With 9 films produced over nearly 90 years, passing through 5 different development houses (RKO, Toho, Paramount, Universal e Legendary Pictures), the mythical and timeless King Kong is one of the most famous monsters and prolific of the history of world cinema, the first giant creature to be conceived for the seventh art. The idea of this King of Primates came to director and screenwriter Merian C. Cooper, when he met the explorer W. Douglas Burden who had just returned from a trip to the Far East with a magnificent specimen of reptile, the largest ever discovered up to that moment (none other than the Drago on Komodo). He was immediately fascinated by the potential of a film dedicated to an expedition to a remote and unmapped place, in search of a rare and enormous animal specimen.
Thus summoned the brilliant producer David O. Selznick of RKO to convince him to get funding for a project of this type, showing him as the basis for the concept Creation del 1931 (unfinished title) e The Lost World del 1925, both dedicated to prehistory and dinosaurs, to an ancient and ancestral world, predatory and of great cinematic impact, and both shot with the technique of Step One. After a short presentation of a sequence of the future film initially noto come The Eight Wonder (“The eighth wonder“), Selznick and all the shareholders of RKO together decided to proceed with the project, putting King Kong in the works.
From beast to anti-hero
Twenty years before Ishiro Honda conceived his Godzilla, ushering in the Showa Era of Japanese Kaiju, America had already found one of its greatest genre cinematic icons. In the first film dedicated to Kong in 1933 the character was created always following the technique of Step One, nothing but stop-motion, that is, shooting one frame per second. To bring the gigantic primate to life, Cooper and the animators opted for 4 articulated puppets of approximately 45cm and with a steel skeleton covered in latex, foam rubber and rabbit fur. Each of them was used for three different moments of the film: two for the jungle, one for the city and the last for the final sequence on theEmpire State Building.
It wasn’t the first attempt to modernize (for the time) Step One, but Kong’s first film however, it suffered from many defects in a technical sense: the faces of the puppets differed in detail and above all there were discrepancies on screen in the size of the monster, sometimes six meters high and another eight depending on the cinematic need. However it was the first time that Step One was blended with other techniques such as rear projection, probably the most innovative element of the whole project because it is able to position real actors in sequences never seen before at that moment.
In the first film, Kong was presented as a real primate, with behavior that is more monstrous than human, but as the years went by and the sequels or remakes followed, the character’s fury was gradually softened, with the animal made more human and able to feel empathy, so much so that it was transformed into its long story on the big screen. into a true anti-hero, initially out of any known canon.
Released in April 1933, King Kong was incredibly successful, considered a cornerstone of cinematic innovation. The welcome was so warm and the affection of the public so evident that just 8 months later the sequel, The Son of Kong, was released in theaters, this time directed by Ernest B. Shoedsack. The RKO wanted to ride the short wave of audience consensus, and on top of that it had puppets and environments ready to use, with a reduced and rational expenditure of funds.
For thirty years, then, nothing was heard of Kong, at least until Honda decided not to rebooted him as kaiju in 1962 in Kong’s Triumph, actually titled in the original Kingu Kongu tai Gojira, literally King Kong versus Godzilla.
The director brought two diametrically opposed cinematic icons face to face in terms of territoriality, one Western and one Japanese, creating a truly unique show for that historical moment, first of all because it is linked to a ten-year franchise like that of Godzilla, and secondly because it is able to revive a character believed to have been creatively dead for some time to the cinema. In 1967 he was always directed by Honda King Kong – The giant of the forest, and that was it Kong’s last appearance under the aegis of Toho.
The King of Primates reappeared about ten years later in America, in the remake of the same name directed by John Guillermin that moved the setting period from the 30s to the 70s. The meaning of the expedition is also changed, linked to the desire of a large oil company to find Skull Island to exploit its large oil fields.
This is where Kong suffers the first transformation from monstrous beast to anti-hero, and this thanks to the character of Ann Darrow, able to calm the loneliness of the animal – which in fact becomes attached to the woman. The sequence of events between Cooper’s film and this one by Guillermin does not change much, as does the sense of the relationship between Kong and Darrow, who is much friendlier and more empathetic, we would dare to say healthy.
A sequel was also produced in 1986, King Kong 2 also directed by Guillermin, but it became one of the biggest economic flops of the time. In these two films, however, the author and the production opted to follow Honda’s ideas, choosing to have Kong portrayed by a costumed actor. to be precise by Rick Baker; and this despite the fact that an animatronic 12 meters high was created but complicated to use in Step One (or Two) in any scene with the monster on the screen.
In conclusion, before its third Western relaunch in Monster Fresh, now starring in Adam Wingard’s Godzilla vs Kong, the King of Records was optioned by Peter Jackson for a massive remake in 2005, shot with the same innovative techniques used for The Lord of the Rings, with the greatest Kong ever and with an eye on every film of the past dedicated to the character.
Indeed, Jackson looked even further back, to that The Lost World of ’25 which was for Cooper one of the keys to presenting the project. Fortunately, Jackson’s mammoth 3-hour vision, a true epic on the Island of the Skull and back, between still-living dinosaurs and repulsive giant insects, was warmly received by critics and also won three technical Oscars, finishing in 2008 among the 500 best films in the history of cinema in the Empire’s list Magazine. And currently together with Kong: Skul Island, albeit for different merits, Jackson’s King Kong is perhaps the best work ever created on the character.