Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Unit 2: Space - Review - Merien Cooper's King Kong (1933)

Figure 1. King Kong Poster Art

King Kong is a unique combination of realist & surrealist cinema returning its audience to the factual pre-historic, all while influencing the animated visual jerkiness of the surreal showing a stark contrast of sorts. Kong’s surreal background Mise en scène is creepy, integrating rather well with the realists foreground to create a visual spectacle. Tensions run rather wild when these two elements cross into one another creating a whole new dimension.

•Directed by: Merien C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
•Written by: James Ashmore Creelen & Ruth Rose
•Cast: Fay Wray as Ann Darrow, Robert Armstrong as Carl Denham, Bruce Cabot as John Driscoll, Frank Reicher as Capt. Englehorn, Sam Hardy as Charles Weston, Noble Johnson as Native Chief & Steve Clemento as Witch King.
•Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Monster
•Duration: 100 Minutes (aprox)

Figure 2. "I'm going out and get a girl for my picture, even if I have to marry one"

The feature opens as respectable director Carl Denham goes on a hunt for a female fable to co-star in his next visual spectacular. Ann Darrow coincidentally stumbles into Denham’s light who promises her fame and fortune. The adventure begins with a rough expedition into the high seas which part their ways to the pre-historic unscathed by the foot of modern man. Out of curiosity Ann is inducted into a ritual as the bride of spiritual god “Kong” thought to be a myth of sorts. Ann is consequently taken on a journey of Kong’s world ensued with countless near death experiences. Ann is eventually saved by love interest Bruce Cabot and returned to camp only to be followed by the brute “Kong”.

The beast is captured and taken back to the safe shores of New York City where he escapes and provokes a conflict in the public conurbation. Kong is eventually surrounded and decides to climb the empire state building to safety. Planes eventually arrive and insight a last stand with the beast which inevitably causes his demise.

“The film has numerous memorable moments, including Kong's battle with a giant snake in a misty cavern, his struggle against a flying pterodactyl, the screaming beauty (Fay Wray, known as the "Queen of Scream") held captive in Kong's giant clenched palm, and the finale with the defiant Kong atop the Empire State Building while circling aircraft shoot him down.” (Dirks: 2011)

Figure 3. "It's money an adventure & fame it’s the thrill of a lifetime"

Critical analysis of the film suggests the division of colour expressing the Manichean depiction namely of Black & White. In retrospect one would have to consider the alternative with Kong “the Black” remaining a caring & compassionate creature to the rather feral Modern culture.

“He gently picks Ann up one last time to gaze at her with tender affection and love. Then, he returns her to the ledge and strokes her gently with his fingertips. After another volley of bullets into his throat, his head droops and his body sways and staggers - he is barely able to hold on.” (Dirks: 2011)

Figure 4. "Look at the size of that thing he must be as big as a house"

The visual instability also suggest that Kong’s size alters throughout the course of the film only to imply his current impact in any given situation (i.e. In Kong’s natural habitat as opposed to his appearance in New York City). One can even consider the symbolism that suggests the level of Kong’s threat as he climbs the largest industrial symbol of 1933 – the empire state building, swatting planes as though they were flies.

Once he finally escapes and rebels, he reaches his most impressive height, simultaneously signifying his overwhelming danger to American cultural stability (represented by the Empire State Building—then a very current symbol of American industrial progress) (Mckay: 2005)

Figure 5. "Oh no... it wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast"

The set design (namely the Jungle scenes) was shot on the set of another production by director Merien Cooper – “The Most Dangerous Game” which conveyed a perfect forest for the theme of Kong. The design is only truly exceptional when the audience experiences a break in the trees or impending path as it is the construction of Illusion & stop motion atmospheric miniatures.

“...these scenes were all directed by Merien Cooper and filmed on “The Most Dangerous Game” jungle set constructed on Stage 11 at RKO-Pathe Studios. Because the jungle set was due to be struck soon after the completion of “Game”, Cooper filmed all of the other jungles scenes at this time as well, even though many of them would not appear in the test.” (Morton, 2005:45)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. King Kong Poster Art. (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on:10/11/11)

Figure 2. I'm going out and get a girl for my picture, even if I have to marry one
(com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:10/11/11)

Figure 3. It's money an adventure & fame it’s the thrill of a lifetime (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:10/11/11)

Figure 4. Look at the size of that thing he must be as big as a house (com) [Online image]. At: (Accessed on:10/11/11)

Figure 5. Oh no... it wasn’t the airplanes; it was beauty killed the beast (com) [Online image]. At:
(Accessed on:10/11/11)



Dirks, James. (2011) Filmsite Movie Review – King Kong 1933 At:
(Accessed on: 10/11/11)

Walters, Ben. (2010) Of Monsters & Myths: Colonial Representations in King Kong (1933) At:
(Accessed on: 10/11/11)

Morton, Ray. (2005) King Kong: the history of a movie icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson. 3rd ed. Printed in the USA

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