King Kong (1933)
By: Devon B. on May 26, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner Brothers (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. English, French, Spanish Subtitles. 104 minutes
The Movie
Director: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Frank Reicher, Sam Hardy
Screenplay: James Creelman, Ruth Rose
Country: USA
One of my earliest memories is watching King Kong. It may sound pathetic, but King Kong became a defining factor in my life. As I grew older, yet still in the dark days pre-VHS, I would watch Kong whenever it was on television, and I never got tired of the film. When I hit primary school, I found a copy of the Crestwood King Kong book in the school's library. I still vividly remember wanting to check it out, but because it was in the big kid's section, I couldn't. I had to wait to the following school year to get it. Why I didn't just read it in the library, I can't recall, but the fact that I didn't remains as proof that I was always an imbecile, so idiocy is not just a trait that's developed in recent years. Anyway, that book also discussed other films starring everyone's favourite simian, and mentioned other monster books in the Crestwood series. It was through reading this series of books, I, like many before and after me, became a horror fan.

This new DVD release, capitalising on Peter Jackson's remake, marks the fourth time I've purchased King Kong. Was it worth it?

King Kong has a relatively simple story. A rouge movie maker named Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is having trouble casting a female lead for his next picture. When the usual methods for procuring an actress fail, he literally pulls a woman (Fay Wray, the original scream queen) off the street. With his cast and crew now assembled, Denham sets sail for a mysterious island, a land that time forgot. Now, normally I don't like to discuss plot that occurs after the 30 minute mark, but I'm thinking it's safe to say that on the island, they encounter dinosaurs and of course the greatest gorilla of all time. Mario wouldn't stand a chance against this Kong!

Much has been made about Jackson's King Kong taking forever to get to the island, but I think it should be pointed out that the original film takes its own sweet time before going ape. But that is the only real criticism I have of King Kong. The FX may be dated, the dialogue may be filled with 30s slang, and we may all know a giant gorilla is unlikely to actually want to grind people into the ground, but how could anyone not love this movie? In fact, if you don't, there's only one word for you: Fascist (notice, I didn't say a LOGICAL word). Some of the FX still hold up, with very innovative, groundbreaking stuff on display. People still wonder how the cave sequence was done, and always worth mentioning is the film sequence that defined what a good monster fight should be, the T-Rex battle. Rounded off with a tragic ending, the film is an unchallengeable classic.
This remastered print is what makes this DVD worth purchasing, even if you already have King Kong uncut on DVD. For years the only way to see the uncut version was with the more violent and sexual bits going dark and super grainy, as they were spliced in from an inferior copy. Luckily, in England a full 35 mm print was found intact, and so Kong's village rampage now doesn't look like it's taking place at midnight while everything else is set at dusk. The film still suffers grain, but it is nearly 75 years old. The film is presented at 1.33:1, slightly cropped from its original 1.37:1 ratio.
Audio is in the original mono track, and I sure don't mind if a film's audio track is preserved as it was originally presented.
Extra Features
Disc one only has a few extras on it. First is a commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with excerpts from interviews with producer, co-author, and co-director Merian C. Cooper and star Fay Wray. Wray doesn't get to say much, but Cooper's excerpts (along with the doco on disc two) should hopefully squash allegations that King Kong is a racist parable. It's just about a giant ape running amok, that's it! Harryhausen is able to provide insight into the film's FX, but his commentary is obviously less knowledgeable than the one on the Mighty Joe Young disc, given he actually worked on that film. Finishing off the disc is a collection of Cooper related trailers for the following films: King Kong, Son of Kong, Flying Down to Rio (which marked the first on screen coupling of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers), Fort Apache, 3 Godfathers, Mighty Joe Young, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, and The Searchers.

Disc two is mostly devoted to a feature length documentary which is broken into seven parts, which are: The Origins of 'King Kong;' Willis O'Brien and 'Creation;' Cameras Roll on Kong, The Eighth Wonder; A Milestone in Visual Effects; Passion, Sound and Fury; The Mystery of the Lost Spider Pit Sequence; King Kong's Legacy; and Creation Test Footage, which has commentary by Ray Harryhausen. While I did think it was overlong for one viewing, there's not a thing I would have cut. I maybe would've pulled Peter Jackson's loving attempt at reconstructing the spider pit scene out of the main doco, but it is an absolute must see for fans of Kong, and the effort that went into this is very appreciated. It just didn't sit well for me in the middle of stuff actually about the film, though it does go into a lot of detail about the FX techniques used on King Kong. If this bit were separate on the disc, I'd only be raving about how cool it is. But this IS DVD, so chapter selection makes this not-really-a-complaint almost completely moot. Disc two also has a 56-minute documentary about Merian C. Cooper, an interesting guy and the model for the Carl Denham character.
The Verdict
Is this the definitive release of King Kong? No, there'll be other editions, new formats, and perhaps a fully restored version with the spider pit scene recovered and reinserted. This DVD may not be definitive, but it's an absolute must have. The fact that it can be purchased super cheap in a set with Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young just makes it even better! The King Kong DVD is also available in a deluxe collector's edition with extra packaging and reproductions. Whichever edition you get, you'll fall in love with the big guy all over again. The jungle will swing with a mighty sound, indeed.
Movie Score
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