Saturday, 12 October 2013

Space Oddities Film Programme - King Kong (1933)

Figure 1: Movie Poster
King Kong (1933) was directed and co- produced by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Despite having a tight budget, they managed to produce a brilliant classic film consisting of adventure, fantasy and partly horror.  The famous Beauty and the Beast fable heavily influenced this film. The storyline revolves around a beautiful blonde woman, Ann, and a horrifying, monstrous sized ape, Kong.

In the movie, Carl Denham, a picture picture maker, insisted on visiting an island called the Skull Island he saw on a map he bought in Singapore. He gathered a crew for his film and set off for this mysterious island located in the Pacific region. There were tribe that inhabits the island that everyone on board was not aware of until their arrival. As they meandered through the island, they witnessed the tribe performing a ritual. They were offering a bride to their god, Kong. Fascinated by this act, Denham tried to capture the moment on film. However, the tribe’s chief spotted this and upon seeing Ann, readily offered to trade six of his women for her. The offer was declined and the crew headed back to the ship. The dejected chief then ordered his men to kidnap Ann while she was on board. Her love interest, Jack Driscoll, who was supposed to meet her on deck after a meeting with Denham, found her missing and headed back to the Skull Island for a rescue mission. On the island, the tribe’s chief instructed his fellow men to hit the gong for three times, a signal to call for their god. Ann stood there helpless, strapped to tree trunks as she sees the 50-foot ape approaching her. Driscoll arrived shortly after Kong held Ann captive and continued to pursue his lady. As the adventure of his rescue unfolds, Kong on the other hand, was battling out prehistoric creatures to keep Ann safe. Driscoll, however, was not convinced that Kong would not hurt Ann, successfully brought Ann back to safety. Kong who was unhappy that his prize was taken away from him came back to the tribe’s village, destroying everything in his path to get Ann back. Before leaving the island, the greedy Denham put Kong to a temporary sleep by throwing the gas bombs he had with him.

Kong was later brought to New York where he was exhibited in Gotham in a show titled “Kong, The Eighth Wonder of the World”. Furious by the flashes from the press’ photographers, Kong let himself loose from the chains made of stainless steel that Denham believed was strong enough to hold him. He too, destroyed the city of Manhattan in search of Ann of whom he found in a hotel, hiding. He got hold of her and instinctively brought her to the tallest building in town, which was the Empire State Building. He did so because in a jungle, the safest place would have been the highest point away from ground. His instinct only brought him to his death as the bi planes that Driscoll called for shot him down.

Not only does the use of stop motion and special effects progressed steadily over the years since A Trip to the Moon (1902), new techniques were discovered to make this film. A technique known as layering, is used to explain the use of foreground, midground and background elements. In the book The Making of King Kong: Official Guide to the Motion Picture, Jenny Wake explains what this technique is. “The jungle shot might have live or miniature foliage in the foreground, several clear sheet of plate glass framed with painted vines and foliage in the middle ground, more three dimensional foliage between each sheet of glass, and a matte painting or preciously filmed stop –animation foliage back-projected onto a large translucent screen in the background. (Wake, 2005:21) Her explanation is visually explained in Figure 2. Classic Preview added “The granddaddy of all big-creature visual-effects movies, King Kong (1933) is still studied today for its impressive layering of techniques to achieve the most convincing look for that particular shot (Classic Preview, 2013). 

Figure 2: Layering Technique
From the surface, the plot for the film seems relatively straightforward. It centred on the theme of the knight in shining armour saving his damsel in distress from the monstrous sized ape. (However,)  there is a deeper meaning to this film. As this film was made the time when racial discrimination in the United States was at its peak, scenes in this film projected the situation. In agreement to an article written by David Rosen that provided an example of such scene, he mentioned The image of King Kong on a Broadway stage may correspond very closely to white America’s attitudes toward the black men in the 1930s: an object of entertainment…”(Rosen, 1975).

Figure 3: Still Image from the film
In conclusion, as great as the effects were in the movie, the stereotypes that were conveyed in this film will still cause certain amount of displeasure whenever it is being watched.  In his review on this film, Roger Ebert wrote Modern viewers will shift uneasily in their seats during the stereotyping of the islanders in a scene where a bride is to be sacrificed to Kong..” (Ebert, 2002)

List of Illustrations:

Figure 1 King Kong (1933) [Poster] at accessed on 10 October 2013

Figure 2 Behind the scene [Still Image] at accessed on 10 October 2013

Figure 3 Kong at the exhibition [Still image] at accessed on 10 October 2013

List of Bibliography:

Ebert, Roger
King Kong
Accessed on 10 October 2013

Classic Film Preview
Eighth Wonder of the World
Accessed on 10 October 2013

Rosen, David
King Kong Race, Sex, and Rebellion
Accessed on 10 October 2013

Wake, Jenny
The Making of King Kong: Official Guide to the Motion Picture.
Pocket Books.


  1. Sorry Ayunie, this one seemed to have slipped through the net!
    Anyway, a very interesting review once again - maybe slightly overlong in the synopsis, but nevertheless, you have raised some thoughtful points. You could also consider the portrayal of the island natives in relation to stereotyping, as a way of bolstering your argument surrounding Kong as a figure of entertainment.

    It's good to see you wrapping your review up with a conclusion - well done :)

    1. Hi Jackie,
      I thought the synopsis was long too but I didn't know how to summarise it to be shorter :(

      Nonetheless, thank you for the feedback :)