There’s mystery in the air. From the cargo vessel loaded with explosives, with 3 times the number of crew needed for a ship this size, planning to leave the harbor before the authorities board it in the morning, traveling to an unknown destination known only to a strange P. T. Barnum-like movie producer looking for a star for his movie in the homeless shelters, to the black and white images almost always shot in poor light or fog with portions of the scene too dark to see into, there’s mystery in the air in what many people have on their list of all-time best movies.
For those who may have never seen the movie or one of the remakes, the story is divided into three parts. The first part builds slowly, as the characters are introduced and the background story slowly comes out as the journey begins. In some ways, this part almost lulls the audience into a sense of complacency. We start out knowing something will happen, but so far it hasn’t and we let our guard down.
In the second part the ship arrives at Skull Island and the fun begins. The rest of the movie turns into a massive chase/action/adventure movie starting first on Skull Island and continuing to New York City. From the crew chasing Kong, to Kong chasing Beauty, to all sorts of prehistoric creatures chasing both the crew and Kong the second half of the movie is almost non-stop action. Whenever someone turns their back, there’s a new danger coming from those dark areas we can’t peer into.
The detail in the movie is part of what makes it great. From the jungle scenes painted on canvas, the miniature models and miniature photography, the scales on T-Rex, the wisps of sulfurous smoke drifting in the cave with boiling mudpots filling the foreground, to the ominous overly large black birds flying over the sea when we first see Skull island, the attention to detail is one of the things that helps sell the movie to us. The serpent in the cave is not just any ordinary serpent. It has 4 small legs indicating its primeval origins and indecision about how and where its descendants will live. We might poke some fun at some of the close-ups of Kong’s face, but the way the miniature models and sets are flawlessly integrated into the live action is so good, we don’t question the reality of the scenes. This movie was made 15 years before the most rudimentary computer was available, yet the integration of actors and imagination is better than many of the CG scenes we see today.
As always with a good movie, it’s the music that cements the image in our minds and allows us to fill in any imperfections that might exist. The music here is perfect for the movie. No Dolby, THX or massive speakers, just great music that punctuates the scenes.
While the movie is a technical masterpiece, especially for 1933, it is Kong that clinches this as a memorable movie. The King Of His World trying to understand these new creatures, us, around him. Whether delicately investigating the cloth and smells of Fay Wray’s clothes, playing tickle or trying to understand his own wounds in the movie’s ending, it is the simple human (perhaps better than human) qualities that endear Kong to us.
Great technique, great story, great characters makes a great movie. This is one of the greats.