King Kong (1933)

(On DVD, May 2018) While it’s a cliché to say that older movies are more impressive for their story than special effects, I found myself thinking the exact opposite about the 1933 version of King Kong—I found much of the special effects impressive, but the story underwhelming. That’s not a constant throughout the film, mind you—the first act of the film offers a compelling look at early-thirties New York City, especially when events conspire for some characters to get out of the city quickly … and finding no better place than a departing expedition. Alas! That expedition happens to go hunting for a mythical monster on an isolated island, and much of the rest of the story is familiar to the point of being dull. Fortunately, that’s when the special effects take over the story. Watching the film made me realize how indebted to the original was Peter Jackson’s over-bloated 2005 version. What the original h King Kong as in its favour is pacing—at barely more than two hours, it moves more quickly than we’d expect. When I’m not so happy is with the finale, which leads to a trite (and nonsensical) “beauty killed the beast” statement that really doesn’t wrap up anything. Still: 1933’s King Kong remains a landmark movie for the fantasy genre and for blockbuster filmmaking. It generally holds up even despite its significant ambitions in terms of special effects. And while I’m disappointed in the story, this may be more out of over-familiarity than anything else—when you can anticipate every sequence because the film’s been absorbed in the popular imagination, it’s normal to be less than surprised at the result.

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