Sunday, 11 October 2015

Space Oddities: King Kong (1933) Film Review

King Kong, Directors: Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, (1933)

Fig 1, (1933), King Kong, Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, [Movie Poster], U.S.A, RKO Studios,

This review will be covering topics of the original Blockbuster giant, King Kong. Research on this topic is about the use of various techniques film makers used for early 20th century films for visual effects and set design, to convince audiences of the authenticity, though such feats or visuals would not be found in reality. Willis O’Brien, as head of the visual and special effects was one of the men in charge of bringing the particular vision of Kong and the scenery to the screen. According to an article posted on The Film Spectrum by Jason Fraley (2012), O’Brien had been “tinkering with a new technique called stop-motion photography” when he was asked to be part of the production of the film, allowing Kong to be one of the most iconic in its effects with a large portion of the picture with stop-motion Plasticine and plastic, which was revolutionary. The shots of the vast jungle were captured using more camera trickery techniques like layered glass matte paintings in a multiplane style for depth whilst placing foliage in the foreground.

Fig 2, (1933), King Kong, Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, [Movie Still], U.S.A, RKO Studios,

Kong is often described as being the godfather of summer blockbusters, which saw its success in its ground-breaking accomplishments as well as catering to social norm, which date it to being a product of the time. Referring to the film’s racist undertones, The Gothic Other: Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imagination- edited by Ruth Bienstock Anolik and Douglas L. Howard (2004), compiles the thoughts of these issues by other critics and reviewers. The reference comes from Elizabeth Young and Harvey Roy Greenberg, two journalists who have commented on Kong, who Young feels epitomises “the white man’s daydream of the black brute, the heartless, mindless foreigner, feasting on violence and rapine” as the metaphor of Kong as a character. In Greenberg’s view, he believes “we discern in Kong’s persona the raw sexuality which the racist bumpkin Driscoll has repressed, and which Ann has aroused”.

Fig 3, (1933), King Kong, Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, [Movie Still], U.S.A, RKO Studios,

The film in this viewpoint could be called a racist artefact, one that inspires a generation but still came from a period of history where stereotyping and generalisation were more prevalent and excepted in mass western culture. Deeper roots in social commentary may suggest that Kong is a sexual rape fantasy, which throw symbolism of the chains he wears in New York as the chain of a slave, oppressed in this new environment and pinned down by his captor: Carl Dernham’s arrogance claiming that Kong was once a king, but he will be taught fear as a captive, which is a point summarized by the critic Josh Larson in 2011, featured on the Rotten Tomatoes film critiquing website. “Kong is a stand-in for victims of modern colonialism, an era that would soon come to an end; the way the movie depicts brute nature succumbing to human hubris,” which reflect upon the way Kong may be perceived as frightening and the story’s villain as well as tragic and sympathetic.

Fig 4, (1933), King Kong, Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, [Movie Still], U.S.A, RKO Studios,

It was seen as a taboo in that era for an inter-racial pairing, so this can be seen as a self-aware commentary on primal urges. This is brought about in the film by the clash of testosterone brought about by the character of Ann, raising jealousy and primal rage in Kong against Jack Driscoll, the rough sailor who expresses notions that can be seen as sexist, but it is protective of Ann. As a classic characterisation, Ann could be viewed by contemporary audiences as simply the device of sexual desires, whose only role is to be saved by an Alpha male. However, what gives her role purpose is addressed in the closing lines of the film. After being confirmed of the Ape’s demise, Dernham remarks that “it was Beauty who killed the Beast,” meaning that in the nature of sexual desire, the lure of a woman, in this case Ann, piloted the romance to its’ destruction.

Fig 5, (1933), King Kong, Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, [Movie Still], U.S.A, RKO Studios,

Despite being dated in the films’ Depression time period, King Kong is still regaled as a classic and has inspired films and filmmakers after it, for remakes to visual style epics, including Ray Harryhausen, who became a stop motion expert after watching the film at age 13 in 1933 and contacting O’Brien, and has since after worked with him on Mighty Joe Young (1949), becoming a visual effects visionary in his own right, becoming famous for his work on Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and Clash of the Titans (1981) Source 1.  Peter Jackson, director of the 2005 remake of King Kong, had the opportunity while in production to make contemporary changes in regards to technology and scripting, changing the roles of all main leads to better fit a modern audience’s viewpoint. Ann is a more active, empathetic character to Kong; Kong is portrayed with more intelligence and dignity than just brutish desire and the Natives encountered in both stories are changed to be harder to place in reality than the originals depiction of strange savage people as dark-skinned and very Zulu-like, in encompassing fear of unknown strangers, meaning the objections to the original being a product of the Racist and men dominating times, is now less of an issue in the remake.

Source 1: Website
Author: Fraley. J
Year of Publication: 2012
Title of Article: The Film Spectrum/ King Kong (1933)
Accessed on: 10/10/15

Source 2: E-book accessed by Google
Author(s): Bienstock Anolik, Howard
Title: The Gothic Other: Racial and Social Constructions in the Literary Imagination
Year of Publication: (2004)
Page numbers: 75-76

Source 3: Website
Author: Larson. J
Year of Publication: 2011
Title of Article: Larson on Film/ King Kong (1933)
Accessed on: 08/10/2015

Source 4: Website
Title: Rotten Tomatoes/ King Kong (1933)

Accessed on: 08/10/2015


  1. Really enjoyed this review, Zoe :) Just take a look at your referencing, as after a quote you need the name and date expressed like this (Larson, 2011).

  2. Well contextualised Zoe :)
    Also have a look at how the bibliography should be presented...