Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Film Review - King Kong


This film review studies the 1933 film King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B.Schoedsack. The story follows an ambitious film maker Carl Denham who attempts to make a film of a lifetime by sailing off to a lost island known as Skull Island, he takes with him unemployed dancer Ann Darrow as his leading lady who soon becomes the interest of Jack Driscoll, the first mate on-board their boat. Upon making landfall they discover a native people who kidnap and sacrifice Ann to the great ape that lives on their island. Kong becomes infatuated with Ann yet is captured when Driscoll and the crewmen lead a rescue attempt, Kong is taken back to New York where he becomes "The Eigth Wonder of the World", yet he soon escapes and rampages across New York, upon finding Ann he climbs to the top of the empire state building and is killed by US Air force planes.

Figure 1
Figure 1; the iconic image of King Kong battling US Air Force planes atop the Empire State building.

The film evokes a of typical attitude of the 1930s; the natives present in the film are portrayed as being barbaric and aggressive; "the film offers up a disturbing portrait of the dominant white racial ideologies of the time, implying that the idea of America (as represented by Manhattan’s iconic topography) would be destroyed if the black man were given total freedom" (Morley, 2010), this is reinforced in the film where the natives have a seemingly African culture with tribal weapons, dances and a tribal appearance. Skull Island could be a reference to an untamed, wild country or continent, possibly Africa or another part of the world. This point likely highlights the racial attitudes of the 1930s.

Figure 2
We can see in Figure 2 the natives and their portrayal.

The theme of masculinity is prevalent in the film; the strong yet silent white hero Jack Driscoll saves the helpless damsel (Ann Darrow) from the vicious monster (Kong). In addition the theme of black masculinity is also present, "I would argue that the stereotypical representation of the sexually aggressive black male was merely transformed into another stereotype, namely the non-threatening, desexualized noble negro; the latter no longer possesses any evil character traits but is nonetheless destructed in his inferior weakness in order to restore white womanhood to its pedestal and reinforce white capitalist male power structures" (Lewis, 2004). In agreement with this point it seems that Kong depiction as a "sexually aggressive black male" is portrayed on the film, particularly by his treatment of Ann. In one scene Kong rips the clothes and toys with Ann which seems to portray this sexual aggressivness. It is also likely that the film does not attempt to promote racial equality through its portrayal of black and white people, for instance the white people, even the "bothersome" woman (Ann) are still depicted as being superior.

Figure 3
King Kong tries to wrest a giant tree branch holding the crew from its perch and plunge them into the chasm. 

The special effects of the film where unprecedented for their time and many praised the film for it. The massive scale of Kong would've made it impractical during that era to build a life size robot of him, instead the producers used stop motion animation using a small 18-inch model. The crew used a simple technique of stop-motion; posing a model, taking a picture and then reposing it. Such a technique is painfully slow but enables inanimate objects to be moved with believability. "O'Brien was able to give the mechanical puppet a personality with which audiences were able to identify." (Krystek, 1996). In agreement with this point it seems that the Kong model was done with such skill that it became more than just a puppet, it became a character in its own right with its own history, personality and story.

King Kong also utilised multiple screensets to enable the large action scenes present in King Kong to come to life. "In rear projection previously shot footage is projected onto a translucent screen from the rear while additional action is photographed in front of the screen. This allows a model Tyrannosaurus Rex to menace Fay Wray as she sits in a full, sized tree in front of the screen" (Krystek, 1996). This technique meant that the large model animals could interact with the humans even though they were both on different scales. 

 JC Morely. 2010. [ONLINE]  Available at: [Accessed 15th October 2014)

Natalie Lews. 2004. cooper-s-king-kong-1933-black-masculinity-between-white-womanhood-and [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15th Ocober 2014]

Lee Krystek. 1996. kingkong.htm [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 15th October 2014]

Illustration List
Figure 1
N/A, (1933), King-Kong-1933-king-kong-2814496-2400-1891.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed on 15th October 2014]

Figure 2
N/A, (1933), KingKong_059Pyxurz.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed on 15th October 2014]

Figure 3
N/A, (1933), king-kong-shaking-humans.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: [Accessed on 15th October 2014]

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