There's a little something called "Movie Magic" which seems to be lacking from cinema these days. There was once a time when the release of a movie was considered an "event" - and while you could argue that the latest Star Wars movies or Harry Potter entries could classify as this, what I'm referring to is a day and age where going to the movies was a treat and the theatres made an effort to make it more like a stage show by offering the audience such extras as a programme. 1933's King Kong is pure "Movie Magic" in every sense of the word, and while it has dated a little bit seventy-two years later and is packed with melodrama, it is still a rousing and wondrous adventure that was (at the time) like nothing anyone had seen before.
Brought to the big screen by producer-directors Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, and stop motion effect pioneer Willis O'Brien, King Kong takes the heart and soul of the "serials" of the day and throws it all together for a tale of maverick filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) who has decided to head to the unchartered, Skull Island, in order to make his latest big-screen extravaganza.
The only problem is he doesn't have a leading lady, but that's easily solved when a poverty stricken beauty (the screens first "Screen Queen", Fay Wray) catches his eye. Sweeping her up as part of his journey, they're soon on a boat headed towards unknown territory. At first only Denham knows where they are headed, but soon the director shares tales of "Kong" - an apparently giant creature who is both revered and feared by the Natives.
Upon arriving on the island (which is surrounded by gigantic walls in order to keep "something" out), Denham and his crew find themselves coming into contact with a whole slew of thought-to-be-extinct creatures and the tribe that inhabits Skull Island. However, it seems they've interrupted their ritual sacrifice to "Kong", and the only way the Natives will be happy if Wray takes the place of the original girl.
What follows next is a Beauty And The Beast-like love story as Wray is taken away by our towering title ape as Denham and shipmate John Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) follow after her in order to try and save her from the clutches of the beast. Of course, that's not before they encounter a rampaging dinosaur and a water-dwelling Brontosaur. We also have a memorable scene with Kong facing off against a T-Rex (that ends with Kong awesomely snapping its jaw).
However, it has to be the last twenty minutes of King Kong that are the most famous as Denham brings the ape back to New York and all Hell breaks loose when Kong snaps his chains and rampages through the streets - it all ending with the classic moment atop the Empire State Building.
As I stand here on the cusp of Peter Jackson's big-budgeted, CGI packed remake, I still love the original King Kong for all it brought to the film world and highly recommend it to anyone interested in seeing a film that re-defined special effects for years to come. This is truly a movie worthy of its status as "Classic" and you can't deny its influence and impact on future filmmakers and movies in general. Not to mention that O'Brien's stop motion effects are still a wonder to this day, especially when you consider just how difficult it was to pull off everything he did. It was also remade in 1976, but that one's better left alone.
Followed by Son Of Kong. (Chris Hartley, 12/9/05)
Directed By: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Written By: James Creelman, Ruth Rose.
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher.
Warner Bros. - November 22, 2005
Picture Ratio: Full Frame.
Picture Quality: Warner, in conjuction with Turner Classics, has pieced together the most complete version of the film they could and considering it's age it looks pretty decent on disc. The picture varies from sharp to fuzzy at times, but there was never any distracting grain on hand and I doubt that King Kong has looked quite this good in some time.
Extras: Firstly, Warner is offering King Kong in three varities: a 2-disc special edition, a "Kong Collection" (the 2-disc plus discs of Son Of Kong and Mighty Joe Young), and the 2-disc collector's tin (which this review is based on).
Firstly, let me tell you that the embossed tin (with Kong's famous Empire State Building image) is pretty awesome. Unfortunately the tin used is a bit flimsy, so you have to be extra careful with it. Inside the hinged tin you will find the 2-disc edition in a slipcover, reproductions of the original lobby cards, and a cool re-do of the film's original "Programme". It certainly looks nice nestled in amongst all your various box sets and special "cordoned off from the rest of the collection" oddly shaped discs (like the Mars tin Total Recall disc).
Usually I'm not too overly enthusiastic about the extras on a disc, but when you have movie like King Kong that's so well loved you have to take note. The first disc contains the trailer (plus trailers to a handful more Merian C. Cooper films) and an enjoyable commentary track with stop motion wizard Ray Harryhausen and effects man Ken Ralston with archival interviews with Cooper and Wray mixed-in. On the second disc contains the bulk of the extras as we're treated to a 57 minute documentary about Cooper, a re-creation of the lost "Spider Pit" footage, test footage from the never completed Creation with Harryhausen commentary, and an in-depth 158 minute documentary on the making of the movie with a completely awesome segment where Peter Jackson hires a group of effects pros to re-create O'Brien's stop motion effects. Let's just say if you're a fan of the movie, this is an extremely well put together package.