Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin - King Kong (1933)

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many, many DVDs in my home video library.  Today, we get to the genesis of all giant monster films, the grandfather of the special-effects driven blockbuster, the original King Kong.  This entry is originally dated July 13, 2012.

Everybody knows King Kong.  The film is a legend.  It was one of the first special-effects driven films.  Animators still look to it for inspiration.  The stop-motion animation effects that brought Kong to life as still studied to this very day. 

And until this night, I'd only ever seen it once.  The first time I saw it was back in high school.  A&E was still about showing classic films and high-class documentaries, and it was on one weekday afternoon.  So I was like, "Hey, it's a classic I've never seen.  Here's my chance to see it."  And I saw it.  The one scene that sticks out the most in my mind was about 2/3rds of the way through the film, when Ann is rescued from Kong.  There was a pterodactyl.  Kong fought a pterodactyl.  It was awesome.

For the longest time, King Kong was the #1 most requested film to be released on DVD.  But, it looked like it would never happen.  When they make the fancy hi-def masters for DVD and Blu-Ray, they like to use the original negative.  And sadly, with King Kong, the original negative has been lost to time.  Yes, even films need to be properly archived.  Luckily, in an archive in the UK, they found the highest-quality copy of the film that still exists, and the DVD was made from that.  The DVD hit stores just in time for the 2005 Peter Jackson remake.  It finally came out on a Blu-Ray a couple of years ago.  I remember spotting it in HMV when it first came out.  I was very tempted to get it that day, but earlier that week, I had just bought my new car, and I was having the first of many panic attacks about my finances that I continue to have to this very day.  Every time I saw it in HMV, I'd think about getting it, only to go, "But...but...it costs money!"  But a week ago, I finally said, "Fuck it.  It's my birthday."

I'm pretty sure you know the story.  The film opens with Carl Denham, a well-known director of nature documentaries.  He's off to an undisclosed tropical location to film his next movie, but first he needs a leading lady.  (Someone told him his movies would make twice as much if he put a pretty face in them.)  However, no actress wants to work with him, because he's gotten a reputation for being very reckless.  Well, this being the Great Depression, Carl just goes and plucks a starving young woman from a soup kitchen line ...Ann Darrow.  After a buying her a big dinner at a diner, Carl has found his leading lady.

They set sail for parts unknown.  At first, the ship's first mate, Jack Driscoll, doesn't take too kindly to Ann.  He figures that women are a distraction when there's sailing to do.  However, Jack begins to warm up to Ann, and eventually, the two fall in love. 

Once they reach the middle of the ocean, Carl pulls out a map that he bought from a sailor in Singapore...a map to a mysterious location known as Skull Island.  There's legend of some great beast there, and Carl knows if he captures it on film, it'll be his next great blockbuster.  They arrive at Skull Island, and interrupt some ceremony being held by the primitive natives.  This ceremony is to offer a sacrifice to the great beast...Kong.  The natives capture Ann to be the sacrifice, and we soon see Kong...a giant gorilla.  Kong abducts Ann and retreats into the jungle.  Jack rallies the sailors to form a rescue party and go after her.

The movie then becomes one long chase as Jack and the sailors pursue Kong through the jungles, battling all manner of stop-motion animated beasties along the way.  Eventually, only Jack survives, and he makes it all the way to Kong's lair where he frees Ann.  Kong chases them back to the native village, where Carl is actually able to subdue Kong with some well-place gas bombs.  Carl vows to take Kong back to civilization and put him on display.

And he does exactly that, where we have the now-legendary finale where Kong breaks free of his bonds and goes on a rampage in New York City.  He abducts Ann again, climbs to the top of the Empire State Building, and meets his fate at the hands of some biplanes.

Wow.  You might remember I bought the Criterion edition of Godzilla a few months ago.  Watching King Kong, it fairly obvious that Kong really established the formula for giant monster movies.  From the music to the general plotline...it's all there.

And no wonder Fay Wray, as Ann Darrow, gained a reputation as the original scream queen.  As soon as Kong appears, she has no more lines in the film...she just screams. 

The characters are kind of flat though.  Jack is the hero, through and through.  Ann is the damsel in distress.  And Carl is there just to keep the plot moving. 

No...the true star of the film is Kong.  No wonder this film is still studied by animators to this very day.  The ground-breaking stop motion effects by Willis O'Brien really do allow Kong to emote, and you really do start to feel for the big monkey. 

All in all, it's a great film, and truly deserving of its classic status.  It's simply a classic adventure tale.

Next up, I also bought the extended edition of the Peter Jackson remake, so that'll be next. 

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