Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Space Oddities: King Kong (1933) Review

Fig 1: King Kong film poster.

 The classic and iconic action adventure hit by directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, “King Kong” (1933) surely resides in everyone's minds. Witnessing Robert Wiene's “ Das  Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari” as setting up the horror genre, plus Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” starting the science fiction genre, it can be said with confidence that “King Kong” definitely is one of the first features to show off early special effects – the grandfather of movies using special effects to come.

The noticeable point in relation to using a combination of stop motion animation, miniature models, matte paintings, trick photography etcetera, really does show how clear Cooper and Schoedsack wanted to emphasize and even showcase the amount of special effects they could achieve. Supporting this, Roger Ebert (2002) adds: “The movie plunders every trick in the book to create its illusions”(Roger Ebert (2002). In addition, Almar Haflidason (2001) writes: “created impressive effects that were not only technically brilliant, but also highly imaginative in terms of cinematic action” (Almar Haflidason (2001). In agreement to this statement, such a variety of technical advances were used, however little did Cooper and Schoedsack know that in just a few decades time, technology would advance so rapidly that computer generated animation would thrive and become the new marvel. Yet, this would not be without the foundation of using stop motion animation.

Fig 2: Carl and Ann

The stigma and normalization of discrimination is very apparent for the film of this age, but what must be known is that these overt prejudices were very normal for this time period. For example, the depiction of an oriental / Asian man aboard Captain Englehorn’s (Frank Reicher) ship: seen in a typical Asian costume, style of beard and broken English; the appearance of all the natives of Skull Island. Supporting this, Ebert continues “Modern viewers will shift uneasily in their seats during the stereotyping of the islanders in a scene where a bride is to be sacrificed to Kong (it is rare to see a coconut brassiere in a non-comedy)” (Roger Ebert, 2002). 

Even the sexual objectification of women is present with the main female of the storyline, (as seen in Fig 2) Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), being constantly described by first-mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) as “annoying” and that “women are a pain” yet despite these remarks, Jack falls in love with Ann. The portrayal of Ann shows her not as an equal to men, always in distress and screaming for help, desperate, flirty and dramatic – but she is seen as a beautiful piece of eye candy. It can be viewed in the movie that many men perish to save the damsel in distress and without hesitation chase after to rescue her. 

Fig 3 : Kong tied up

Despite these negative aspects, “King Kong” was a box office smash and very successful. It is also noticeable that with the filming, the camera shots and camera movement are more familiar as to what is seen in today’s modern films – camera panning, zooming, slow and fast movement and dynamic perspectives. 

As Haflidason explains, “The plot was kept simple but believable enough to allow the audience to enjoy the special effects that would dominate”(Almar Haflidason, 2001), the straightforward plot of “King Kong” follows Carl Denham ( Robert Armstrong, as seen in Fig 2) pursuing his desire to make an amazing film. He comes across Ann, and sets off to Skull Island to explore the illusive rumor of a beast known only as “Kong” (can be seen in Fig 3). Witnessing a tribute in progress, the chief catches the crew and later sends men to kidnap the helpless Ann to give to “Kong”. The enormous ape arrives, roaring and bellowing and fighting off fellow giant monsters to keep Ann, in a way, safe. Ebert describes: “In an astonishing outpouring of creative energy, O'Brien and his collaborators (...)show Kong in battle with two dinosaurs, a giant snake, a flying reptile and a Tyrannosaurus Rex." (Roger Ebert, 2002) This can be seen in Fig 4, below.

Fig 4: Kong vs a dinosaur

It is apparent that despite Kong’s rage, there is a softness within when it comes to the golden haired girl. This links to a point of discussing inter-racial relationships during the 1930’s – African American individuals were seen as slaves; as second class citizens, and it would be shocking to treat them as equals, let alone be in a relationship with them. The slavery is cleverly shown on Kong when he is brought to a showroom to show civilization the “Eight Wonder Of The World” (Fig 3) where he is hoisted on chains, and, even after breaking free, the shackles on his wrists remain intact (can be seen in Fig 5). In a climatic ending, Kong’s life is cut short when he is shot down by fighter planes and falls to his death atop the Empire State Building. Then, a ricocheting quote is said by Carl Denham: "Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast”. This implies that physical damage did not culminate in Kong’s demise, but the inner turmoil of being an giant monster that could not show his compassion. 

Fig 5: The fate of Kong

Witnessing “King Kong” is a must. Engaging and dedicated in using the most state of the art special effects of it’s time, the effort to create a pioneering feature is present. Best described by Ebert, he states that “Even allowing for its slow start, wooden acting and wall-to-wall screaming, there is something ageless and primeval about "King Kong" that still somehow works” (Roger Ebert, 2002).

There are definitely areas of the feature that are perplexing for the audience, yet with “King Kong” you simply cannot stop watching. 


Ebert, R. (2002) Great Movie King Kong, Rogerebert.com (Accessed on 06/10/2015)http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-king-kong-1933
Haflidason, A. (2001) King Kong (1933), BBC Films (Accessed on 06/10/2015) http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/01/30/king_kong_1933_review.shtml

Illustration List: 

Fig 1: "King Kong film poster." (Accessed on 06/10/2015) http://www.geekadelphia.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/936full-king-kong-poster.jpg
Fig 2: "Carl and Ann" (Accessed on 06/10/2015) http://www.fact.co.uk/media/2804202/King%20Kong%205.JPG
Fig 4: "Kong vs a dinosaur" (Accessed on 06/10/2015) http://www.morvalearth.co.uk/Skull%20Island/King_Kong_1933_109.jpg
Fig 5: "The fate of Kong" (Accessed on 06/10/2015) http://thefilmspectrum.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/Picture-6.png


  1. I enjoyed reading this, Manisha :)

  2. I agree with Phil, Manisha... a very enjoyable read!

    Don't forget that when you introduce other films, you should also put their year of production in brackets after the name; it helps put them in context.