King Kong (1933)

review by John W. Herbert

It’s been years since I’ve seen the original King Kong, I gotta tell ya, this film rocks!
The new special edition DVD features the fully restored 1933 cut (not the 1938 "censored cut" which most casual viewers would be familiar with), and it looks gorgeous. It probably hasn’t looked or sounded this good since its original release.
And yes, the acting is a bit over the top, the dialogue a bit corny, and the special effects don’t hold a candle to what can be done today, but 70 years later, it still holds together remarkably well. The plot, as if you didn’t know, concerns a film-maker who’s heard rumors that some thing exists on a south sea island. He takes his camera crew and a young ingénue (Canada’s own Fay Wray) to the island and discovers the thing is Kong, a giant ape. He plans to use Wray’s character as bait to lure Kong into capture, and then showcase the ape in a traveling show and make millions. The plan goes wrong as Kong falls in love with the bait, and trying to find her, escapes in New York, causing mayhem and death.
The film is full of classic cinema images and moments. And being the 1933 version, many scenes of violence have been restored. Kong was vicious and brutal.
The special effects, for their time, are staggering. This was the Star Wars of 1933. No one had ever seen anything like this. The film-makers who trace their inspiration back to Willis O’Brien’s 18-ich tall Kong miniature are too numerous to mention, but some that are featured on the supplements are Peter Jackson, Ken Ralston, Bob Burns, Rick Baker, Ben Burtt, and Ray Harryhausen. And speaking of supplements, there’s an hour-long biography of Merion C. Cooper, who produced Kong, and a nearly three-hour documentary on the film itself. Considering that almost no behind the scenes material exists from the actual production itself and that hardly anyone involved is still alive, the documentary does a fine job showing how the film was made.
If you haven’t seen Kong in a while, and remember it as being hokey, well, yes, you’re right. But Kong still has the power to overcome all the pitfalls that a 70 year-old movie has for a 21st century audience. Yes, it’s cheesy, over-acted, hammy dialogue, with cheap sets, and crude special effects. It still works, and works brilliantly. Check it out. You owe it to yourself. And Kong.

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