Why King Kong (1933) Is So Iconic

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King Kong (1933) was an early “monster movie” sensation. Here’s why its legacy endures today.

The original King Kong utilized the special effects technologies available in its day (aka the coolest special effects ever?) and the popularity of other “jungle” themed adventures. It has been remade countless times and frequently appears in popular culture. It had its share of controversy as well.

But what exactly makes King Kong such an enduring character?

King Kong Synopsis

A film crew discover an uncommonly large gorilla while filming on a tropical island. They bring the animal back to the States in hopes of making a fortune on public display.

The ape may prove too hard to handle when he escapes with Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) in hand. He flees to the top of the Empire State Building in what would become a classic cinematic scene.

So why is King Kong so iconic?

King Kong was not the first film to use stop-motion animation and special effects, yet it still proved itself a milestone in the sheer magnitude of their use. In addition to miniatures, crews constructed a “life sized” Kong – with ten inch long teeth and glass eyes the size of tennis balls – which required half a dozen men to operate its eighty-five motors.

king kong 1933
Truly Iconic. Source: YouTube.

Kong was also produced during the “pre-code” era, a time during which films were not regulated. Innuendo and visuals not considered proper for the behavior of “real people” frequently landed in film. This era may still seem tame compared to even PG and PG-13 films today, but at the time, it was considered risque. They were pretty wild back then.

During its five theatrical re-releases between 1938 and 1956, censors removed several scenes. These included Kong and dinosaurs killing people, and Kong undressing a woman. Later critics chastised the film as a possible racist allegory, warning against interracial marriage.

Film critic Roger Ebert said of the film, “In modern times the movie has aged, as critic James Berardinelli observes, and ‘advances in technology and acting have dated aspects of the production.’ Yes, but in the very artificiality of some of the special effects, there is a creepiness that isn’t there in today’s slick, flawless, computer-aided images… Even allowing for its slow start, wooden acting and wall-to-wall screaming, there is something ageless and primeval about King Kong that still somehow works.”

Whatever its flaws, King Kong remains an indelible part of popular culture.

Learn more about black and white film.

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