Thursday, January 24, 2008

Dinosaur Movies: Part 2

The original King Kong (1933) wasn't trying to be an epic. It just kinda turned out that way.

With Willis O'Brien's wonderful stop-motion animation giving the movie backbone and heart, this fairly straightforward adventure story is perhaps the single most entertaining and entrancing film ever made.

Everyone knows the plot--or if you don't, you should be taken outside and shot. A filmmaker named Carl Denham, famous for shooting jungle pictures on location, sponsors a trip to a previously undiscovered island. He isn't sure what might be there at first--but he's pretty sure it'll look good on film.

Boy, was he ever right. Not that he gets a chance to do much photography. He and Jack Driscoll (first mate of the ship that brought them to the island) are soon hip deep in dinosaurs, desperately trying to save leading lady Ann Darrow from the clutches of a giant ape named Kong.


The two heroes (along with a rapidly shrinking group of sailors) encounter a stegasaurus and a brontosaurus before Kong knocks most of them into a pit. Kong himself then battles--in rapid succession--a tyrannosaur, an elasmosaur and a pteradactyl. Eventually, the big ape is gassed unconcious and brought back to New York for exhibit. That proves to be a very bad idea.

The special effects are backed up by strong direction and photography. The dinosaur stuff is so much fun it makes your toes curl--especially Kong's classic fight against the T-Rex.

It's interesting to compare the original film to Peter Jackson's 2005 remake. (We will, of course, pretend the 1976 remake does not exist.) The 1933 film sets out to be a simple (in terms of story and theme) adventure film. It was done so well it became an epic story on its own merits.

Jackson (a brilliant filmmaker who did a great job with Lord of the Rings) tries to make an epic and largely fails. His King Kong demonstrates that CGI special effects can be a work of art (Skull Island looks fantastic), but he practically beats us over the head with the idea that we are supposed to be sympathetic to Kong, rather than trusting to the story to make this point. He adds a number of unnecessary characters and the film as a whole runs far too long.

And he jiggles the stupid camera all over the place during Kong's fight with a couple of big carnosaurs, so you can't really follow the action. NOTE TO ALL CONTEMPORARY FILMMAKERS: HOLD THE CAMERA STEADY!!!!!!!!!!

So its the original film that is still the true classic. It's still the best darn dinosaur film ever.

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