This film released in 1933 and directed by Marian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack was considered to be ground breaking in its use of special effects.
The plot centres around a film crew who are 'on location' in the jungle setting of a tropical island. The gorilla (King Kong) who lives there appears to fall in love with the female lead and pursues her. King Kong is eventually captured and brought to New York as an exhibition piece.
The artists Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe used canvas backings and glass paintings to bring to life the jungle scenes.
"The settings against which the animated action was shot were combinations of miniature construction and paintings on flats and glass. For some of the jungle scenes, where a deep, textured look was desired, O'Brien used as many as three planes of painted glass for a single shot with miniature set elements, including live foliage, sandwiched between them. Instructed by Cooper and O'Brien to copy illustrations by Gustave Doré for Paradise Lost , Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe painted the glass for the jungle sets. Some of the New York scenes also used this three-plane technique". (1)
The story line itself is mad, strange and unimaginable. However the story is fast moving , exciting and dramatic - although at some points violent, gory and uncomfortable given those scenes which appeared socially and culturally acceptable for that era.
The special effects that could be achieved within the studio and via camera technology surpassed that audiences had previously known. King Kong was the Avatar of the age.
Today the characters movement seems quite mechanical and this makes the scenes hard to believe as they appear so false. On one occasion two men stand beside a dinosaur but due to the lack of technology it feels that they are standing almost outside of the image rather than as integral to it.
The iconic scenes of King Kong tearing up the city whilst holding the leading lady in the other hand is memorable because it captures a birds eye view of New York. However it also portrays perspective, space and illusion showing the decreased size of the city against the enormous gorilla. The audience is left wondering how such effects are created.
Willis O'Brien, Chief Technician on the feature film, The Lost World, 1953, wrote about King Kong:
"It would have won in the special effects category if there had been one. The film contained many revolutionary technical innovations for its time (rear projection, miniature models about 18" in height and trick photography) and some of the most phenomenal stop motion animation sequences and special effects ever filmed" (5)
Such special effects can be seen at their best in the following sequences:
- King Kong fights with T-Rex, to his death, tearing apart his gigantic jaws until they bleed
- Kong's tender treatment of 'his love' as he frees her from the tree and carries her deeper into the jungle - and up to his lair. When the snake-like lizard threatens to eat her and tries to strangle Kong, the animation captures the expression and desperation in Kong's face as he gasps for air
There are similarities to this story with other more recent films including: Jurassic Park with the dinosaurs, Tarzan for the jungle theme and female love interest and Cloverfield with the destroying of the city.
The climax of the film centres around King Kong being an exhibition piece. The flashbulbs and media hype cause him to believe that his 'love interest' is in danger and he escapes from his chains. Mr Denhom forces his way through the crowd to be told by a Police Officer; "Well Denham, the airplanes got him'. Denham replies: "Oh no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty that killed the Beast'. This story is repeated in the fairytale animation Beauty and the Beast.