Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Movie Review: KING KONG (1933)

King Kong (1933) is the world famous introduction of the large ape and beauty and the beast narrative that has become a perpetual classic. The film has been remade multiple times and Kong himself has appeared in many other films. This groundbreaking work which was revolutionary for the stop motion creature effects was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Everyone knows the story by now, but in case you don’t it is about a filmmaker and his team who travel to an exotic location to shoot a movie where they encounter a giant ape named Kong and are attacked by him and dinosaurs on this exotic island. They end up capturing Kong and returning him to New York where he causes havoc. The film stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, and Bruce Cabot.

As I said above, this film is a classic without question. What a film like this meant for the future of cinema is something that cannot be dismissed. Further the quality of this film for being made some 84 years ago is undoubtedly impressive to say the least. With that massive disclaimer out of the way, I have to be honest in a review and I did not like this movie. I think the film sets up a good story and effectively reasons its way through from introduction to conclusion. I also thought it was paced impeccably well. The performances in this film largely didn’t work for me and the way the film was written (at least by way of dialogue) felt rather disjointed. Further, and much more importantly, the age of this film is felt and the lack of realism with certain elements robbed them of all their dramatic or horrific value.

Beginning, as always, with positives, I thought that the film does a great job setting up its premise and then moving the audience along through the film. Telling a story that made sense was essential, particularly at the time, and I think the way the filmmakers pulled at different things to accomplish that was extremely effective. It starts off pretty innocuous, and almost unlike any monster movie that would follow. It all makes sense and feels believable when they eventually do encounter monsters on the island, howver. The ability to make me believe the story was impressive and something the film deserves a lot of credit for.

I also thought this had impeccable pacing. The way it is edited and stitched together kept me on my toes throughout the entire run time and I was always waiting for what would happen next. Honestly, it structurally felt like a modern blockbuster as we built up to significant and interesting action set pieces and edited the film together in such a way as to have everything serve those eventual moments of payoff.

Despite the quality of storytelling and the skill in pacing, the film doesn’t work. The performances and dialogue feel extremely forced and disjointed and, further, the creature effects rob the film of its dramatic tension. To be fair, I’m sure these performers are attempting to do the best under the circumstances but I didn’t believe any of them as characters. They overplay everything (which was pretty typical in films at that time) much to the disadvantage of the subtlety that should have been applied to the story as a whole. Further, the dialogue is written in a way that makes the performances feel even more disjointed. There is a lot in this film that just doesn’t seem natural. That sense really hurt my ability to invest in the story which is problematic later on in the film.

Finally, and maybe most significantly, the way this film looks today really took all of the dramatic and horrific tension out of the story. There are scenes where you’re meant to be frightened (because the totally not-subtle score says so) but you just aren’t because the stop-motion dinosaur or monkey eating or holding a rag doll just doesn’t look right. In fairness, this was the best that could be done, but that does not mean that it stands the test of time. I found myself laughing and reacting the wrong way at all the wrong times. Things in this movie should impact the viewer and they didn’t here. It makes me extremely sad to say that but it’s a real issue with films of this age.

Overall, King Kong is forever going to be a classic for introducing this story and for revolutionizing filmmaking at the time. In that sense, I am impressed beyond belief. That said, this didn’t work as a film for me today and it won’t be how I remember or revisit this classic character.

Ryan’s Score: 4/10

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