The History Of King Kong
The Son of Kong is a 1933 sequel to King Kong and was released just nine months later. The film was produced and released in 1933, immediately following the success of King Kong, and was a modest success. Directed by Ernest Schoedsack and featuring special effects by Buzz Gibson and Willis O'Brien, the film starred Robert Armstrong, Helen Mack and Frank Reicher.
At the time of King Kong's original release in 1933, America was in the grip of the Depression. Yet in New York City, a place so deeply associated with the character of Kong, it was a period of incredible construction. Broadway became Broadway and those iconic landmarks, The Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building and the Empire State all went up making an indelible mark on the Manhattan skyline that continues to impress today.
Conceived by its director Merian C. Cooper simply as great entertainment, mixing horror, adventure, romance and fable, King Kong became an instant hit on its release. Made on a comparatively big budget for the time, it was considered state-of-the-art for its technical innovations, including the combination of stop-motion animation with live action. To put it in perspective, the film was as cutting edge as Star Wars was in 1977 and Avatar in 2009.
In the original film, the character's name is Kong, a name given to him by the inhabitants of Skull Island in the Pacific Ocean, where Kong lives along with other oversized animals. An American film crew, led by Carl Denham, captures Kong and takes him to New York City to be exhibited as the Eighth Wonder of the World. Kong escapes and climbs the Empire State Building as Denham comments, "It was beauty that killed the beast", for he climbs the building in the first place only in an attempt to protect Ann Darrow, an actress originally offered up to Kong as a sacrifice.
The story, which continues to fascinate almost eighty years later, grew out of the real-life adventures of Cooper himself, a larger-than-life entrepreneur with boundless energy and eclectic interests. With filmmaking partner, the cameraman Ernest B. Shoedsack, he made two landmark drama-documentaries set in the wilds of Iran and Thailand. Prior to this Cooper had been a crack pilot in the U.S. air force during WWI and later again during WWII when he was almost 50 years old. In between working in the film industry he had a stint as a New York City businessman where he became involved in the formation of Pan American Airways. He joined RKO in 1931 during which time he put Fred Astaire together with Ginger Rogers, introduced Katherine Hepburn to Hollywood and collaborated with the legendary director John Ford. At this time he also met Willis O'Brien, the technical whiz who was to play such a large part in the success of King Kong through his incredible special effects and animation work. And along the way Cooper played a role in the development of Technicolor and the widescreen format, Cinerama. It has been said that Cooper and the character of go-getter Carl Denham, the film director in King Kong, are one and the same.
In the 1960s, Toho (a Japanese film, theatre production and distribution company) licensed the character from RKO for the films King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. This Kong differed greatly from the original in size and abilities.
In King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), Kong was scaled to be 45 metres (147 feet) tall. Kong was given a power weapon - he possessed the ability to become stronger by drawing power from electric energy. When fully charged, Kong could direct this power against an opponent by means of an electric touch attack.
In King Kong Escapes (1967), a stand-alone movie loosely based on the animated television series The King Kong Show, Kong was scaled to be 20 metres (65 feet) tall. He was more similar to the original Kong in that he had no special powers beyond his great strength and intelligence.
In 1975, Producer Dino De Laurentiis paid RKO for the remake rights to King Kong. This resulted in King Kong (1976). This Kong was an upright walking anthropomorphic ape, appearing even more human-like than the original. Also like the original, this Kong had semi-human intelligence and vast strength. In the 1976 film, Kong was scaled to be 42 feet tall on Skull Island and rescaled to be 55 feet tall in New York.
10 years later, Dino De Laurentiis received permission from Universal to do a sequel, King Kong Lives. Directed by John Guillermin and featuring special effects by Carlo Rambaldi, the film starred Linda Hamilton and Brian Kerwin. Kong more or less had the same appearance and abilities, only he tended to walk on his knuckles more often and was enlarged, being scaled to be 60 feet.
Universal Studios had planned to do a King Kong remake as far back as 1976. They finally followed through almost 30 years later, with a three-hour film directed by Peter Jackson. Jackson opted to make Kong a gigantic silverback gorilla without any anthropomorphic features. Kong looked and behaved more like a real gorilla - he had a large herbivore's belly, walked on his knuckles without any upright posture, and even beat his chest with his palms as opposed to clenched fists. Kong was the last of his kind. He was portrayed in the film as being quite old with graying fur, and battle-worn with scars, wounds, and a crooked jaw from his many fights against rival creatures. He is the most dominant being on the island - the king of his world. Like his predecessors, he possesses considerable intelligence and great physical strength. He also appears far more nimble and agile. This Kong was scaled to be only 25 feet tall on both Skull Island and in New York.
King Kong has never, until now, been adapted as a musical to the stage. It is simply one of the great modern myths. Its appeal is universal and its story resilient enough to have different meanings to different ages at different times in our history.