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Comparisons between the 1933 and 2005 King Kong movies are inevitable. As an avid fan of the 1933 movie, I feel compelled to offer my opinions.
My first observation is that I did not feel compelled to compare the 1976 version of the classic story. A quick search of the Internet Movie Database confirms that the masses in general find the 1976 lacking on several levels. Upon the release of King Kong, 2005 (KK2005) IMDB rated it at 8.0. Today with over 50,000 votes tabulated it is resting at 7.7. King Kong 1933 (KK1933) has a solid 8.1 with just over 14,000 votes. (The1976 version is at 5.4 with just over 4,300 votes.)
With KK1933 and KK2005 at a virtual tie, one could say both are great movies and could argue depending on your mood both are your favorite. So the argument then becomes which one are you in the mood to watch more often?
I’m not going to be wishy-washy about this. Simply put, King Kong, 1933 is the superior work. I do not think Peter Jackson set out to make King Kong better. I think he set out to put his current vision to the movie. If his purpose was to improve on a masterpiece then he failed miserably. To try to improve on KK1933 is to try and make the Mona Lisa or any other great work of art better. It can be copied. It can be re-envisioned. But it can not be made better.
Why 1933 over 2005.
No one can fault KK2005 for its visuals, and its amazing CGI graphics and special effects. The movie is stunning, breathtaking, and beyond measure when compared to other contemporary films. Peter Jackson even improved on his efforts from the Lord of the Ring trilogies. That said, the same adjectives could be used for KK1933 when it was first released seventy-two years ago!
A little history lesson folks, the dinosaurs in KK1933 were shockingly realistic for 1933. Their movements, their posture, even their behavior was based on the science of the time.
Anyone familiar with the artwork of Charles Knight is aware that until recently, the general consensus was the dinosaurs were “tail draggers” and had large lumbering bodies. The idea of fast moving dinos using tails as balancing poles similar to the movement of mammals would have been laughable in 1933! Will Jackson’s current CGI masterpiece also look dated in 2077? I would suspect that with the advancement in technology today’s effects will suffer the ravages of time much more quickly.
And how long will it be before critics are complaining that Jackson failed to put feathers on his bird hipped dinosaurs? After all the most current theories have are warm-blooded dinosaurs sprouting feathers and also the “hairy” feathers similar to the plumage on a Kiwi. One could surmise that if Jackson’s dinosaurs had continued to evolve then they should have plumage!
But with all this said, I’m sure even Merian C. Cooper would tip his hat to Peter Jackson for the technical innovations and advancements to the current King Kong movie. After all, Cooper was known as the master of technical innovations in the film industry throughout his film career. I too, agree that CGI is light years ahead of stop motion photography!
A few comparisons.
KK2005: WETA Industries is a leader in CGI effects for the motion picture industry. The use of motion capture does an amazing job of bringing the CGI Kong to life in 2005.
KK1933: Willis O’Brien is a PIONEER in the art of stop motion photography, rear projection, frame insets, glass plate painting, and numerous other filming innovations. Through the use of this technology and 18 inch puppet becomes Kong, the eighth wonder of the world.
When King Kong 1933 was released it broke all Box office records. It did not receive an Oscar nomination because they had not invented an Oscar for what this movie did!
Both movies quote an Old Arabian Prophesy:
What isn’t clear in either movie is that the Old Arabian Prophesy was written by Merian Cooper! Thus Cooper creates a phrase for the outcome of his movie and audiences around the world believe it to be the works of a wise old sage. All Peter Jackson can do is pay homage to Cooper by including it in his version.
The Spider Pit.
At just over three hours, Jackson had more time to develop the story and include a “Spider pit”. By throwing Denham and Driscoll into the pit, he allowed the story to continue to flow forward. Still in the original it was enough to know the crew fell to their doom. There was no need to have everyone die a disgusting death but in today’s theater it becomes necessary to show how everyone dies. In the original KK1933, just falling in the pit and seeing the “articulated puppets” fall SO REALISTICALLY (for the time) was horrifying! The spider pit would have been overkill and unnecessary for the story.
KK1933 is a contemporary piece set in 1932-1933. As such Denham has no problems with period costumes or props. While it is true the model airplanes are not an exact match for the authentic Curtis 02C-2, we know the clothing, ship, vehicles, and weapons were true for the time. Like most people I am grateful that Peter Jackson did not try to make his version of King Kong Contemporary. He sets in the early 1930s. By doing so, however he opens himself up to a host of problems. He now has to get costumes, vehicles and weapons that are right for the period. Like it or not, everyone will assume KK2005 is set in 1933. So when you see a sailor wearing boots with a Vibram Lug soles that were not produced until well after 1936, you start getting nit-picky. What other inaccuracies are in the movie. But most people will take the little problems with a grain of salt when they imagine what it would have been like to have KK2005 take place in 2005. That is truly a shiver for the spine.
Changing the story and the characters.
What really makes the original King Kong (KK1933) better than the remake (KK2005) is that it was original! I know that sounds simplistic so I will expand.
I have a few major gripes with KK2005. There are the emotional interactions between Ann Darrow and King Kong, the introduction of “Bruce Baxter”, and the fundamental changes to the characters of Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll.
Fay is Ann!
Before KK2005, Ann Darrow WAS played Fay Wray! For many however, the character, Ann Darrow IS and will probably always be Fay Wray. I remember seeing comments in various media services saying “Naomi Watts to play Fay Wray in Jackson’s Kong” or “Will Watts measure up to Fay Wray?” Naomi Watts played Ann Darrow. She is stunning, she does a great job, but she is not Fay Wray. However she is part Jessica Lange and therein lies the problem. Despite all that happens to Fay Wray, she remains loyal to Denham. She falls for Driscoll, the first mate of the Venture and is engaged to be married at the end of the movie. She is always terrified of King Kong. While she may have an inkling of sorrow for the beast when he is killed in the end she is not waving the planes off in an attempt to save him. Kong’s love interest in her is strictly a one way street.
Like Jessica Lange, Naomi Watts has Ann Darrow falling for the big lug. This is somewhat interesting when you consider what Carl Denham said to Jack Driscoll in KK1933. “Some big hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang - he cracks up and goes sappy” (Like it or not, when you compare this dialog to other movies of the time, it is right for the period. There was a time when people had conversations with corny phrases and without profanity!) I can’t imagine Ann Darrow falling for this big lug of an ape. I really don’t care how many Far Side comics I read about Jane Goodall, King Kong is not going to be the love interest of a woman who was meant to be his “dinner”. Ann Darrow is no Jane Goodall and she is never going to fall for King Kong. “It was beauty killed the beast!” That’s what Denham said. He never said, “It was beast that infatuated the beauty!”
We all know that King Kong fought off an allosaurus or tyrannosaurus or whatever Jackson’s evolved into but a dog will fight another dog over a bone. That doesn’t mean the dog loves the bone. What we know is Kong wants Ann. And in the end of all the movies he sets her aside so that she doesn’t get hurt when he begins his final fight to the death. I find Cooper’s Ann and Fay Wray’s portrayal of Ann the most believable. She is terrified of the beast, she is grateful to be saved, and she understands that Denham had never intended for her to be in danger and thus is forgiving enough to “keep her chin up” and stick with him.
Bruce Baxter played by Kyle Chandler, who is this guy. He is portrayed as a fading Hollywood B movie action hero. He wasn't in the first Kong! Or was he? Is he supposed to be the real life Bruce Cabot? Bruce Cabot played the first mate, Jack Driscoll in KK1933. He was the love interest of Fay Wray and also the hero of the movie. Unlike the fictional Bruce Baxter, Cabot’s big break was King Kong, 1933. After playing Driscoll,his career would take off like gang-busters doing at least one movie a year until his death in 1972! The Bruce Baxter character delivers the lines Bruce Cabot had made during the original KK1933 (The comments about women being trouble, during the screen test with Ann. ) Bruce Baxter is supposed to be playing the first mate of tramp steamer in the movie within the movie that Denham (played by Jack Black) is making. Bruce Cabot, as Jack Driscoll, played the first mate and hero of KK1933. There is no doubt that the Bruce Baxter character is supposed to be a tribute to Bruce Cabot. It makes an interesting conversation topic for fans of the original movie. But Bruce Baxter is portrayed as a pompous, almost arrogant slug. Nice way to pay homage to the original Jack Driscoll!
(on a side note, it was Ernie Schoedsack who complained that women were nothing but trouble when a Marguerite Harrison only agreed to fund portions of the movie, Grass, if she were allowed to tag along on the location shooting)
This Jack is no Schoedsack.
Jack Driscoll as played by Adrien Brody. He is no longer the first mate of the Venture. The new first mate is an all knowing all seeing wise man that gets killed after saying “I told you this was a bad idea!” Jack Driscoll is now a New York City playwright who is high-jacked from his natural setting of a comfortable life but some how rises to the occasion and can take on anything. I guess there was some kind of character development that explained how this reclusive morose playwright becomes a rough tough “hard boiled egg”. I think it is more realistic that a first mate on a tramp steamer could handle of 25 foot tall gorilla than a playwright. Hey, that’s just me. The killer for me is who the original Jack Driscoll from KK1933 was based on, that being Ernest B. Schoedsack.
You may have heard of me, I'm Carl Denham.
My biggest gripe is with Jack Black’s “Carl Denham”. Don’t get me wrong. Jack does a stellar job with the part. Jack’s Denham is one arrogant, slimy, two faced movie director. By the end of the movie you are thinking that he is stuff you’ve stepped in and want to scrape off your shoe. (Or perhaps just burn the shoe!). He is conniving, self centered, and for the most part a two-bit washed up director who is making flops. This is the movie that will either put him on top again or leave him in total ruins. His motives are always self serving! He is more interested in his film than the lives of those around him. This is the Carl Denham of KK2005.
Compare this to the original Carl Denham. Robert Armstrong plays the first Carl Denham. He is an adventure film maker who is reputedly not afraid of anything. He is based on a real life movie director. “If he wants a picture of a lion he walks up to the lion and tells him to smile for the camera.” The lion does it! He is hard as nails. It isn’t his idea to take a long a girl. That is the movie studios. Denham’s movies do great at the box office but the theater execs are insisting on a woman in the next movie because of love interest will double the box office gross. He has integrity and is honest.
When they reach Skull Island Denham is aware of the Dangers but Ann wants to come along, she finds it exciting. Denham is bringing his camera with him in case there is good shot. But he is no fool. He has a shore party fully armed with pistols and rifles and his “gas bombs that can stop a charging rhinoceros”. When Driscoll asked the skipper if Denham is crazy, the skipper says “just enthusiastic.” This is what Denham is. He is a risk taker, but he isn’t willing the risk the lives of the crew or Ann for the film.
He takes precautions with the shore party, bringing the captain along who may be able to talk to the natives. (The captain knows the languages of several nearby islanders) The precaution pays off when the natives spot Denham filming them. He talks his way out of a jam. It is clear he has dealt with native tribes in the past. (It was not clear if Denahm 2005 had dealt with native tribes. We know he fails miserably and is not prepared for the consequences)
When Ann is kidnapped, Denham does not grab his camera and follow after her. He goes with the rescue party armed with guns and his gas bombs, overwhelms the natives and then heads off after Kong. He is not interested in his movie he is interested in saving Ann. The movie is not even on his mind.
There is also the point where Jack finally returns with Ann. Carl Denham is not ready to give up on his movie and knows he can lure Kong back and capture or kill him. He knows Kong wants Ann. An argument is about to ensue when Kong arrives. We never know what Denham had planned. I personally do not think he planned to tie Ann up to the sacrificial monument again. Perhaps he would attract Kong by setting us an impromptu movie screen and showing Ann’s Screen test. The point is moot because Kong shows up before he can respond to Driscoll’s demands. We do know when Kong arrives he is ready with the gas bombs and knocks Kong out.
We also know that at the end of the movie, he tells the press to stop flashing picture because he thinks Kong thinks they are attacking Ann. They ignore Denham and then mayhem ensues. In all Robert Armstrong’s Denham is enthusiastic but he is not reckless (at least with others) and he does give a damn for others. The Carl Denham of 1933 was modeled after Merian C. Cooper, director of the original King Kong.
The real Driscoll and Denham.
We now see that the original Jack Driscoll (1933) and Carl Denham (1933) were based on Cooper and Schoedsack, the director and producer of KK1933. To understand Denham and Driscoll (1933) you need to know Cooper and Schoedsack. They filmed real life adventure films. This after Cooper fought as a bomber pilot in World War I as was shot down in flames by the Germans. He spent the rest of the war in a prison camp. Not satisfied with his exploits in WWI he then joins an American Volunteer Air Force that fought for Poland in their war with Soviet Russia. Once again he was shot down, and made a prisoner. Had the Russian knew who they had captured he would have been killed on the spot. Instead he bluffed his was into a prison camp and then escaped a year or two later and walked a thousand or so miles to safety! He would film charging tigers without flinching, and was an innovator in the motion picture industry. Instead of being a failure, he single handedly saved RKO pictures with his Blockbuster King Kong. He didn’t study film. He didn’t take classes on how to do technical work. He was at the cutting edge of the innovations that would transform the movie industry!
Schoedsack was a combat photographer during WWI. He filmed battles, setting up his motion picture in harms way, bullets flying all about and getting the incredible footage that no one thought possible. Later he teamed up with Cooper and showed him a thing or two about filming. These men would set up a camera and get the picture of a charging wild cat that would get so close to the camera, their breath would fog up the lens! These men were fearless. If there was a real King Kong out there, they would have been the team to find and film him.
You can tell from Jackson's remake that he loves the original King Kong. He does a fabulous job of trying to capture the movie and bring it to life for a 21st Century audience. He succeeds admirably. The movie is stunning and is a must see. But I just don’t understand why the main characters, which were based on Cooper and Schoedsack, were vilified. Anyone with an inkling of knowledge about the original movie knows who Denham and Driscoll really are. Jackson, one of the biggest fans and boosters of the original definitely did. So why did he make them schmucks?
I guess that is my real bone of contention. Will I watch KK2005 again? Sure! But will it replace KK1933? Nope. It won’t happen. How could it? There is only one “Original King Kong.” That King Kong was written by Ruth Rose and was based on the imaginative genius of Merian C. Cooper. Even Peter Jackson knows that!
Tobias, Gibson, the BlindKat