Why Kong is King! A Brief History of King Kong
Kong: Skull Island opens on March 10. And your friends at TShirtonomy and TeeHunter, in association with Sons of Gotham, are going Ape over it (come on, you know this blog is going to be filled with bad monkey references). Join in on the fun, with the KING KONG Giveaway Event!
To celebrate Kong’s return to the big screen, let’s take a look at the history of this Eighth Wonder of the World.
King Kong (1933) is one of those classic movies that, though certainly dated, still holds up. The classic special effects are what give Kong and the other creatures he encounters its charm. The story now sounds all too familiar. Carl Denham is a flimmaker who travels to the mysterious Skull Island to make a movie (this is another reason we should be thankful for CGI, filmmakers no longer have to travel to dangerous islands for exotic locations). He brings along his actress, Ann Darrow, played by the legendary Fay Wray. Along the way, romance develops between Ann and Jack Driscoll, the ship’s first mate.
But the villagers on this mysterious island want to play matchmaker with Ann and their giant primate resident, King Kong. Ann is kidnapped, offered up for sacrifice, then pawed by Kong. But he does protect her from all the other beasts on Skull Island. Driscoll and Carl rescue Ann and knock out Kong. They tow him back to New York, in hopes of making a fortune off the beast. You know the rest: the paparazzi terrify Kong, he breaks his chains, pulls Ann out of her apartment and climbs to the top of the Empire State Building. He takes on some biplanes, but ends up falling to his death, after placing Ann down safely. Truly is a classic.
Not so classic is its sequel, Son of Kong (1933). It was released less than a year after the original. We find filmmaker Carl Denham being blamed (rightfully so) for all of Kong’s destruction. He runs away from his troubles and ends up back on Skull Island, where he is blamed for the destruction of the native’s village (again, rightfully so). On the island, he makes friends with a big white gorilla they call Son of Kong. Various creatures are fought, Kong and the Denham take turns saving each other, and Denham finds a treasure to help redeem financial burden. Forgettable for sure.
It looked like Kong was not going to get a franchise like his Universal counterparts Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolf Man. But about thirty years later, he became even bigger in Japan with the release of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962). How could this not be great, even if were bad? It’s basically Survivor meets American Gladiator with giant monsters. The two creatures are summoned to fight to boost television ratings. Sounds like a recent election I won’t mention. It’s a classic guys in rubber suits battling it out while destroying model cities.
It was so well-received, there was supposed to be a round two, but it never happened. Kong did become a kid’s cartoon star in Japan. The King Kong Show ran for about three years. The great ape goes on adventures with The Bond Family (not to be confused with Bond, James Bond). They’re arch nemesis is Dr. Who (not to be confused with the often regenerating Time Lord, Doctor Who).
In the cartoon, Dr. Who builds a robot Kong replica called MechaKong. This idea further developed into Kong’s next Japanese feature film, King Kong Escapes (1967). It’s machine versus monkey! Good cheese, but the last we would see of Kong for another ten years.
The 1976 re-make of King Kong may be a little difficult to watch these days, since instead of the Empire States Building, he climbs to the top of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. And this time, instead of making a movie, they’re searching for oil. Jack Prescott is played by a pre-dude Jeff Bridges. He is a paleontologist (that’s what he is, that’s what he is, that’s what he is), but the Ann character, now called Dawn and played by Jessica Lang, is still an actress. She just happens to show up on a raft, after escaping the yacht of a sleazy Hollywood producer. It could happen!
The rest of the story is similar to the original. The movie is still seen as one of the better (somewhat) modern remakes. (This was long before there was a remake or reboot released every week.) What’s very surprising is there was no sequel. And Kong went back to sleep for another 30 years.
Then came Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). I saw it as his personal reward for working so hard on The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He wanted to update King Kong while trying to keep it true to the original. Did it need to be 3 and a half hours!?!? No. This one keeps the original characters and story. Actress Ann is played by Naomi Watts, and filmmaker Carl is played by Jack Black. This time, Jack Driscoll, played by Adrian Brody, is the movie’s screenwriter. And Andy Serkis gave it his all in a motion-capture performance as King Kong.
Jackson got to do things the original didn’t get to do special effects wise. Including filming the long lost scene with the giant bugs. It certainly had my skin crawling. But at the end of they day, I didn’t see the point of this remake.
If you’re wondering whatever happened to Fay Wray (that delicate, satin draped frame). Unfortunately she passed away in 2004, just before she could film a cameo in the Peter Jackson version. She was supposed to be the one to say the line “It was beauty that killed the beast.” It would have been a wonderful way to tag back to the original, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
And now, 84 years after the original King Kong, we’re heading back to his homeland in Kong: Skull Island. Will this film reboot the series as well as it’s monkey’s uncle, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes? Only time will tell. But since everything old is new again these days, I have a feeling we’ve got lots of Kong to come!
So go visit our KING KONG Giveaway Event! Good luck!