King Kong on TV was an event! – Doug Jones (The Shape of Water, Hellboy, Star Trek: Discovery)
I was a monster-loving kid. They were my world back in those mythical days before entering school and being introduced to a broader horizon of realities to come. But for the rest of my life that passion has never faltered or dissolved.
As a kid I would throw on a bath towel and pretend to be Dracula. And of course, my mom, who had an amazing cackle, would play the evil witch with me and that tickled me stupid.
Along with my love for monsters came a deep-rooted passion for dinosaurs, dragons, and Godzilla. They all blended together and just fed my imagination as I ran around our little home roaring and imitating giant monsters I saw on TV.
Oh but then came the day when King Kong aired on TV. My mom knew I couldn’t miss out on this one, and I don’t say it lightly, it was an event! Nothing could stop us from watching this upcoming movie. The name alone captivated me but I had no idea just how blown away I was about to be!
To set this up, I was young. Like toddler young. My sister wasn’t born yet so I had to be at least 3 or 4. So I’ve just crawled out of diapers and had learned to talk by then and monsters (as previously stated) were my world, and, if I’m being honest, is there any better way to live?
To further set this up this was the early ‘80s. And yes, I’m older than DVDs, the internet, and even Nintendo. Go me! But it also meant watching any movie – let alone something as grand as King Kong – when it came on TV was a very big deal! One, that if missed, you’d never forgive yourself for.
I sat my happy ass in front of the TV to watch nothing less than absolute and pure cinematic magic at its absolute finest. You could not have prepared me for the adventure lying in wait inside that classic movie.
You also couldn’t convince me the movie wasn’t real. King Kong was real. He had to exist! I saw it with my own eyes, by the gods of Midgar! And so were the dinosaurs. They all existed on that mysterious Skull Island where fantasy was allowed to live on.
The Adventure of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Horror!
King Kong has it all, and really, stands as the criteria for all the genres we now love and celebrate. The whole reason why this site exists is to praise the things we grew up loving, and had there not been King Kong to pave the way – not only as a colossal success but also as an inspiration to future dreamers – we would have so much less to cherish and praise.
For example, for all us gamers, King Kong led to a little blockbuster arcade called Donkey Kong. A game Universal sued Nintendo over due to the strangely similar themes the game shared with the movie. But then DK introduced us to Jumping Man, who later would venture through the Mushroom Kingdom on a rampage of crushing death upon turtles and goombas who had the fucking audacity to get in this guy’s way. Sure, it was Super Mario Bros. and that brought the NES into most homes.
But then there were a few of those friends at school who thought those of us who played Nintendo were a bunch of fucks and they had to go get the Sega so they could play Sonic the Hedgehog on. And Sonic was simply a way to compete with Super Mario. And now look at video games today!
All because Nintendo was inspired by King Kong! Though they denied any connection, (cough, cough).
So just as Kong smashed down the gates barring him from the villagers who worshipped him he also broke down barriers of what to expect out of films and pop culture, and he went on to pave a new way for filmmakers and creative minds to come.
Not just as a monster movie, but as a breakthrough in cinema in every way you can imagine.
The Story Behind The Magic
And we were asleep, my brother and I, and my father, who is a very serious man, if you don’t do sports you don’t exist kind of, isn’t into fantasy or anything like that, came into our bedroom, woke us up, which is unheard of we thought the house was on fire or something, and took us into the living room where we had this tiny TV, and he said, “This is the greatest movie ever made.” David Colton, Senior Editor USA Today
We might take it for granted today, but before King Kong there was simply nothing on earth like it. The closest thing would be The Lost World, a film that greatly influenced the film makers when making King Kong, but Kong took those concepts and upgraded them to the max.
So what makes it so special? What is it about this movie that drives film critics nuts to talk about it?
On its surface, the film is a majestic tale of colossal adventure. At the age I saw it I missed out on all the subtext the movie has to offer though. All I could focus on was the sprawling adventure: a majestic sea voyage that quickly turns into a prehistoric jungle adventure but then quickly becomes a monster masterpiece!
The flow of the film – aside being a testimony to the director’s talent – is seamless. The story builds upon poor Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), a starving young woman who must steal for her food is offered the opportunity of a lifetime. Money, fame, and the promise she’ll never have to go hungry again are all offered to her and just like that she sets out to live the Hollywood dream.
Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), on the other hand, is desperate to make the greatest movie of all time. Something no one will soon forget and in this meta journey the director happens upon his lead actress as if the stars above have aligned and these two strangers were meant to cross paths and venture out on a wild voyage towards destiny.
Landing upon an unknown island, the two discover a land forgotten by Time, a place purposely hidden by God, a place untouched by modern man, and once modern man enters into this wild Eden all Hell breaks loose as we upset a natural order that’s existed since humanity crawled out of the primordial ooze.
Oh and little Ann is offered up as sacrifice to the island’s alpha predator, a beast we know as King Kong.
That’s when the film really takes off as we’re then, not only introduced to Kong himself in a mesmerizing reveal, but we soon learn about the terrors that reign supreme across the island itself. Primarily dinosaurs!
Little did my little child brain know that dinosaurs live in the swamps and jungles of this island! I was beside myself with excitement! I can’t imagine the impact this film had on its first audiences.
And – fucking hell! – the filmmakers knew what we wanted! They gave us some extraordinary scenes of these creatures. Brontosaurus, T-Rex, stegosaurus, plesiosaurus, and a pterodactyl all wreak havoc on not only our cast of heroes but also prove challenging to the titular hero of the movie itself, Kong!
My favorite part, as a kid, was seeing King Kong fighting a ferocious T-Rex! As a kid that was pure magic. I mean he had to fight my favorite dinosaur of all time. And that blew my mind. Today, that is still my favorite scene but for much deeper reasons. I’m still enthralled by the scene and how they made it work! It’s ingenious and for its time it was perfection.
I mean not only is Kong and a T-rex just wrestling around, but these beasts are flipping each other over their backs, getting tossed in the air, knocking down trees, and climbing atop each other as they both fight to the death. And this is all done by stop motion and it just feels so realistic.
Credit goes out to Willis O’Brien who was the stop-motion animator of The Lost World – a film that inspired King Kong – and, of course, King Kong. The animation talent behind Kong is breathtaking and holds up in 2021. It’s a piece of cinematic special effects history at it’s finest.
It’s worth mentioning that O’Brian also brought Mighty Joe Young to life, another big ape movie that’s worth seeing.
Merian C. Cooper, uncredited director of the film, must have been a fan of Jules Verne (Around the World in 80 Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), a writer who is considered the Father of Science Fiction and is praised for his stories of world-challenging adventures to mysterious locations and the horrors (and giants) awaiting there.
Cooper’s imagination must have been brimming with adventures of unexplored far-off places where the layers of mystery veil the wonders that await us there.
And Merian C. Cooper was one hell of an interesting character. Not scared of a goddamn thing. The man survived a plane crash and was nearly mauled to death by a tiger while filming a shot.
He had the heart of a true adventurer, one that converted over to characters in his films. In reality the lead character of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) really is Mr. Cooper, a driven director Hell-bent on making the greatest movie ever filmed.
And really, I think Merian C. Cooper did just that.
So at its heart, it’s one helluva great adventure story, but it’s also a modernized retelling of the fairy tale classic Beauty and the Beast. In this case, the Beast is taken out of his castle of mystery and forced to deal with the skyscrapers of New York.
But the movie is more than just a ‘monster movie’ and won over film goers and critics alike. The movie pulled in viewers on a weekly basis despite the pesky little fact that it was released during the Great Depression! Now that’s fascinating.
The movie just works. In every way – the beauty of Fay Wray brings it romance, Denham gives us the adventure, the crew fills in the horror as the dinosaurs viciously attack them, and, I must insist, dinosaurs in movies need to be scary! The fantasy of Skull Island enthralls our imaginations and finally seeing Kong rampaging through New York is pure science fiction at its finest.
This is a movie history needed to happen.
As stated before, it gave audiences a magnificent distraction from the daily drudgery of the Great Depression. And it’s proven to be more than simply a product of its time as it’s reached out to kindle the flame of imagination across generations. No one watches King Kong without somehow being inspired by it.
One of the greatest moments in my life (as a fan) was being at a convention and seeing King Kong face to face. I got to meet that little and sweet armature that climbed the Empire State Building and swatted fighter planes out of the sky. I couldn’t believe it! I stood in front of King Kong and all that nostalgic enchantment swept through me all over again.
It’s incredible how much life was put into that tiny armature. But that’s the brilliance of filmmaking. When I was a kid I sincerely believed Kong was real and, as an adult, I found myself standing in front of the real King Kong, in the presence of true magic.
And I cannot leave out the beautiful matte paintings that brought Skull Island to life. Being inspired by Gustave Dore, King Kong’s realm looks so lush and that jungle is rich in depth! I was shocked when I learned that was all done by painted glass.
But the way the puppets are set in the background and lumber about gives that glass imperial life. The jungle doesn’t just look real, it feels real. It has life, and it is brimming with danger. But, in a wild twist, it feels entirely other worldly.
Before I move on here’s a fun fact. King Kong is the first movie to feature character themes in its soundtrack. Today it’s a given that – and largely thanks to Jaws and Star Wars – characters should have their own themes. You hear the Imperial March and you think of Darth Vader. That’s just how it goes. But King Kong was the first movie to feature individual character themes.
It Broke Open A Way For Adventure, Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror!
Chances are if you name any of the big-name directors today King Kong had an impact on them. The reason a lot of them got into movie making in the first place was all due to seeing King Kong! They saw that movie and had to go work their own magic.
Think of any giant monster movie you know today and it will have ties back to the original King Kong. But among them all, there’s one name that stands out more than all the rest. And that name is GODZILLA!
No, wait, there’s that of course, but we’ll get to that later. What I meant is Ray Harryhausen. I mean Clash of the Titans is credit alone! The Kraken attack is still exciting. But there are the Sinbad films too, and that moment when you see the Cyclops stomping out of the cave. It’s all a tribute to the magic of Kong.
Peter Jackson, who, in 2004, gave us a beautiful remake of the Kong legacy, was heavily influenced by the original film. And Jackson is very vocal about it, King Kong is his absolute favorite movie.
It’s what got him into making movies. That stands to reason that had it not been for King Kong I can honestly say we would not have the legendary LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy.
Something about the last march of the Ents rings of King Kong to me btw.
Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, The Shape of Water, and Pan’s Labyrinth) is another King Kong fan.
I could go on and on. So many of our favorite classic films, horror, fantasy, you name it, are all directly influenced by the 8th Wonder of the World.
Oh Hell, even Rob Zombie credits King Kong as to why he started making movies. So in a way the Devil’s Rejects, Hell, Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig RIP) lives on in fans’ hearts thanks to Kong!
Directors, special effects artists, and actors all share a love for Kong’s magic. Due to all the movie has influenced it can be said King Kong molded pop culture and turned it into what it is today.
And the film was an international hit too. Sea borders couldn’t contain the beast as cultures around the world were uniquely captured by and reacted to Kong’s might and majesty.
Godzilla sure wouldn’t exist without Kong’s titanic success. So heavily was the influence over the project that Godzilla was originally planned to be stop motion. Now that would have been interesting but I’m glad they changed their minds. Godzilla went on to make history himself and likewise stands as an imperial icon amidst pop culture. And his legacy lives on today, right alongside King Kong.
It’s no secret I’m more of a Godzilla fan, and all you gotta do is search Godzilla on here to see how much the kaiju has influenced me. But I love Kong too and praise him for the impact he’s had on genre fans across generations.
And that brings us to today. Godzilla and King Kong are coming back together for a battle of the ages! It’s the monster fight fans have wanted since they first watched Toho’s original King Kong vs. Godzilla from the ‘60s.
We wanted more! And we’re getting it!
So is King Kong the greatest movie ever made? Honestly, how can it not be? Given not only all it’s achieved over the years, and not to mention the impact it’s singularly had over multiple generations, but also every single person it’s inspired, and how they, the dreamers, went on to further enlighten generations with their own visions of adventure and horror of the great and mighty fantastique, King Kong is more than deserving to stand as the greatest film ever made.
And Kong lives on to this very day! Without any sign of slowing down.