Phil explores the legacy of King Kong and sets the stage for the ultimate face-off between KING KONG and GODZILLA
In 1925, a motion picture known as The Lost World, a silent fantasy monster adventure film adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel was released upon the world and single-handedly changed the way Hollywood made feature films forever. The movie boasted something that no other motion picture could…the technical brilliance of special effects maestro Willis O’Brien. His pioneering work creating the most realistic dinosaurs ever seen on screen earned him the admiration of the Hollywood hierarchy and when moviemakers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack approached him to create an image of iconic proportions, he leapt at the chance.
On paper, his task was simple…create a monster, one capable of dominating and terrifying millions of fans around the world.
KING KONG (1933)
The stop-motion pioneer began work on King Kong, a concept described to him as and what went on to be immortalized as “The Eighth Wonder of the World”, a creature that was not only ferocious but had a kind heart that yearned for a companion. The creature in mind was an ape, a gorilla of monstrous proportions that held an island of natives in the grip of deadly fear. The island was carved into the shape of a skull and was shrouded by a veil of thick white fog concealing it from the eyes of man.
The narrative of the movie was as intricate as it was enticing and capitalized on the tale of beauty and the beast. Successful movie director Carl Denham hires struggling actress Ann Darrow to portray the lead in his next motion picture, a tale of exotic hidden locations and colossal monsters. As events unfold, Ann finds herself in the clutches of the mighty ape King Kong whose affections for the human are romantically inclined and devotes himself to defending her from the dangers of the island. The movie would find the king of Skull Island battling against a Tyrannosaurs Rex, a giant Pterosaur and the pursuant band of men tasked with rescuing her from Kong’s clutches.
The sequences were incredible and with his mastery of stop-motion animation thrust into the limelight, the movie was released to an expectant audience in 1933 to universal acclaim and shocked the world forever. The iconic monster terrified audiences across the globe who were captive to the creature’s grip of deadly fear that would stand the test of time for decades. Kong went on to dominate the world of cinema for over forty years before Hollywood producer, Dino De Laurentiis believed the time was right for an updated version focussing on the modern world encountering the king of skull island.
KING KONG (1976)
Production began on the remake of King Kong with Director John Guillermin tasked with updating the tale for modern audiences. With the original version so highly regarded, it was decided to change the structure of the remake and refresh the tale with a contemporary story set amidst the endless search for oil. With stop-motion animation considered to be a dying art form practised only by Ray Harryhausen, the greatest motion animator in Hollywood history, the decision was made to create Kong using practical effects. Renowned Hollywood effects and makeup specialist Rick Baker was brought in to create the eighth wonder of the world, and in collaboration with Carlo Rambaldi, designed an ape suit to bring Kong to life.
Despite his best efforts, the costume was deemed a disappointment by Baker but he pressed on with filming regardless and wore the costume for the entirety of the movie. Rambaldi offered his services to manufacture the animatronics for the Kong mask that afforded a level of emotional expression, but that couldn’t make up for his dissatisfaction in the suit. With the changeover to practical effects, the ability to create realistic dinosaurs proved a step too far for the producers who decided to alter Kong’s opponents to a singular creature from our modern world. A giant snake was constructed to provide an opponent worthy of Kong and the gripping battle between the pair, despite being a little problematic was a highlight of the finished movie. John Barry, a veteran composer of the James Bond franchise, was brought in to compose the score and he brought his traditional brilliance to proceedings, but despite a masterful soundtrack and boasting the acting talents of both Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, the film still fell far short of the benchmark set by its predecessor. It was, however a financial success earning $381 million dollars in inflation-adjusted revenue.
KING KONG (2005)
With the release of Jurassic Park in 1993, George Lucas’ incredible special effects team at Industrial Light and Magic changed the way we viewed movies forever. The evolution of computer-generated technology brought dinosaurs to life in ways no one ever dreamed of before. Moviegoers were treated to the spectacle of realistic, living, breathing dinosaurs rampaging across the screen which earned the movie, as well as its director Steven Spielberg, worldwide acclaim. The incredible visual effects opened the possibilities of a thousand moviemakers whose imaginations ran wild with the potential of limitless creations they could envision for the screen. Lucas used the incredible technology to revisit the galaxy he had created in 1977 and released a new trilogy of Star Wars movies that went on to captivate the world with their visual splendour. Not only were the movies incredibly vibrant, but they also boasted a plethora of computer-generated imagery ranging from creatures to actual characters that were integrated into the story on a level never seen before.
This sudden and bold change in how the format could be used paved the way for motion capture technology, a state of the art platform that relies upon motion sensors attached to an actor’s face. The movements made from the actor’s facial expressions would be recorded by computer before being digitally superimposed onto a computer-generated character giving it the most realistic reactions ever seen on film. Renowned actor Andy Serkis made a name for himself with this technology by portraying the iconic character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, both directed by visionary director Peter Jackson. With their unprecedented success, it was only a matter of time before Universal Studios gave the green light to yet another remake of the classic Kong legacy. With his love of the source material well known, Jackson was asked to helm the project and brought the talented Serkis along to portray the eighth wonder of the world.
Utilizing the incredible motion capture technology, Serkis brought Kong to life and gave the monster a level of detail unsurpassed in any of the three movies bearing his name. Building upon the foundations built by Jurassic Park, the visual effects team at the WETA digital workshop conceptualized the return of Skull Island and envisioned a landscape inhabited by dinosaurs of all shapes and sizes. Gone was the rubberised snake from the previous incarnation, replaced by not one but three Tyrannosaurus Rex’s for Kong to combat as well as a swarm of flying Terapusmordax, bat-like rodents that were all vanquished by Kong.
The movie’s screenplay was treated as a homage to the original version of the story and remained close to the narratives within but elaborated and restored many scenes that failed to make the final cut in 1933. An original sequence with a man-eating throng of insects was discovered amongst the archives at Universal Studios and was swiftly conceptualized and shot for Peter Jackson’s movie, expanding the tale brilliantly. The three-hour extravaganza was completed in early 2005 before being released in December of the same year. The film went on to gross a staggering $550.5 million dollars at the global box office. If that wasn’t enough, the movie went on to receive four Academy Award nominations, for Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, and Production Design, winning all but the last.
The unfortunate consequence of the King Kong legacy is the tragedy that befalls him at the finale of every incarnation of the beauty and the beast tale. The beast, in falling in love with beauty, is blinded by his passion which ultimately costs him his life. The traditional fate of the doomed character finds him plummeting to his death from the highest building in New York city after a confrontation with armed aircraft.
But a new twist in the tale of the Kong legacy is about to change that forever…
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)
In 2014, we were treated with the return of the classic movie monster Godzilla. Legendary pictures returned cinematic audiences to a golden age where monster movies were plentiful with colossal creatures free to rampage across the world. The love and homage paid to the classic Toho incarnation of the monster paid dividends and earned director Gareth Edwards acclaim for his tribute to the source material. The movie’s release was heralded as a triumph and encouraged the creation of a “MonsterVerse”, a shared universe where monsters could attack our world at will. With Godzilla being cast as a guardian of nature’s balance, Legendary Pictures turned to King Kong and set the wheels in motion for a reboot of the classic tale leading to an encounter between the two classic monsters in 2020.
With that, Kong: Skull Island was born and in March 2017 we travelled back to Skull Island once again, but this incarnation of the island found Kong at the centre of a battle for dominion, against the apex predators, nicknamed “Skullcrawlers”, responsible for wiping out his kind. The movie is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam war where a team, made up of both scientists and soldiers stumble upon the island and find themselves plunged into a struggle for survival. Starring such A-List stars as Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel. L Jackson and John Goodman, Kong: Skull Island was a rollercoaster ride of action and adventure designed to whet the appetite for the confrontation between the two colossal monsters in 2020 and the arrival of Godzilla vs Kong.
A MONSTROUS FUTURE:
It is an absolute joy to see the greatest monsters in human history returning to the big screen, and the possibility of them facing off in 2020 is enough to send many fans into a delirium, myself included. The incarnation of Kong found in Skull Island was based upon the proportions of his original 1933 counterpart and saw the mighty ape standing upright once again. From a purely nostalgic perspective, this was a welcome return to a classic era and bygone age that was bound to revert many fans back to their childhood memories of seeing the mighty Kong battle the T-Rex for the very first time in blissful black and white.
If Legendary Pictures plan to dominate the box office with glossy new monster movies reliant upon the greatest creatures ever created in cinema history…they are going about it in the finest possible way. Correcting the failings of the embarrassing 1998 version of Godzilla was incredible enough…but having King Kong survive a movie for the very first time in his long and industrious history was nothing short of miraculous.
The clash of the greatest monsters in movie history is upon us and the anticipation for Godzilla vs Kong starts here, but first, we are all invited to take a ringside seat for a battle of supremacy when Godzilla: King of the Monsters arrives in cinemas in May.
Since 1933, he has both terrified and enthralled us with his adventures and now, 85 years since his arrival on the silver screen King Kong is back to reclaim his throne.
Until then…monsters do exist in Warner Bros’ new Monsterverse…
And in this universe…Kong is King!
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