Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Film Review: King Kong (1933)

King Kong is a 1933 monster adventure film directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The film tells the story of a filmmaker, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), travelling with a group of sailors and a young woman Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), to an uncharted island which houses a legendary best named ‘King Kong’. Kong captures Ann and takes her around the island, while the sailors give chase. Kong is taken down and transported to New York to become an exhibition, shortly after the show begins Kong escapes and wreaks havoc on New York, until planes arrive to shoot the monster down from the tallest building.

The special effects of King Kong are still known as groundbreaking, with the use of stop-motion animation to bring the monsters of the film to life, matte painting and rear projection for the scene and background of jungle and city. The animation of Kong is very consistent which took a painstakingly long time to create in production of the film. Willis O’Brien was the head of the visual effects and set design for the film, and at the time of being asked to be a part of visual production of the film, according to an article from The Film Spectrum, Jason Fraley (2012) said that O’Brien had been “tinkering with a new technique called stop-motion photography” and by developing this method of animation O’Brien was able to create grand and epic visuals at a time where near impossible to create at the time.

The stop-motion O’Brien used for Kong and the dinosaurs within the film is very consistent and is rather realistic, and the modeling of the puppets too added to the realism of the visuals. The models were “made of metal, ball-and-socket skeleton armatures, covered with cotton dental dam, latex rubber, then rabbit fur. They were also equipped with wires, to control facial expressions, and an inflatable diaphragm to simulate breathing” (Jason Fraley, 2012) the amount of detail that went into the creation of the puppets can be seen in the film, and effectively makes a more rich character for Kong and the monsters, such as the breathing, fur bristling and realistic movements. Although the puppets can be seen as models that are being moved and quite machine-like, and at certain points the audience can react to the scenes in a comedic light, the emotion of the monsters is still portrayed, as Joe Bigelow (1933) says that “after the audience becomes used to the machine-like movements and other mechanical flaws in the gigantic animals on view, and become accustomed to the phoney atmosphere, they may commence to feel the power”. The power of Kong’s violent nature in the city scenes, such as when he breaks free and wreaks havoc on New York, and also in the jungle scenes where he kills several monsters, the sheer strength of the creature and the brutishness is still presented, despite any unintentional comedic and less realistic sequences.

The method in creating the sets and scenery of the jungle for the film were revolutionary and inspiring for future filmmakers, and became a means of creating large, detailed and awe-inspiring sets without actually building these large-scale vast sets. This revolutionary technique involved layering glass matte paintings on a multi-plane and then adding physical and minimal props like trees and rocks in front.

King Kong was not only groundbreaking in terms of visuals but became a great inspiration for future filmmakers and films. King Kong inspired many future filmmakers to create more epics, with large and near impossible visuals, large sets and monsters, combined with live action actors.  There is no greater tribute to Kong than the fact that Spielberg paid homage as he rebuilt visual effects in Jurassic Park (1993)” Jason Fraley (2012) mentions that Spielberg was greatly influenced by the visual effects within the film, and the visual effects O’Brien used for Kong and the dinosaurs Spielberg in fact rebuilt for another classic with giant monsters wreaking havoc as the basis for the storyline. King Kong not only inspired future visuals in films but also storyline, as the influence can be seen not only in Jurassic Park, but also in Godzilla, as Tim Martin (Telegraph, 2014) says that the creator of Godzilla, Tanaka, “had been an admirer of American monster movies since King Kong in 1933”, presenting the idea that King Kong had not only an influence on Western audiences, but also across the world.

In conclusion, King Kong’s epic visuals of giant monsters moving alongside live actors in vast, detailed and appealing scenery, and have inspired many filmmakers for many years after its release, influencing many stop-motion animators such as Ray Harryhausen, and became a classic and revolutionary point in film visual’s and storylines.



Jason Fraley (2012) The Film Spectrum.

Joe Bigelow (1933)

Tim Martin (2014) Telegraph. (

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