King Kong (1933): An Analysis

The black-and-white version of King Kong, made in 1933, is a typical Hollywood film.  All aspects of the film have trademark Hollywood elements in them.  The following passages will see an explication of this assertion.

In many ways this is a ground-breaking film.  It set a precedent for all the subsequent thriller/horror/animation films that have been made in Hollywood.  It would not be an exaggeration to state that in all subsequent movies of these genres, traces of King Kong could be found.  Not many people today would be excited at the prospect of viewing this 1933 edition.  The reason being, they have already seen aspects of King Kong in many movies that the novelty completely escapes the mind.  Is this a judgement on the true merit of the film?  The answer is in the negative.  The only proper way in evaluating the technical and artistic merits of the film is by taking into consideration the prevailing technologies available at the time of production.  In this case, King Kong should be placed in the context of the available technologies of 1930s.  For example, Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion animation was a remarkable achievement at the time.  So is the skilful performance of the leading lady Fay Wray (Stringer, p.409).

The animation work of Willis O’Brien received special appreciation.  Eight years earlier, O’Brien had worked as Special Effects Animator in the film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World”.  Given that the Hollywood in 1925 was in a stage of technological nascence, adds merit to O’Brien’s work.  Although King Kong is rightfully regarded as a ground-breaking film, it did follow a trend of films that involved monstrous beasts.  Some such movies leading up to King Kong would be “Jazz Monkey”, “Chang”, Monkey Stuff”, “Prohibition Monkey”, and of course “The last world”.  All these movies except the last one expanded on the “Apes in Jungles” theme.  The Last World depicted prehistoric life of dinosaurs.  Some critics point out that King Kong has semblances to the classic fable “Beauty and the Beast” (McGowan-Hartmann, 2006).

The realistic portrayal of an ape-like monster can be attributed to the film-makers’ backgrounds.  Both Merian Cooper’s and Ernest Schoedsack’s previous work experiences included documenting apes in their natural habitat.  The transition from factual documentary making to adventure-horror-fantasy must have been challenging for both these men.  In hindsight, their success in overcoming these inundated challenges had contributed immensely to the film industry world-wide. The screenplay by James Creelman and Ruth Rose was full of brilliance as well (Vaz, p.73).

The RKO Studio, which produced the film in 1933, was in a tight corner financially.  So the budget for King Kong was kept to the bare minimum.  Due to some foresight, planning and efficient use of available resources, the film-makers were able to produce this masterpiece.  For example, the shooting was scheduled in such a way that the benign climatic conditions of spring and summer seasons could be used for maximum advantage.  When constrained by the low budget, Merian Cooper and Edgar Wallace decided to re-use the set built for the making of “The Most Dangerous Game” the previous year.  By the way, “The Most Dangerous Game” was itself a big success.  But King Kong managed to out-score this movie in financial returns (Vaz, p.73).

The one aspect of King Kong that saw much innovation was its cinematography.  For example, rear projection, dummy miniature models of characters, and other cameral tricks that were adopted during the making of this film were to become standard procedures in the film industry.  In spite of such revolutionary innovations, King Kong did not receive even a single Academy Award nomination.  The category where it would have swept all prizes was “Special Effects”.  Since there was no separate “Special Effects” department during the 1930s, this coveted recognition evaded King Kong.  Also, the constant depiction of violence in the film and the popular acclaim that it received might have swayed the decision of members of the Academy (Stringer, p.409).

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