seems to be more warm and 'romantic', as Kong tries to protect Ann at all cost and even shows emotions, such as staring at her affectionately. Ann is not as distant as in the original film either, as she is very sad to see Kong captured, not scared when the ape finds her in New York, enjoying his company and cries when he dies. These more emotional connection make the bond stronger, which makes it even more heart-breaking to watch as Kong falls.
|Figure 9: Kong holding terrified Ann, 1933|
Overall, a lot has changed over time, including racial issues, animation technique and character development; however the one thing that stayed the same is the beauty and the beast like story of a young beautiful woman and a giant gorilla. The audience is engaged by the tale and sheds tears as the last scene finishes.
- Cook, P. (2007) The Cinema Book (3rd edition). London: British Film Institute
- Erb, C. (2009) Tracking King Kong, A Hollywood Icon in World Culture (2nd edition). Detroit: Wayne State University Press
- Morton, R. (2005) The History of a Movie Icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson (1st edition). New York: Applause Theatre Book Publishers
- Parkinson, D. (1995) History of Film (World of Art) (1st edition). London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
- Thompson, K. & Bordwell, D. (1994) Film History: An Introduction (1st edition). London: McGraw-Hill Higher Education
- Tyler, B. M. (2005) King Kong Cometh! The Evolution of the Great Ape (by: Paul A. Woods). London: Plexus Publishing Limited
- Vertlieb, S. (2005) King Kong Cometh! The Evolution of the Great Ape (by: Paul A. Woods). London: Plexus Publishing Limited
- Wake, J. (2005) The Making of King Kong, The Official Guide to the Motion Picture. London: Pocket Books
- Woods, P. A. (2005) King Kong Cometh! The Evolution of the Great Ape. London: Plexus Publishing Limited
- King Kong. (1933) Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack [DVD] California: RKO- Studios.
- King Kong. (2005) Directed by Peter Jackson [DVD] Wellington, Universal Pictures.
- Figure 1. King Kong (1933) [Poster] At: http://www.impawards.com/1933/king_kong_ver2.html (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 2. King Kong (2005) [Poster] At: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0360717/mediaviewer/rm2524386304 (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 3. Kong on the Empire State Building,1933. (1933) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] California: RKO- Studios. At: http://onthesetofnewyork.com/02052013.html (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 4. Kong on the Empire State Building, 2005. (2005) From: King Kong. Directed by: Peter Jackson. [Film Still] Wellington, Universal Pictures. At: http://filmferret.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/king-kong-2005.html
(Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 5. Natives, 1933. (1933) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] California: RKO- Studios. At: http://www.herogohome.com/2012/10/01/super-movie-monday-the-son-of-kong/ (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 6. Natives, 2005. (2005) From: King Kong. Directed by: Peter Jackson. [Film Still] Wellington, Universal Pictures. At: http://www.themakeupgallery.info/racial/tribal/kong.htm (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 7. Kong puppets, 1933. (2013) [Online] At: http://onthesetofnewyork.com/02052013.html (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 8. CGI, 2005. (2006) [Online] At: http://www.cgw.com/Publications/CGW/2006/Volume-29-Issue-1-January-2006-/Long-Live-the-King.aspx (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 9. Kong holding terrified Ann, 1933. (2011) From: King Kong. Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. [Film Still] California: RKO- Studios. At: http://clubcinema-bergpfad.over-blog.com/article-king-kong-de-la-stop-motion-a-la-motion-capture-90988061.html (Accessed on 30.11.16)
- Figure 10: Kong and Ann's last moments, 2005. (s.d.) From: King Kong. Directed by: Peter Jackson. [Film Still] Wellington, Universal Pictures. At: http://www.ondacinema.it/film/recensione/king_kong.html (Accesed on 30.11.16)
Word count (without, title, quotes and references): 1026