Ever since I was maybe four years old, I have heard from my grandparents how much they had enjoyed seeing King Kong way back in 1933 with their respective families. I was periodically transported into worlds of fantasy with fantastic tales of the giant ape battling dinosaurs, playing with his live-girl toy, rampaging through New York, and finally being mercilessly brought down by the US army planes. Even in the face of death, I was told, Kong fought on, and in the words of my grandfather 'brought down helicopters and planes like flies'.
After having been fed on these tales, I was naturally EXTREMELY dissapointed when the first time I was introduced to the giant gorilla through the 1976 version of the classic. Where were the dinosaurs ? - I asked myself. What about Kong plucking planes out of the air ? What I saw of Kong was a cartoonish figure, no more menacing than a oversized pup. In fact, the 1976 Kong was a vaguely lecherous beast, with a seriously un-ape like expression on his face as he proceeds to disrobe his toy - played tolerably well by Jessica Lange. I finished watching the film with a sense of regret. I was surprised that my grandfather had been so enamored by so mediocre a story.
Then, sometime in 1998, I had the chance to catch to watch the 1933 version. Which made me sit up. Oh boy! This was a film all right. There was MENACE, and a well thought out story to boot - not like the mindless disaster movies of those times.
Kong stood out as the hero of the film, battling brontosaurs and pterodons. His rampage in New York was as I had pictured in my mind. And the climax was as climatic as it could get - with the marauding ape plucking out planes from the sky like those metaphorical mosquitoes.
Since then, I have considered King Kong as being one of the best disaster movies, actually one of the best movies, ever made. Ray Harryhausens wizardry retains its ability to fascinate even today. It boggles my mind just to imagine the phenomenally taxing process stop motion animation is. I didn't doubt that people of my grandfather's generation were so struck by this piece of movie magic that they could recall scenes of it perfectly, more than seventy years since they walked into that theatre in Calcutta.
All this is why I'm seriously thinking of starting to worship Peter Jackson. The man has managed to lead a team that has brought back Kong in his original spirit to life again. In my books, this is nothing less brilliant than any medical research which tries to curb a disease, or any scientist making a breakthrough in nanotechnology.
For his version of King Kong is not about a marauding ape, or villanous rascist humans. It's about a clash of personalities. The clash between the free mind of Kong and the mind of a man making the most of a free market.
The film has one of the best opening sequences I have seen in movies, with a nostalgic song, and scenes of New York's toughest times. Men waiting in queues for food, artists ekeing out a meagre living, a pervading sense of gloom everywhere with people stuggling to laugh. In this gloom, we are introduced to Carl Denham, a filmmaker with a passion last seen in Orson Wells, and Ann Darrow who in Denham's words is the 'saddest person he has seen'. These people, form part of a crew setting sail for a hitherto undiscovered island where Denham plans to shoot his magnum opus.
What they don't bargain for is the fact that the island is home to a host of creatures extinct from the rest of the world. And there is Kong. The twenty five foot gorilla.
Jackson has filled the film with battle sequences that are, to put it mildly, magnificent. The scenes of Kong fighting three huge dinosaurs are right up there with the all time classic sequences like the chariot race from 'Ben Hur'. In my second viewing of the movie, I managed to look around the audience during these sequences and found the entire lot rivetted in their seats, eyes glued to the screen. One guys cell phone was ringing but he was too enrossed to answer it.
Added to these are truly scary scenes of men men nearly trampled to death in stampede and later being eaten alive by giant slugs. These scenes were present in the 1933 screenplay but never found their way into the movie, as the test audience was found to be 'too disturbed' by them.
The final act of the movie, where Kong is brought to New York is amazingly crafted. After Kong finds Ann, they have a quiet moment on a pool covered with ice. The background music at the time is simply marvellous.
And yes, Kong does pick out biplanes from the air (though not like mosquitoes) at the end. His heroic fight to death had me at the edge of my seat.
I guess people enjoy this movie so much, as there's something of Kong in all of us - a desire to be free and unfettered. A desire to look down on the world from somewhere above. And we also are aware that this desire is most likely to be thwarted by someone like Denham, who being the epitome of capitalism, will use all means nessecary to turn all opportunity he comes accross to profit.
Peter Jackson is a genius. I can't sleep well till I see this again on IMAX.
If only I could take my grandparents to see this movie.