Reviews of King Kong (1933) and related work
King Kong (1933)
A daredevil filmmaker finds a beautiful shoplifter and takes her to exotic Skull Island for the shooting of a sensational motion picture. Kong is worshipped as a god on the island and fights dinosaurs to protect the damsel, after she’s left as a sacrifice to the ape.
Pulp adventure. Map any allegory you like onto it, silly or not: Kong as the repressed and demonized sexual black man in hegemonically white US society, Kong as modern Quasimodo, Kong as an abusive boyfriend, Kong as a dying ideal of masculinity and primal bliss, Kong as the Depression, Kong as ethanol, civilization as a foul threat to mystery and nature... No allegory really works, but many go far enough to form a thin webbing of symbolism under one of the very least intellectual classics. The punchline that “beauty killed the beast” is a literally ancient sentiment. You can see it in Shamhat’s taming of Enkidu, in The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100–1100 BCE).
‣ King Kong (1976)
Modernized: An uncharted island may hold a solution to the oil crisis, so a big tanker heads there under great secrecy. An academic stows himself away on the ship and helps pick up a drifting actor along the route.
A straggler in the era of the Jaws (1975) blockbuster. Slower, darker, less of a fantasy (and less realistic, really straining to hit the set pieces of the original), with more sympathy for the ape.
Nobody can translate the speech of the natives, there is only one other monster, the woman is even more ridiculous, and Jeff Bridges cheers when nonanthropophagous Kong lobs an explosive tank from one WTC tower to the other. The effects and dialogue have improved (too little for the time), and the oil crisis motif is nice, but to no avail.
‣ King Kong (2005)
Back to the 1930s, with natives even more hostile and cryptic than in the original, albeit awesome at pole vaulting. Kong retains his habit of not eating people from the previous remake, though he has a nice throwing arm, and the woman does almost nothing, as usual.
Slower still, visually polished to a high shine, and intellectually pretentious, comparing itself to and quoting Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness (1899). Improved Lovecraft vibes. The romanticized visual design is amazing, and the portrayal of Denham’s “undying ability to destroy the things he loves” is also quite nice, but no meaning is added.