Sunday, April 13, 2008

King Kong

"We’re millionaires, boys! I’ll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months it will be up in lights on Broadway: Kong- the Eighth Wonder of the World!"

Willis O'Brien Accepting "Special Affects" Oscar for Mighty Joe Young in 1950

1920 Mitchell Professional 35mm camera...the classic Hollywood four lens turret and Mickey Mouse ear film magazine.

The stop motion special effects award for King Kong [1933] was never realized by the creator of Kong's actions--Willis O’Brien and Eddie Linden. O'Brien did receive the first "Special Effects" Oscar in 1950 with the film Mighty Joe Young. Curiously, the camera that did the stop motion work for King Kong disappeared and was the subject of a cool story revealing its location.

One has to understand that motion picture equipment such as cameras are very expensive and it was common for various studios to lease cameras to other studios. Sometimes things get lost and paper documentation disappeared. So here is the story of one camera used to film King Kong.

PBS's History Detectives


Wes Cowan: Our first next story will focus on the making of a Hollywood movie classic.

King Kong Trailer: "We're millionaires, boys! I’ll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months it will be up in lights on Broadway. Kong--the Eighth Wonder of the World!"

Wes: Its 1933. The movie King Kong storms into theaters at the height of the Great Depression. Audiences soon forget their troubles as they watch in horror and fascination. On screen, Kong rampages through New York City… climbs the city’s tallest building… and reaches into their very homes! Now, 70 years later, a man thinks he owns the camera that brought King Kong to life. Miles away from the glitz and glamor of Hollywood- on the shores of Lake Bay, Washington- movie camera fanatic Sam Dodge has what he hopes is an authentic piece of Hollywood history.

Sam: I love old movies, and I love old movie cameras… I came across this camera at an auction in England… This is a Mitchell Standard camera. The look is pretty classic Hollywood-- the four lens turret, big Mickey Mouse ear film magazine… And I just really want to know what the history is behind this camera.

Elyse: Hi Sam, Elyse. I’m Elyse Luray… and Wes Cowan and I have come to Lake Bay to investigate. Wow. Look at this. Nice.

Wes: Boy, classic silhouette. Huh?

Elyse: So, Sam, what do you know about this camera?

Sam: This is a Mitchell camera, from 1927. Can you hold this?

Wes: Sure.

Sam: Once I had the camera for awhile, I realized that I probably could find out who the original purchaser was. And, I’ll show you the serial number… it's on the movement inside. Its 66.

Elyse: Oh, I see!

Wes: Oh yeah, there it is.

Sam: And so I called somebody and found out that this camera was purchased by Eddie Linden.

Elyse: And he is…

Sam: And Eddie Linden was the cinematographer on King Kong.

Wes: You're kidding me!

SAM: No!

Elyse: What's your question?

Sam: I want to know if it worked the picture… The owner worked the picture; I want to know if the camera worked the picture.

Elyse: Wow. That would make this quite a piece of memorabilia!

Wes: Yeah, and it’s so cool! What else do you know about it?

Sam: When I got the camera it had been working as an animation camera… and this animation cell came with the camera.

Elyse: Alice in Wonderland!

Sam: Oh yeah.

Wes: Elyse, how old are those cells? I mean, I don’t know anything about animation cells.

Elyse: They’re from the 70's. This camera’s been used for a long time!

SAM: Yeah, most people in Hollywood haven’t had careers as long as this camera’s career!

Wes: No kidding! Ready Elyse?

Elyse: We'll see what we can do!

Wes: While Elyse heads to San Francisco to find out more about Sam's camera, I’m headed to Hollywood to get the story on King Kong. While there have been many imitators and sequels over the years, there is only one King Kong. Released in March of 1933, Kong helped to usher in the golden age of Hollywood. The most spectacular aspect of the movie was the work of Oscar winning animator Willis O'Brien. I’ve come to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles to meet O'Brien’s protégé: Oscar-winner and legendary animator Harryhausen…Ray, Wes Cowan! …maybe he can shed light on this mystery.

Ray: Hello!

Wes: Ray will never forget the first time he saw King Kong… the movie that inspired his career.

Ray: That was in 1933 when I was 13 years old… - and the curtain opened with Max Steiner's magnificent introduction…"King Kong: the 8th Wonder of the World!"

Wes: Ray, why do you think King Kong had such a great impact back in 1933?

Ray: Nothing like it had been put on the screen. And it wasn't just the technical virtuosity of seeing a big gorilla carrying Faye Wray around in his hand; it was the structure of the screenplay! They took you by the hand from the depression and led you into the most outrageous fantasy story that’s ever been put on the screen.

Wes: Willis O'Brien and his team pioneered a number of techniques that defined movie special effects for the next 50 years. Using "stop motion animation", O'Brien choreographed the performance of his Kong puppets one frame at a time. Edwin or "Eddie" Linden was born in Wisconsin and found work shooting silent films in Hollywood. Ray says that O'Brien personally hired Eddie as chief cinematographer for “King Kong”- which meant he possessed certain qualities to work with stop motion.

Ray: Number one, you have to have patience… because you are actually shooting a series of still pictures. With O'Brien’s technique, with a jointed figure which was about that high, you could animate it… You'd get them into a certain pose, and that pose suggests the next pose. So there’s a lot of creativity on the set.

Wes: You know, we have Eddie's camera…It’s a Mitchell Standard… is the Mitchell Standard the kind of camera that would have been used on stop motion?

Ray: Yes! I used a Mitchell that was, I think it was number 20. An ancient Mitchell, silent Mitchell. I used that all my career. We’ve always found the Mitchell a very steady camera.

Wes: So Mitchell cameras were ideal for the stop-motion animation featured in King Kong. But did Eddie Linden’s own Mitchell capture those images?

Elyse: To find out what cameras were used on King Kong, I've come to the home of Sprague Anderson, an expert on early motion picture cameras - and the Mitchell standard. So tell me, Sprague, how was the Mitchell Standard used in the film industry?

Sprague: It was used for everything in the industry. From the time it came out in 1921 up to today!

Elyse: So they were used in the silent films?

Sprague: Oh yeah! When this camera was first sold in 1921, that’s all they were making. It would have been used extensively by a silent film cameraman. It was a much more physical process. For instance, they drove the camera! There were motors available, but they preferred the hand crank.

Elyse: Hand cranked?

Sprague: The hand crank would go here, if you used a motor it would go here. And this was all you had to have to run your camera. (holds up hand crank attachment)

Elyse: Can I try?

Sprague: Sure! Much better than a motor.

Elyse: So this is how they did it in the silent films?

Sprague: Sure, two turns per second. That’s a little fast! There you go!

Elyse: We have a Mitchell Standard that we know was owned by Eddie Linden and we’re trying to find out if it was used on King Kong. Is there any way we can find out?

Sprague: Okay, what do you know about it?

Elyse: One thing that I know is the serial number is 66.

Sprague: Well, that's good! We're lucky, because the Mitchell company records have survived all through the years here… and we can look it up. Ah! Look at this. Serial number 66… Eddie Linden. He bought it somewhere just after the beginning of 1926.

Elyse: Now, what is H.S.?

Sprague: H.S. is the high speed movement which would be very good to have.

Elyse: Sprague describes the high speed movement as a variable speed motor, perfect for the effects work done on King Kong.

Sprague: It could do anything. It could go from zero to 128 frames per second in either direction. And this camera has layer after layer of built-in special effects features, that's one of the things that made it so popular. And if you worked on King Kong, that would be the camera to have!

Elyse: Oh really!?

Sprague: Oh yeah!

Elyse: Is there anything I can look for to prove definitely that he used his camera on King Kong?

Sprague: Yeah, the best way would be to get a hold of one of the old camera reports, especially from the special effects department. They would want to keep track of everything in a special effects shot and they would be particularly interested in knowing which camera was used in case there was some kind of problem. At the top of the report they would always list the camera’s serial number.

Elyse: Well, that's a great lead!

Sprague: Sure!

Elyse: Thank you. I'm traveling to Los Angeles to meet RKO archivist Randy Gitsch. He was the records man at RKO and the last person to handle the Kong paperwork.

Elyse: Randy, I can’t help but ask - why was King Kong so important to RKO Radio Pictures?

Randy: RKO really needed a hit picture. It was in dire straights, financially. It was a new company, it had made a profit in its second year, 1930, but '31, '32, these were the throes of the Depression. In '32 it lost over $10 million. King Kong ended up costing $672,000, quite a bit of change for a picture that was an effects picture in 1933. It ended up making, however, $1.7 million, which was a great return. So King Kong really helped them get out of the Depression.

Elyse: Wow, that's incredible. Well, Randy, the real reason I'm here is because I'm looking for the camera reports from the original negatives from King Kong, and I was hoping that you could tell me where they might be.

Randy: Well, I think they're probably in a landfill by now, Elyse. Those camera reports, keep in mind back then in the 30's, studios, once they cut and printed a picture, they didn't keep out-takes… there would be no real value to those camera reports, learning what Take 2 was like, or Take 5, how that was different. We didn’t have those in the RKO Archives in the 1980's and I’m sure they had disappeared years prior to that. I think theyre long gone.

Elyse: Hmm, so I've hit a dead end?

Randy: I think you have.

Elyse: Okay, I need a new approach. Randy told me that RKO had its own camera department. Which means it’s more likely that Eddie's camera was needed on Kong if the studios cameras were already busy. So first I want to check the Mitchell Company’s sales records to find out how many Mitchell's RKO bought. RKO… number 165… RKO… 234. Okay, they owned12 Mitchell Standards at the time they filmed King Kong. That seems like quite a few. But how busy was the studio that year? The American Film Institute records provide this information. Wow. RKO had 35 films in production in 1932. That's an amazing amount of work. And here’s something: according to the 1975 book The Making of King Kong, they sometimes had 10 cameras working on Kong at any one time. They must have needed to bring in cameras from the outside!

Wes: I've tracked down cinematographer Russ Alsobrook, an expert on the history of movie cameras. With a unique collection of production stills, Russ confirms that Mitchell cameras were used on King Kong.

Russ: Well, I can guarantee that Mitchell’s were used on the set of King Kong… Here’s a prime example of a multiple camera set up on King Kong… this is a Mitchell Standard....

Wes: And, is Eddie Linden in this picture?

Russ: Actually, Eddie Linden is in the far left, and he appears to be directing the photography of the entire crew.

Wes: Cool.

Russ: Now, this is a prime example of a Mitchell being used in the Skull Island sequence- this is a really good shot that shows all the detailing all the way down to the little metal logo on the side of the motor. And of course, the Mitchell’s were used extensively in the effects work, here’s a Mitchell Standard with a bi-pack magazine arrangement and they’re shooting a miniature of the airplanes that Kong is swatting from the sky as he climbs the Empire State Building.

Wes: If Eddie Linden owned his own Mitchell Standard that he would have used it on the set of King Kong… his personal camera?

Russ: I think its very likely because all the top cameramen in town were buying the Mitchell’s in the 20’s when they first came out and that became their personal camera that they took on all their productions. I mean, you don’t spend $5,000 on a camera and then let it sit in the garage; you want the studio to pay the rental on it. And especially on something like Kong where they used upwards of a dozen cameras on some scenes, I don’t think the RKO camera department could supply every camera that was needed. Because they were servicing other movies at the same time. So, in all likelihood, Eddie would have brought his camera.

Wes: So it's a strong possibility that he would have used it.

Russ: I'd say it’s a strong probability!

Wes: This is great circumstantial evidence that Eddie did use his camera but I want to see it in black and white. So I've searched the library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in Los Angeles. Oh look at this, this is great… Here's an ad from Time Magazine, May 7, 1934… for Listerine toothpaste…"Whiter teeth quick! ". And here is a picture of Eddie with his Mitchell Standard camera… and the caption: King Kong and Son of Kong added to the reputation of Edward Linden, their chief cinematographer.’ Great stuff! And what else is here… pictures…Then I found something that just might clinch the deal for Sam.

Sam: Oh, wow....

Wes: But here is the good news for you. We found something else that you are going to be very interested in. This is Eddie Linden’s obituary. And you should know first that he died doing what he loved… he died on the set. But listen to this: A long time member of the American Society of Cinematographers, Mr. Linden was especially known for his work in special effects and trick photography. It was his camera which filmed the spectacular King Kong.

Sam: That’s fabulous!

Wes: Now, understand this could be just a turn of the phrase, but we really do believe that this was one of the cameras that was used to film King Kong.

Sam: That's a special camera. I really knew it was going to be a special camera!

Wes: Now we’ve got something else, right?

Elyse: Yes, we have a present for you. To thank you for letting us go on this great journey and bringing us back to our King Kong days… We have a game, it’s from 1963… its an original game in its box in mint condition.

SAM: (laughs) Oh, that’s fabulous!

Elyse: It goes perfect with your camera!

Wes: Well, thanks for letting us do the research, it was a great story.

Elyse: It was a lot of fun!

Wes: After King Kong, Eddie Linden worked on two more Willis O’Brien pictures… then returned to making "B" movies. Willis O’Brien’s career never again reached the heights of King Kong… but he was finally honored for his work in 1949 with the first Oscar ever presented for special effects.

Additional information about the production of King Kong:

"How the greatest special-effects movie was made with the simplest technology"


Tom Huntington

The movie was originally called The Beast, then The Eighth Wonder. By the time it opened in New York on March 2, 1933, it was King Kong. A fantastic tale of a huge gorilla from Skull Island that runs amok in New York City, King Kong has come down the years as one of the world's greatest movies and the precursor of today's special-effects blockbusters. As The New York Times commented in 1933, it was "a remarkable example of the most up-to-date camera tricks … a series of multiple exposures, process shots, glass shots, miniatures and virtually everything that can be accomplished with a camera in a motion picture studio." Those "up-to-date camera tricks" may seem creaky in comparison to today's digital work, but in its day King Kong set new standards for what could be done on screen. And, for better or worse, it "pointed the way toward the current era of special effects, science fiction, cataclysmic destruction, and nonstop shocks," in the words of the film critic Roger Ebert.

Not only did it launch a great tradition of special effects in the movies that has not yet ended, but even more than seven decades after its release, the movie still inspires filmmakers and audiences. "No film has captivated my imagination more than King Kong," said Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies, when he announced that his next film would be a King Kong remake. His version opens in December 2005. "I’m making movies today because I saw this film when I was 9 years old," he said. "It has been my sustained dream to reinterpret this classic story for a new age." In June 2004 the British movie magazine Empire picked King Kong as the best movie monster ever. "Other pretenders try to dethrone him, but the lord of Skull Island tramples them all," the magazine said.

Even before it was made, the original King Kong was becoming a legend. "Because of the highly secret methods of filming used, the picture is being made on a closed stage and admittance is strictly forbidden," read a notice at RKO Studio in the summer of 1932. The studio's head of production was David O. Selznick; his assistant, Merian C. Cooper, was running Production 601. "I knew they were making something," remembered the director George Cukor. "I would see them making it for what seemed like years and years, and we thought, dear old Coop, he’s making this preposterous picture."

Merian C. Cooper was an adventurer and showman who had been born in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1893 and had flown bombers in World War I; he ended the war in a German hospital after his airplane was shot down in flames. He later organized a squadron of American volunteers and flew for Poland in the subsequent Soviet-Polish War. On July 12, 1920, he was shot down again and taken prisoner. The following spring he escaped from prison near Moscow and made his way across 500 miles of Soviet territory to freedom.

Ernest B. Schoedsack, Kong’s co-director, was an Iowa native who had become a cameraman for the producer Mack Sennett and then joined the U.S. Army Signal Corps in World War I. He met Cooper in Vienna and, like him, sought adventure in Poland. When Soviet forces drove the Poles from Kiev, Schoedsack was the last person to make it across the Dnieper Bridge. "The excited Poles blew it up on my heels, but I did get a chance to turn around and get the thing coming down—with a motion-picture camera," he said.

Schoedsack was lanky and taciturn while Cooper was short and volatile, yet they recognized each other as kindred spirits and set out to make movies that combined what they called the "3 Ds" —distance, difficulty, and danger. In 1922 they teamed with an American reporter, Marguerite Harrison, to make Grass, a documentary about nomadic herdsmen in Persia. Then they filmed Chang, a story of man-eating tigers and elephant stampedes in Siam. Their first fiction film, The Four Feathers, utilized action footage shot on location in Africa.

David O. Selznick, only 26, handled post production work on The Four Feathers, and although Cooper disliked Selznick's editing, the two men hit it off personally. Cooper quit the movies to devote his considerable energies to commercial aviation, but Selznick lured him back, asking him to be his assistant at RKO. Cooper took the job, mainly because it offered him the chance to realize a dream. "I have a really great idea for making a gorilla picture, and to tell you the truth, that is what I am particularly anxious to do," he told Selznick.

Inspired by Dragon Lizards of Komodo, his friend W. Douglas Burden's true account of reptiles on a Pacific island, Cooper wanted to make a movie about a battle between giant lizards and a gorilla, a "giant terror gorilla," as he put it, "with the strength of a hundred men." He later revised his story line to have his beast run loose in New York, and one winter afternoon in Manhattan he came up with the caper: The gorilla would climb a skyscraper and be killed by airplanes.

The ending remained consistent even as different writers tackled the script. The British thriller author Edgar Wallace died of pneumonia shortly after starting work. James Creelman then modified the scenario, and Ruth Rose, Ernest Schoedsack’s wife, completed it. The final version told the story of a filmmaker, showman, and adventurer named Carl Denham (played by Robert Armstrong), who sets sail to find a legendary uncharted Pacific island. He takes along the unemployed actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), expecting her to provide the love interest in a film. At the island, which has a huge wall dividing it in two, tribesmen kidnap Ann and offer her to their god, a mysterious being that dwells behind the wall. The god turns out to be Kong. He carries off Ann into the jungle, and Denham and his men set out in pursuit. Kong and the island’s dinosaurs contrive some nasty deaths for the sailors, except for the taciturn first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), who rescues Ann while Kong fights a pterodactyl. The ape pursues them until Denham knocks him unconscious with gas bombs and concocts a scheme to bring him back to New York as a theatrical attraction. On opening night in New York, Kong escapes, grabs Ann, and climbs the Empire State Building, where warplanes swoop in for the kill. "Well, the airplanes got him," a cop says to Denham. "No," Denham replies in the movie’s final line, "it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast!"

Cooper would need movie magic to make something from such an outlandish premise, and he found his magician at RKO. Willis O'Brien, born in 1886 in Oakland, California, had entered the movies by a roundabout route, having worked as a cowboy, prizefighter, cartoonist, and sculptor. In 1914 he had tried moving clay mannequins in tiny increments and filming them one frame at a time. When he projected his film at normal speed, the objects appeared to move. He called the process "animation in depth," but he hadn’t invented it; it had been used as early as 1895 by, among others, the French film pioneer Georges Méliès. O'Brien did become the leading practitioner of stop-motion animation, as it was usually called. His dinosaurs for the 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World were so realistic that Sir Arthur borrowed a test reel to amaze professional conjurers, Harry Houdini among them, at a magicians' convention.

In 1930 RKO hired O'Brien to make Creation, a movie about prehistoric beasts and another lost world. That project had already cost $132,000 by the time Cooper arrived. He saw little potential in Creation, but he discerned that its creator could help him with his gorilla movie. The studio's board cautiously agreed to allocate $10,000 for a test reel.

Now Cooper had to manufacture, literally, his star. He hated O'Brien’s first concept. "It looks like a cross between a monkey and a man with long hair," he said. He liked the second attempt no better. He wired the American Museum of Natural History, in New York, for proper gorilla specifications and gave them to O'Brien; O'Brien argued that such a beast would be too terrifying to win audience sympathy. "I’ll have women crying over him before I’m through," Cooper insisted, "and the more brutal he is the more they’ll cry at the end." He got his way.

The task of making Kong fell to a model maker named Marcel Delgado, a Mexican native who had met O'Brien in 1923 at an art class they both were taking. O'Brien had liked the young man's work and lured him away from his job at a grocery store to make dinosaurs for The Lost World. Delgado first sculpted models of his beasts from clay, then built articulated metal skeletons that could bend into different positions. He added rubber muscles, covered them with latex skins, and attached surface features: plates, horns, and other appendages. Some models had internal air bladders. Filled and deflated one tiny increment at a time and photographed frame by frame, they made the creatures appear to breathe.

Delgado followed the same basic procedure to build Kong. The model ape was 18 inches tall and made of metal, rubber, and rabbit fur. "The skeleton was made of high tempered Dural [an aluminum alloy] and I gave him muscles that react, which is why Kong looks alive instead of stiff," Delgado recalled. "I was given pruned rabbit fur to cover him with, and I never was satisfied with that because I knew it would show the fingerprints of the animators." The Kong model also had mobile facial features. Each raised eyebrow, every snarl, required minute adjustments for every frame of film. Between frames, O'Brien and his assistants clamped the models firmly into position through holes in the bases of their miniature jungle sets.

One scene for the test reel featured a battle between Kong and a Tyrannosaurus rex. Cooper told the film historian Ron Haver that he personally acted out the motions of both combatants for the animators. "I tried to give them both a certain human quality, which was hard," he said; "the ape wasn’t too bad, I got that down pretty good, but I sure as hell don’t look like a dinosaur." O'Brien and his team—most notably his first assistant, E. B. "Buz" Gibson—animated their models accordingly.

Silent films had typically been shot at 16 frames per second. Sound films ran at 24, which meant O'Brien had to shoot half again as many frames as for The Lost World. On a good day the animation team shot 25 feet of film, or 20 seconds of screen time. O'Brien’s genius lay in the way he used some of those dearly bought seconds for incidental action. For example, after defeating the tyrannosaurus, Kong toys with the beast's broken jaw, a simple gesture that helped transform him into something more than a special-effects stunt. He became a character, one who reflected the personalities of his creators. "Cooper acted out some of Kong's moves for the animators to emulate, and many who knew him said they could see Cooper in Kong’s every move," wrote the one-time Hollywood special-effects man George E. Turner in his 1975 book The Making of King Kong. "Friends of O’Brien said they could see O’Brien in Kong’s every expression and gesture."

Impressed by the test reel, RKO’s board approved a full production. By this point Schoedsack had joined the project, and the two divided the directing chores, Cooper concentrating on special effects and Schoedsack working with the actors. Because the animation was so time-consuming, Schoedsack was able to simultaneously co-direct The Most Dangerous Game, about a crazed hunter who stalks humans on his private island. The film shared sets and cast members with Kong.

With the production approved, Delgado built a second Kong. The movie needed at least two because the models suffered considerable wear and tear during shooting. "Many times I had to tear them down and build them over again because the rubber and muscles deteriorated from the heat of the lights and the constant movement of the animation," Delgado later said. As the animators brought Delgado’s models to life, they endured some trials and a few errors. They learned to insert all new light bulbs before starting a sequence, because if one failed partway through and its replacement burned at a slightly different intensity, the change showed on film. A story has it that one time an animator noticed he had left a pair of pliers where it would be just visible in the foreground, and he carefully animated it out of view one frame at a time.

There was nothing they could do about Kong's fur. Just as Delgado feared, it moved when the animators touched it, and that made Kong appear to bristle onscreen. The animators cringed, but the effect impressed at least one RKO executive. "Hey! Look! Kong’s mad!" he exclaimed when he saw it.

O'Brien also could not avoid jerkiness in his animation, but that was an inherent flaw in the stop-motion technique. A motion-picture camera normally captures objects as they move; each frame includes some blurring. O'Brien took a series of still images. Even though the human eye perceived the projected footage as moving, the animated objects appeared somewhat unnatural because they lacked what is called motion blur. Eventually animators would try to work around the problem. The animators for The Terminator (1984) placed a lightly greased piece of glass between camera and animated models to create a sense of blur, and on Robocop (1987) Phil Tippett jiggled his models very slightly while the camera aperture was open.

As painstaking as it was, animation was not the greatest challenge; putting the live actors and the animation together on film was. A simple double exposure wouldn’t work, for the film elements would then appear superimposed. For some shots on The Lost World O'Brien had used a matte, a process called "negative masking." He placed a pane of glass in front of the camera. A portion was painted black, leaving unexposed the part of the negative where O'Brien planned to place the live action. He then reversed the matte to block light from falling on the portion of the negative exposed with his animation and filmed the actors on a scale to match the animated creatures. Georges Méliès had also tried out negative masking, using it in 1902 to make a short film called Indian Rubber Head. The technique was reasonably simple, but it worked only when live and animated elements remained within their own portions of the frame, and sometimes the matte line between the two elements became apparent on screen.

When the elements moved around the frame, Kong's filmmakers had to create a "traveling matte." They used a number of techniques for this. With the Williams process, named after the cameraman who had patented it, they filmed background and foreground elements separately. A copy of the foreground element—perhaps Kong—was then processed to create a black silhouette against a white background. This film was then combined with the background element—maybe the native village—onto a new negative to create an unexposed hole where Kong would fit. This film was finally combined with a normal Kong image.

Another process, the dunning, patented by a precocious 17-year-old named C. Dodge Dunning in 1927, was used in the scene where a brontosaurus attacks sailors on a raft. There the background element, the dinosaur, was filmed, printed, bleached, and dyed orange. The orange-and-white positive film was packed into a special camera with a piece of normal unexposed negative. The crew then shot the foreground action, the sailors, under orange lights, with a blue screen in the background.

Light from the orange-lit scenes passed unimpeded through all parts of the orange-and-white dinosaur image and reached the unexposed negative. But the blue light from the background did not make it through the orange portions of the brontosaurus footage; instead it acted to print the dinosaur image onto the unexposed negative. The sailors, lit by orange light, essentially acted as their own traveling mattes by blocking light from the blue screen and preventing those portions of the dinosaur from reaching the negative. Since the different elements were wedded within the camera, the technicians had to make sure everything was matched perfectly before filming, and they couldn't see problems until they screened the finished shot. The biggest challenge was for the actors to pretend that the blue background was a rampaging brontosaurus.

Linwood G. Dunn offered a third, easier way to create process shots. Dunn, a former cameraman, built an early version of an optical printer. It was a combination projector and camera. Using a matte to mask a portion of the negative, he could project one element of a composite image directly into the camera part of the optical printer, then reverse the matte and project the second element onto the same negative. Using the optical printer was much simpler than creating complex process shots inside the camera with the Dunning process. "At some point, partway through production, I was able to convince O'bie [O'Brien] that I could save him a whole lot of trouble by working out on the optical printer such compositing problems, where there was much greater control and much lower cost," Dunn recalled. He won an Academy Award in 1944 for his work with the optical printer.

King Kong also expanded the possibilities of rear projection, with actors performing in front of a backdrop that had film projected onto it from behind. Rear projection wasn't new, but Kong was the first movie to use a new cellulose-acetate screen developed by RKO's Sidney Saunders to replace unsatisfactory glass ones. Even so, there were difficulties. The rear projector had to be constructed more like a camera, with a pin system that held each frame steady so the projected image wouldn’t vibrate on the large screen, and the projector and camera had to be perfectly synchronized so the image wouldn’t flicker. And like other screens of the time, Saunders's—for which RKO received a special Academy Award—tended to display a hot spot in the center, with the image's intensity fading to the sides. Also, technicians had to make sure the lights illuminating the live action didn’t spill onto the rear screen.

King Kong first used the new screen in the scene where Fay Wray, atop a dead tree, watches Kong battle the tyrannosaurus. The crew worked for 22 hours straight to get it right. "From my position, all I could see was large blurry shadows on the screen," Wray recalled in her autobiography. "It was like having the worst seat in the house, too close to define what the shadows were. But I kept moving … and would scream when Cooper said, 'Scream! Scream for your life, Fay!'"

Cooper and O'Brien also developed a similar technique called miniature projection. They filmed the live action first. O'Brien then added a tiny screen of stretched surgical rubber (some accounts say they used condoms) to a miniature set. Using a special miniature projector developed by the technician Harry Cunningham, he projected the live footage onto the screen, advancing it one frame at a time to match his animation. He used miniature projection to show Bruce Cabot hiding inside a cave after Kong has knocked the other sailors off a log into a ravine and to show Cabot and Wray in Kong's clifftop home.

Every process required painstaking preparation. The different elements of each shot had to match, and that meant keeping track of the lenses, exposures, lighting, and camera angles. Most of that technical preparation was handled by the technicians Carroll Shepphird and Vernon Walker, who made innumerable tests to ensure that the elements meshed. There was a darkroom right on the set so the filmmakers could develop test footage immediately and make any necessary adjustments.

Not all the effects were done in miniature. For Kong's close-ups, Marcel Delgado and his brother Victor built a life-size bust of the ape’s head, shoulders, and chest. Inside it, three men used compressed air to operate the ears, the eyes, and the rest of the face. The production also used two full-size hands. The paw that tries to snatch Bruce Cabot from his ravine cave was a simple static prop. The other was a more complex device that gripped Fay Wray for close-ups. "The big arm, about six feet long, was attached to a lever so it could be raised or lowered," Wray recalled. "I would stand on the floor while a grip (and that’s not a pun by intention) would place the flexible fingers around my waist in a grip secure enough to allow me to be raised to a level in line with an elevated camera. There was a wind machine to give motion to my clothes, and I struggled to give the illusion that Kong was a fearsome forty feet tall." Using rear projection of O'Brien’s animations, the filmmakers made the big arm appear to be part of the whole creature. The production also used a full-size foot for shots of Kong stomping on island natives. (At no point was anyone filmed in a gorilla suit.)

Cooper and O'Brien clashed again when it came time to shoot the scenes of Kong running amok in New York City. Cooper thought that Kong looked puny and unthreatening compared with the buildings around him, and he told O'Brien to make him bigger. O'Brien was appalled at Cooper's callous disregard for continuity. But once again Cooper won out, and Delgado built another Kong model, this one 24 inches tall.

Cooper was especially worried that the smaller Kong would appear dwarfed atop the Empire State Building in the film's climax, one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The sequence combined footage of real airplanes with shots of models built in various scales, depending on where they appeared within the frame. The model airplanes moved along piano wires, and Carroll Shepphird had to calculate how far to move each model, depending on its scale and distance from the camera, so they would animate properly. The skyscraper's upper portion was a model; the real Fay Wray sat on a life-size set; and the breathtaking views of New York behind the animated Kong were glass paintings by Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe. In one shot the cameras appear to zoom toward Kong in a pilot’s-eye view, a movement O’Brien created one frame at a time while matching the camera’s dollying to Kong's movements. (He created a similar shot for the scene in which Kong destroys an elevated train, to show the trainman’s view as he approaches Kong.) Cooper and Schoedsack cast themselves as the pilot and gunner who finally bring Kong down. "Let’s kill the son of a bitch ourselves," Cooper is said to have remarked.

Once the filming was completed, a crew under Murray Spivak set to work on the movie's sound effects. For the sound of Kong's chest beating, the team first tried a kettledrum. It sounded too hollow. Spivak then tried beating a cane chair with a drum mallet. It didn't sound "fleshy" enough. He finally found the right combination when he placed a microphone on his assistant Walter Elliot's back and smacked his chest.

For Kong's roars, Spivak took a recording of a lion, ran the tape backward, slowed it to drop the sound an octave, isolated the peaks, and spliced those together. It sounded fine but it was too short, so he next created four composite roars and put them together. For the sounds of Kong’s footsteps, he used plungers and a pad covered with gravel. He recorded Kong’s "love grunts" himself through a megaphone and then lowered the pitch.

All of King Kong's sounds were recorded on four tracks, two for sound effects and one each for dialogue and music. Spivak worried that the combination of Max Steiner's score and his effects would overwhelm the audience, so he pitched his effects to match the score. As the film historian Ron Haver wrote, Spivak's "sensitivity to the demands of the music and the limitations of the recording medium resulted in a sound track that is one of the masterpieces of the early sound era."

All the effort paid off. King Kong opened on March 2, 1933, in New York and was an immediate smash. On a budget of $672,000 (at least $100,000 of which was nothing but studio overhead, to Cooper's ire), King Kong made $2,000,000 in 1933 and single-handedly pulled RKO out of receivership. The studio immediately okayed a sequel but budgeted less than half the cost of the original. Cooper, who had taken over as production head when Selznick left for a job at MGM, was going on his honeymoon, so Schoedsack directed the sequel by himself. "When I saw the picture I didn’t like it very much," Cooper said, "but for $200,000, what can you expect?"

Kong has been revived several times since. Cooper reunited many of the movie's cast and crew, including O'Brien, for 1949's similarly themed Mighty Joe Young, which in turn was remade with computer-generated effects in 1998. Japan's Toho Studios had a man in an ape suit play Kong in King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)—which actually owed its original conception to a film O'Brien waited to do called King Kong vs. Frankenstein—and in King Kong Escapes. In 1976 the producer Dino de Laurentiis released a King Kong remake that used a combination of a life-size mechanical ape and a man in an ape suit. The 40-foot Kong, designed by Carlo Rambaldi, weighed 6.5 tons; a Hollywood wigmaker covered it with a ton of horsehair from Argentina. It wasn't completed until filming was almost over, and it provided little more than headaches. Wires snapped, the jaw sagged, and hydraulics leaked down one leg, giving rise to many jokes. In the end it appeared on screen for mere minutes.

Rambaldi also designed the ape suit, which had five masks, each with a different expression. Seven crew members operated cables attached to the mask that changed the preset expressions further. The suit, made from six bear-skins over a foam-rubber casing, proved to be so brutally hot that Rick Baker found it difficult to remain inside for more than three hours (although once he lasted for four).

De Laurentiis's Kong appeared to have everything over the original: a huge budget (in the end it cost around $24 million), expensive location filming in Hawaii, and all the advantages of modern film making technology. Yet even though it won an Academy Award for special effects, this new Kong paled in comparison to the original. Its themes about environmental destruction were heavy-handed, and its special effects lacked the original's magic. It is probably best remembered today for introducing the actress Jessica Lange in the Fay Wray role. (In 1986 de Laurentiis managed to contrive a sequel, King Kong Lives, that made his first Kong film look good.)

For his remake, director Peter Jackson has used the latest in computer-generated special effects. "We’ve reached the point where King Kong isn’t going to really get watched anymore by young kids," Jackson has said. "It’s done. And I just feel that it’s a good time to remember it with technology and try to retain the heart of the original film." Somehow that original film turned a rampaging creature of fantasy into a character with whom audiences sympathized. To rediscover that alchemy, Jackson has turned to the technology his filmmakers used to create Gollum, the tormented, treacherous creature in The Lord of the Rings. The actor Andy Serkis performed that role for the cameras, giving the computer animators reserves of humanity they could draw upon when they began their work. The result was an astonishing three-dimensional characterization.

Whatever Jackson turns out to have made, the creators of 1933's King Kong won't be around to voice their opinions. Willis O'Brien died in 1962 while working on It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Ernest Schoedsack died in 1979, the year after the death of his wife, Ruth Rose. Merian C. Cooper, the man who originally conceived The Eighth Wonder of the World, died of cancer in 1973, after a career that included pioneering work with Technicolor and Cinerama and the production of the director John Ford's finest films. To the end he scoffed at interpretations that credited Kong's appeal to deep-rooted psychological and symbolic meanings. "King Kong was escapist entertainment pure and simple," he said. "I wanted to produce something that I could view with pride and say, 'There is the ultimate in adventure.'" In that he succeeded—with the invaluable help of the finest special-effects work of its day.

Copyright American History Magazine

A fine, detailed review by Tim Dirks:

"King Kong (1933)"


Tim Dirks

The greatest and most famous classic adventure-fantasy (and part-horror) film of all time is King Kong (1933). Co-producers and directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack (both real-life adventurers and film documentarians) conceived of the low-budget story of a beautiful, plucky blonde woman (Fay Wray) and a frightening, gigantic, 50 foot ape-monster as a metaphoric re-telling of the archetypal Beauty and the Beast fable. [Fay Wray mistakenly believed that her RKO film co-star, 'the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood,' would be Cary Grant rather than the beast. Later in her life, she titled her autobiography "On the Other Hand" in memory of her squirming in Kong's grip.]

The major themes of the film include the struggle for survival on the primitive, fog-enshrouded, tropical Skull Island between the ardent and energetic filmmakers (led by Robert Armstrong), the hero (Bruce Cabot in a part originally offered to Joel McCrea), the voodoo natives, and the forces of nature (the unique Beast creature); unrequited love and the frustration and repression of violent sexual desires. However, the primitive, giant ape must also struggle against the forces of urban civilization and technology when it is exploited for profit and returned for display in New York City during a time of economic oppression.

From the start of the picture, its clever screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose (based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace) suggested the coming terror. The film was shot during the spring and summer of 1932 in the confines of the studio. Due to their limited budget for sets, Cooper and Schoedsack used the jungle locale from the latter's previous film The Most Dangerous Game (1932) - an adventure film that also starred Fay Wray. When released, it broke all previous box-office records. Its massive, money-making success helped to save RKO Studios from bankruptcy.

The following scenes for the 1938 re-release, that were excised by censors after the Production Code took effect in 1934, were restored in recent editions of the film:

The Brontosaurus' killing of three victims (instead of five in the original).

The giant spider scene.

Kong's stripping/peeling of Fay Wray's clothing while holding her unconscious in his palm.

Kong's chewing of a New York victim and his drop of a woman from the Empire State Building.

This remarkable film received no Academy Awards nominations - it would have won in the Special Effects category if there had been such a category. The film contained many revolutionary technical innovations for its time (rear projection, miniature models about 18 inches in height, and trick photography, etc.), and some of the most phenomenal stop-motion animation sequences and special effects ever filmed (by chief technician Willis O'Brien, famed for his first feature film The Lost World (1925)). A wildly dramatic musical score by Max Steiner enhanced the action of the story.

The film has numerous memorable moments, including Kong's battle with a giant snake in a misty cavern, his struggle against a flying pterodactyl, the screaming beauty (Fay Wray, known as the "Queen of Scream") held captive in Kong's giant clenched palm, and the finale with the defiant Kong atop the Empire State Building while circling aircraft shoot him down. In director John Guillermin's inferior remake King Kong (1976), starring Jessica Lange, the great ape takes his last stand atop one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

King Kong launched the "giant beast" subgenre of science-fiction, inspiring the 1950's atomic mutant creature features and the Japanese giant movie monsters like Godzilla, Gamera, Rodan, etc. Godzilla and King Kong actually faced off in the Japanese film King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962, Jp.) (aka Godzilla vs. King Kong in Japan). Various other Kong-related films are summarized in the following list:

Son of Kong (1933)

Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Konga (1961)

King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962, Jp.)

King Kong Escapes (1967, Jp.)

King of Kong Island (1968)

King Kong (1976)

A*P*E (1976, Kor.)

Queen Kong (1976, UK)

King Kong Lives (1986)

The Mighty Kong (1998, animated)

Mighty Joe Young (1998)

[Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings trilogy director Peter Jackson shot a remake of the classic 1933 film as King Kong (2005), with Jack Black (as Carl Denham), Adrien Brody (as Jack Driscoll), Naomi Watts (as Fay Wray), and Andy Serkis (and CGI) employed for the 25-foot tall monstrous ape.]

The film begins with the title card from an Old Arabian Proverb:

"And the Prophet said, 'And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.'"

The scene is 1932 at the Hoboken docks in New Jersey during a Depression-era winter. A dock night watchman is approached and asked about the nearby moored steamer: "Say, is this the moving picture ship?" The watchman confirms that the ship is going on a "crazy" voyage, and knows of the brash reputation of Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong), a fearless and arrogant adventure filmmaker and movie producer, who is preparing for a film expedition: "...that crazy fella that's a runnin' it....They say he ain't scared of nothing. If he wants a picture of a lion, he just goes up to him and tells him to look pleasant." Everybody around the dock is talking about the unusually large cargo and number of crew members - "three times more than the ship needs." The well-dressed man, Charles Weston (Sam Hardy), a theatrical agent, is invited on board the vessel by First Mate Jack (John) Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) and is told: "Come on board. Denham's gettin' wild. I hope you got some good news for him."

In the captain's cabin, trusted skipper-Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) confers with Denham and suggests that he sail immediately by the next day's light, before the fire marshal can discover his illegal cargo of ammunition, explosives and gas bombs, one of which is strong enough "to knock out an elephant." They must also get to their destination to finish filming before the monsoon season starts. Weston and Driscoll enter and Denham demands to know if the agent has located an actress to star in his top-secret film: "Somebody's interfered with every girl I've tried to hire. And now all the agents in town have shut down on me. All but you, you know I'm square." Weston believes Denham has a "reputation for recklessness that can't be glossed over." Weston also objects to Denham's secretiveness - not even the skipper and first mate know where they are going. The agent hasn't found a girl because his conscience won't let him ask a young girl to take on such an unknown project:

"I can't send a young pretty girl such as you ask on a job like this without telling her what to expect...To go off on a trip for no one knows how long, to some spot you don't even hint at, the only woman on the ship with the toughest mugs I ever looked at."

No ingenue actress will commit to a long sea voyage to an unknown destination, with an all-male crew. Denham argues that there's more danger in New York for most women: "Listen, there are dozens of girls in this town tonight that are in more danger than they'll ever see with me." "Yeah, but they know that kind of danger," thick-headed Jack pipes up. Denham complains that he needs to have a heroine in his picture to provide romance and a love interest:

"Holy Mackerel. Do you think I want to haul a woman around?...Because the Public, bless 'em, must have a pretty face to look at...Well, isn't there any romance or adventure in the world without having a flapper in it?...Makes me sore. I go out and sweat blood to make a swell picture and then the critics and the exhibitors all say, 'If this picture had love interest it would gross twice as much.' All right. The Public Wants a Girl, and this time, I'm gonna give 'em what they want."

Undaunted but frustrated, the entrepreneurial, jungle filmmaker promises them he will make the "greatest picture in the world, something that nobody's ever seen or heard of. They'll have to think up a lot of new adjectives when I come back." He leaves to find a girl for his picture by himself, vowing: "even if I have to marry one." A cab drops him off outside the Woman's Home Mission where women are in a breadline, but he doesn't see any potential prospects. Nearby, he notices a hungry, out-of-work, and broke girl reaching for an apple from a fruit market on the streets of New York. The street vendor catches the girl and threatens to call the police. After paying off the irate proprietor with a buck to rescue her, she swoons into his arms. When he takes a good look at her, he impulsively decides that she has the kind of beauty that he is looking for - perfect for the starring role in his documentary movie.

Denham takes the starving young girl by taxi to a Bowery restaurant, buys her a meal, and over a cup of coffee asks her about herself. She is orphaned with no family, although she says: "I'm supposed to have an uncle someplace." She also worked as a film extra at a studio on Long Island before it closed. She identifies herself as Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and he enthusiastically offers the down-and-out, destitute woman a job: "I've got a job for you. Costumes on the ship won't fit you. Broadway shops are still open. I can get some clothes for you there." To encourage the beautiful girl to go along, he entices her with a promise of lifting her out of obscurity:

"It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning."

Ann hesitates with fear in her voice, fearing that she will be made Denham's mistress: "No wait. I - I don't understand. You must tell me. I do want the job so, but I can't..." Denham chivalrously reassures her by explaining his position: "Oh, I see. No, you've got me wrong. This is strictly business....Listen, I'm Carl Denham. Ever hear of me?" His fearless, courageous, daredevil reputation is even known by Ann: "Yes. Yes! You make moving pictures in jungles and places." Ann is told that she has been picked to be the leading lady in his new film, and their voyage leaves at 6 am to a place "a long way off." Ann agrees to the voyage, after Denham offers final assurances that sex isn't involved: "I'm on the level. No funny business...Just trust me and keep your chin up." They shake on it.

The next day, the all-male crew sets sail on a long six-week journey on the S. S. Venture bound for the South Pacific. The good-looking and brawny, but disgruntled First Mate Driscoll meets Ann on deck and unpleasantly marks her as "that girl Denham picked up last night." The males on board are angry and distrustful at the prospect of having such a tempting, attractive, and charming woman along on such a dangerous voyage: "I've never been on one with a woman before." Women are a "nuisance" on board ships, according to him.

During the voyage, Ann prepares to practice and rehearse a scene for the film director on the deck, "to see which side of my face looks best and all that." Driscoll really believes her life is in jeopardy and is feeling protective of her safety: "This is no place for a girl," he tells her. The First Mate is chauvinistic, but apologetic: "You're all right, but, but, but women, women just can't help being a bother. Made that way, I guess."

Denham strolls into their company, and sees Ann fondly petting the ship's pet monkey - a miniature foreshadowing of the regal Beast in the film. He comments, sardonically: "Beauty and the Beast, eh?" Ann excuses herself to put on one of her costumes for the film test to be directed by Denham. While waiting for Ann to reappear, Driscoll confronts Denham and asks what lies ahead: "When do we find out where we're going?...And you going to tell us what happens when we get there?"

Possibly feeling threatened by Driscoll's growing crush on his actress-heroine, Denham suspects that the crew member has been emasculated and gone "soft" and "sappy" over Ann's Beauty. Denham equates the first mate to the Beast in his Hollywood script - already robbed of his virile masculinity due to his concern for Ann's vulnerable presence:

Denham: "Oh, you have gone soft on her, eh? I've got enough troubles without a love affair to complicate things. Better cut it out, Jack."

Driscoll: "Love affair! You think I'm gonna fall for any dame?"

Denham: "I've never known it to fail: some big, hard-boiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy."

Driscoll: "Now who's goin' sappy? Listen, I haven't run out on ya, have I?"

Denham: "No, you're a pretty tough guy, but if Beauty gets you, ya...(He breaks his train of thought and turns away with a self-deprecating smile.) Huh, I'm going right into a theme song here."

Driscoll: "Say, what are you talkin' about?"

Denham: "It's the idea of my picture. The Beast was a tough guy too. He could lick the world. But when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him. Think it over, Jack."

As they reach a pre-determined point in the middle of the ocean, somewhere in the Indian Ocean "way west of Sumatra," Denham has promised more information about the voyage. He explains to the Skipper-Captain and his First Mate their destination to the southwest. Englehorn protests: "Well there's nothing...nothing for thousands of miles!" Denham unfolds and reveals a secret, primitive map of an uncharted island in the East Indies. "You won't find that island on any chart," Denham explains about the map's history:

"That was made by the skipper of a Norwegian barque...A canoe full of natives from this island was blown out to sea. When the barque picked them up, there was only one alive. He died before they reached port, but not before the skipper had pieced together a description of the island and got a fairly good idea of where it lies."

Denham describes the island from the drawing. The main island has a long sandy peninsula, the only possible landing site or entrance through a reef. The rest of the island's shoreline has sheer, steep precipices, hundreds of feet high. A wall cuts off the base of the peninsula from the rest of the island. Denham explains that there's an ancient, monstrous wonder "that no white man has ever seen" on the mysterious island:

Denham: "A wall...built so long ago that the people who live there have slipped back, forgotten the higher civilization that built it. That wall is as strong today as it was centuries ago. The natives keep that wall in repair. They need it."

Driscoll: "Why?"

Denham: "There's something on the other side of it, something they fear."

Captain: "A hostile tribe."

Denham: "Did you ever hear of...Kong?"

Captain: "Why, yes. Some native superstition isn't it? A god or a spirit or something?"

Denham: "Well anyway, neither Beast nor man. Something monstrous. All powerful. Still living. Still holding that island in a grip of deadly fear. Well, every legend has a basis of truth. I tell you, there's something on that island that no white man has ever seen."

Captain: "And you expect to photograph it?"

Denham: "If it's there, you bet I'll photograph it."

Driscoll: "Suppose it doesn't like having its picture taken?"

Denham: "Well, now you know why I brought along those cases of gas bombs."

On the deck, Denham prepares for Ann's preliminary costume and lighting test, noticing: "Oh, you've put on the Beauty and Beast costume, eh?" Ann thinks it's the "prettiest," but is nervous about not photographing well. Denham is confident of his unknown actress in her alluring costume: "If I hadn't been sure, I wouldn't have brought you half way around the world." Denham directs her film test, shooting the film himself from behind the camera:

"Well, we'll start with a profile. When I start cranking, I hold it a minute and then turn slowly toward me. You see me. You smile a little. Then you listen. And then you laugh. All right? Camera."

During the test, Denham explains why he now does the filming behind the camera after an unfortunate filming trip to Africa:

"I'd have got a swell picture of a charging rhino but the cameraman got scared. The darned fool, I was right there with a rifle. Seems he didn't trust me to get the rhino before it got him. I haven't fooled with cameramen since, I do it myself."

To set the scene, Denham describes the island's mysterious presence and asks Ann to react to it:

"Now Ann, in this one, you're looking down. When I start to crank, you look up slowly. You're quite calm. You don't expect to see a thing. Then you just follow my directions. All right? Camera. (Denham starts cranking.) Look up slowly, Ann. That's it. You don't see anything. Now look higher. Still higher. Now you see it. You're amazed. You can't believe it. Your eyes open wider. It's horrible, Ann, but you can't look away. There's no chance for you, Ann. No escape. You're helpless, Ann, helpless. There's just one chance, if you can scream. But your throat's paralyzed. Try to scream, Ann. Try. Perhaps if you didn't see it, you could scream. Throw your arms across your eyes and scream Ann, scream for your life!!!"

Ann lets loose a blood-curtling, ear-piercing shrieking scream into the wind. Jack ominously comments on the ship's impending, mysterious voyage: "What's he think she's really gonna see?"

They reach the vicinity of the uncharted, fog-enshrouded island after making their way through the unmapped territory in the high seas. Ann wonders how they will know if it's the right one. Denham says the island will have a formation called Skull Mountain: "A mountain that looks like a skull" - a forbidding landmark for a place. A lookout reports breakers ahead. Anchor is dropped in a cove. Driscoll says grimly, "that's not breakers. It's drums!" They hear the muffled sound of drums and chanting in the distance. When the fog clears during daybreak, Skull Mountain and the wall come clearly into view exactly as described, "just like on my funny little map," Denham says.

Taking a small party of about a dozen ashore, along with ammunition, guns, bombs, and Denham's camera, they approach the native village. The first thing they notice is the imposing wall. [This same wall was burned six years later during the filming of the scene of the evacuation of Atlanta in Gone with The Wind (1939).] In the captain's words, the stone wall is "Colossal! It might almost be Egyptian." The village seems deserted, but then, they hear the drums again and see a strange, tribal ceremony in progress, with natives chanting "Kong, Kong." In the direction of the wall, the heathen natives are costumed as gorilla-apes while circling a naked, nubile young girl garlanded with marital regalia (flowers, shells, and feathers) and crouched on the altar. She is a human tribal offering to a behemoth killer gorilla, "the bride of Kong," draped by white-costumed attendants. Behind them up stone stairs are grotesquely-painted witch doctors and the tribal chief. Louder and louder they chant: "Kong, Kong."

While the crew hides behind a large native hut, Denham exclaims upon first seeing the sight: "Holy Mackerel. What a show!" He sets up his movie camera out in the open to film the spectacular ceremony, in which the natives both respect and fear their god. But the tribal chief notices them and quickly and angrily halts the festive ceremony. Denham's crew moves into the open as a show of force. The fierce, dark-skinned native chief, with his restless retinue of witch doctors, approach the intruders.

The ship's captain, who knows the native language, explains that they have come in peace, but the tribal chief motions them to leave immediately. One of the witch doctors cries that the ceremony is spoiled because the white men have witnessed it, and demands their destruction. Denham steadies his men with their rifles ready to shoot. Then, the chief sees and points out the blonde-haired Ann, the "golden woman," who holds onto Driscoll for security. Obviously, he has never seen a white woman before and is intrigued and struck by her beauty. Under his breath, Denham comments: "Yeah, blondes are scarce around here." The tribal chief demands that she be purchased and offers six of his native women in exchange for the white woman. Denham refuses the offer, thinking they might substitute her for the sacrifice. The crew slowly backs up and makes an orderly retreat to the safety of their moored ship.

Aboard ship that night, Driscoll, who has been fighting an attraction to Ann, now expresses his anger at Denham for bringing her along: "I think Denham's off his nut taking you ashore today...Denham's such a fool for risks, there's no telling what he might ask you to do for this picture....He's crazy enough to try anything." No longer inhibited, Jack uses his protective concern for Ann as a way to express, with clumsy stammering, his growing love for her:

"When I think what might have happened today. If anything had happened to you...I'm scared for you. I'm sort of, well I'm scared of you too. Ann, uh, I, uh, uh, say, I guess I love you...Say, Ann, I don't suppose, uh, I mean, well you don't feel anything like that about me, do you?"

Ann expresses her feelings for Jack by letting him kiss her. While she is still on deck, basking in the glow of her love for Jack, he is called to the bridge. The determined natives row out to the ship in an outrigger canoe and silently sneak on board. They seize her and carry her away in an outrigger to the shore. They prepare her for the marital sacrifice - a beautiful girl to placate their god, Kong. From the ship, Denham notices torches on shore and the continuation of the drums. When Ann can't be located on deck, the ship's cook finds a native bracelet that has been dropped by one of the natives during their struggle to kidnap her. They suspect the worst, that she has been abducted, and a rescue party heads for the island to rescue her.

In a frenzy of excitement, the natives have prepared Ann as the new sacrificial bride - in a scene filled with rape imagery. The witch doctors open the tall gate (by drawing back the huge, phallic-like bolt) in the enormous wall and drag her to the top of a high stone altar at the edge of the jungle. Her wrists are spread and bound to two great pillars or altar stakes (each decorated with a human skull) as a sacrificial gift - the "bride of Kong." After the witch doctors hurry back, the gates are closed and re-sealed with a huge wooden bolt. All the natives then climb to the top of the wall or gate where they gather to watch, torches lighting the sky. The chief halts the dancing, raises his staff, offers prayers, and then two half-naked assistants strike a giant brass gong above the gates to signal Kong. Left invitingly open to attack, Ann sobs helplessly on the altar.

The brutish Kong makes an extremely memorable first appearance. The mighty ape is first heard as he comes angrily thrashing through the jungle, bending nearby trees. Horrible roars, growls, and sounds are heard from an indistinct shape. When he comes into view, he is tremendous - a thirty-foot tall giant ape, much bigger than a gorilla. As she sees the demonic, strong Beast-lover approach the altar, Ann struggles to free herself. She lets out shrill screams in absolute terror, just like in the practice session. Her eyes signify complete fear and helplessness. With raw sexual impulses that have been incited and aroused by a rolling-eye view of the white girl, Kong flares his teeth and snarls, beats his chest and lets go mighty roars. As he comes closer to leer at her, he releases her from the stakes, and she slumps into a faint. Kong picks her up with his giant paw, as the natives cheer enthusiastically at Kong's acceptance of the valued sacrifice (worth six black native girls). She succumbs to the naked Beast's dark libido. Rather than devouring her, the hairy colossus carries her off into the jungle as she continues to scream. [Denham's practice session on shipboard is fully realized.]

Denham and the crew, with Driscoll in the lead of the rescue party, go in pursuit into the village but arrive too late to save her from Kong's grasp. [Both Denham and Driscoll are competing to win Ann back from the Beast, and to rescue her from Kong.] The captain and half of the sailors remain to guard the gate, while the others enter the open gate of the wall and start their trek into the thick jungle. The rescuers are quickly no match for the primitive, long-lost world of the island. As dawn breaks, they view and follow Kong's huge footprint track, Denham exclaiming: "Look at the size of the thing. He must be as big as a house." Skull Island's strange landscape is marked by foggy swamps, tangled growth, twisted vines and prehistoric dinosaurs. In a clearing, they encounter a prehistoric creature - a Stegosaurus. The armor-hide of the reptile reflects their rifle bullets as it charges toward the men. The beast has to be brought down with a knock-out gas bomb. As they approach the gigantic dinosaur on the ground, it rises up again and lashes around with its spiked tail. After more gun shots, it falls again, and Denham puts a fatal bullet into its brain.

Then, the crew reaches the edge of a fog-covered swamp, and they hear Kong splashing across ahead of them. To keep in close pursuit, they perilously cross on a hastily-constructed makeshift raft. Suddenly, a rampaging long-necked Brontosaurus [technically an Apatosaurus] emerges from the water. Its ugly face glares down at the men, and then submerges to escape a volley of rifle fire. The dinosaur rises again directly under the raft, throwing the men into the water. It snatches, chews up, and hurls away a number of sailors - one hapless man in the water is seized head-first. The survivors who have struggled to the shore race ahead of the creature. A sailor who has fallen behind in the chase through the swamp climbs a tree to escape, but is viciously grabbed from the tree branches by the menacing jaws. [This scene is scientifically dubious, since the Brontosaurus didn't have chewing teeth - it was a plant-eating herbivore with grinding stones in its gut to break up food.]

Kong, carrying Ann, crosses a log bridge over a deep chasm. In a clearing, he hears the approaching pursuit so he places Ann high in the fork of an upright dead tree. He returns to the location of the pursuing search party to do battle, finding Driscoll and seven of the surviving sailors crossing the deep ravine. (Denham has dropped back and hasn't reached the bridge yet.)

In the frighteningly horrific log sequence, Kong picks up, shakes, and overturns the chasm-bridging log as the men cling for their lives. All the sailors on the log roll off and are sent screaming to their deaths deep into the gorge. Driscoll has managed to cross the bridge and has climbed down a large plant vine to hide in the small hollow of a cave under the side of the cliff wall. Kong reaches over to grope and grab for Driscoll, but the sailor, in a deadly game of cat and mouse, defends himself with his knife, and Kong withdraws his paw, angry and puzzled. Below the cave, Driscoll is nearly seized by a lizard-like reptile that has crawled up from the ravine on a vine. But he cuts the vine on which the creature is crawling.

The giant ape tries to reach for the annoying Driscoll one more time but he is interrupted by Ann's screams of terror. She has just seen a vicious, flesh-eating dinosaur approaching in the glade in the background. As she delivers a piercing scream, the Rex scratches its ear. Kong leaves his prey, hastily leaps over a fallen log, and returns to his golden-haired Ann just as the huge, monstrous creature is ready to put his large jaws on her. [It is one of many rescues that Kong performs for his new beloved.]

In the next spectacular sequence - one of the most exciting bits of stop-motion animation in the film - the primordial Kong and Tyrannosaurus Rex battle to the death, as Ann in horrible fascination watches the combatants from her treetop perch. To start the furious, titanic battle, the two first face off and measure each other. Then, Kong leaps onto the dinosaur's back and the creature viciously struggles and frees itself by shaking the ape off. The Rex affixes its huge, sharp-toothed jaws around Kong's protecting forearm. When they separate, Kong boxes and swings punches at the Rex's head. Like two collegiate wrestlers, the ape grabs the monster's tree-sized leg and crashes it to the jungle floor. As Kong pummels the creature's head, it furiously kicks its tail and legs, flinging Kong off.

In the wrestling melee, Kong reels backward against the tree where Ann is sitting. The camera follows the tree as it crashes down to the ground, pinning Ann there - miraculously, she is uninjured. From the ground-level perspective, the two creatures are even more frightening and awesome. At the end of their struggle, Kong leaps onto the back of the Tyrannosaurus and tears apart the gigantic, razor-sharp jaws of the dinosaur. Blood oozes realistically from its cracked-open mouth - Kong inspects to make sure his opponent is truly dead by moving the lifeless mandibles. With the Rex silent, Kong beats his massive breast in triumph.

Tenderly, the Beast frees Ann from the tree and carries her deeper into the jungle. By this time, Driscoll has emerged from the cave and reached the top of the gorge. He finds Denham, the only other survivor, on the other side of the ravine. He tells Denham to go for help, gas bombs and reinforcements back at the village and ship while he follows Kong's trail. Driscoll hopes to signal his friends somehow when he finds Ann. During his pursuit, Driscoll runs past the dying Tyrannosaurus, bleeding and already a feast for giant vultures. Back at the village, Denham tells the remaining crew: "Keep your eyes peeled. We leave at dawn, whether we get a signal from Driscoll or not."

Kong reaches his rocky, mountaintop lair, a cave atop Skull Mountain, with Driscoll following closely behind. Inside, he walks by a pool (a ripple in the pool foreshadows a coming attack) and puts Ann down on a ledge. When he leaves her for a moment, an Elasmosaurus, a snake-like lizard, slithers up from below and threatens to eat Ann. Kong is alerted once again by Ann's screams and he grabs the aquatic reptile. As steam rises in the background during the struggle, the creature coils its body around Kong's neck in a choking stranglehold. The convincing stop-motion animation captures the desperation in Kong's face as he gasps for air. Kong finally manages to dash its head against the rocks, breaking its neck.

Retrieving Ann, Kong takes her to the upper part of his cave, emerging on a ledge that overlooks the island. He announces himself with more chest-thumping, causing Ann to swoon into a faint. Sitting down, the Beast is fascinated and mystified by his bride's Beauty and doesn't intend to harm her. Fumbling with her like an adolescent teen, he holds Ann in his hand and examines her carefully, slowly peeling off some of her outer clothes and scrutinizing the flimsy material. When she awakens in his paw and struggles to get free, he strokes and teases her affectionately and then sniffs his fingers. Possibly he has fallen in love with her.

Kong rushes inside the cave after hearing a boulder crash, dislodged by Driscoll climbing up from the cave. Ann crawls to the edge of the ledge, looking for a way to escape. Suddenly, a giant winged Pteranodon (a type of Pterodactyl) swoops down and tries to snatch Ann into the air. Kong rushes back to rescue her, grabbing the flying reptile just as it starts lifting Ann. Ann falls back to the ground, while Kong struggles with the creature. Jack emerges from hiding and reaches Ann to save her. While Kong is distracted, Driscoll starts a descent down the face of the cliff wall on a large vine, with Ann clinging to his back. Kong has succeeded in killing the Pteranodon and disposes it over the ledge. There, he discovers their escape, and he grabs the makeshift rope and begins hauling them back to the top of the balcony. They kick helplessly at the end of the vine, both lose their grip and fall into the water far below at the base of the mountain.

Swept down the river to the jungle, an exhausted Jack and Ann return through the jungle with a much-angered Kong in quick pursuit. Night has come back at the wall in the native village, where Denham waits for a signal from Driscoll. Excitedly, sailor guards see the two running toward the gate, and everyone greets them, grateful that they are alive. They all start back for the safety of the ship:

Denham: "Wait a minute. What about Kong?"

Driscoll: "Well, what about him?"

Denham: "We came here to get a moving picture, and we've found something worth more than all the movies in the world."

Captain: "What!"

Denham: "We've got those gas bombs. If we can capture him alive."

Driscoll: "Why you're crazy! Besides that, he's on a cliff where a whole army couldn't get at him."

Denham: "Yeah, if he stays there. But we've got something he wants (looking at Ann.)
Driscoll: Yep, something he won't get again."

Just then, a lookout up on the gate next to the giant gong cries out: "Hey, look out. It's Kong. Kong's coming!" Ann screams again. They try to keep the huge gate closed, bolted and blocked - the gate that has kept Kong trapped inside the island for so long. At the sound of the gong, the natives swarm from their huts and join them to hold the gate against the giant ape. Kong pounds repeatedly on it, and pushes with his entire weight thrown against the door. As last, he breaks it down, and the doors swing open to reveal the awesome brute. An enraged Kong attacks the village searching for his blond beauty. He hurls an entire hut at the fleeing natives and crushes everything in his path. A screaming baby is rescued just before Kong would have crushed him with his gargantuan foot. On a raised scaffolding, a small group of villagers hurl their spears at him. In retaliation, Kong uproots a small tree and clubs the leader from the platform. He grabs the native on the ground with his hairy hand and chews on him in his gaping mouth, biting him to death (one of a number of horrific scenes removed by censors in the 1930s). Kong then smashes the platform with three swift punches from his fist. More native huts are crushed, and a few of the natives are trampled.

At the beach, Denham tosses one of his gas bombs that explodes at the feet of the charging Kong. The Beast is staggered. Exhibiting anthropomorphic mannerisms, Kong rubs his eyes, grasps at his throat, struggles to crawl forward and then collapses unconscious onto the ground. Denham enthusiastically orders his men to go to the ship for anchor chains and tools "to build a raft and float him to the ship." An opportunist, Denham explains their good fortune, believing that they will become rich by charging audiences to see their giant gorilla on New York's Broadway. Victoriously, he proclaims:

Denham: "Well, the whole world will pay to see this."

Captain: "No chains will ever hold that."

Denham: "We'll give him more than chains. He's always been King of his world. But we'll teach him fear! We're millionaires, boys, I'll share it with all of you. Why, in a few months, it'll be up in lights on Broadway: 'Kong - the Eighth Wonder of the World!'"

Kong is brought back to "Jazz Age" New York on the S. S. Venture to be put on display in a crowded Broadway theater, shown in marquee lights: "KING KONG EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD, Carl Denham's Giant Monster." Kong is a victim in civilization, far removed and transported away from his familiar jungle environment. The curious crowds of the first-night audience push into the huge auditorium, mentioning that tickets are $20 apiece to see the prized trophy, and freak show attraction. One of the audience members has misunderstood and believes a movie screening is about to take place. But she is told that it is more of a "personal appearance." Another individual speculates: "I hear it's a kind of a gorilla." A female quips: "Gee, ain't we got enough of them in New York?"

Just before unveiling Kong to his audience, a top-hatted, tuxedoed Denham tells press reporters backstage to play up the Beauty and the Beast angle on the story, because it was Ann that led the beast back to the village. He also requests that they take their first flash photos of Kong on stage after the curtain goes up. He walks on stage in front of the curtain and with much showmanship, addresses the audience about his "Eighth Wonder of the World" in its world premiere:

"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here tonight to tell you a very strange story - a story so strange that no one will believe it - but, ladies and gentlemen, seeing is believing. And we - my partners and I - have brought back the living proof of our adventure, an adventure in which twelve of our party met horrible death. And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a King and a God in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization, merely a captive, on show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong - the Eighth Wonder of the World!"

The curtain rises to the amazed, black-tie audience, and there is the giant Kong exhibited, standing chained to a large steel-platformed structure. The metal structure's resemblance to a crucifix is symbolically striking. Denham invites Jack and Ann, now obviously in love, to come onstage. Denham introduces first Ann and then Driscoll - they're now engaged to be married:

"The bravest girl I have ever known...There the Beast. And here the Beauty. She has lived through an experience no other woman ever dreamed of. And she was saved from the very grasp of Kong by her future husband. I want you to meet a very brave gentleman, Mr. John Driscoll."

Denham then brings the press reporters on stage, to give the audience the privilege of seeing the first photographs taken of Kong and his captors. Kong struggles when he is startled and then angered by a flood of flashbulb photographs. He also is stirred and jealous of the sight of his beautiful prize - Ann, standing next to Denham. Denham assures his panicking audience: "Don't be alarmed ladies and gentlemen. Those chains are made of chrome steel." With a second flurry of photographs and bursts of light from the flashes, Denham warns them to stop: "Wait a minute. Hold on. He thinks you're attacking the girl." Furious and anguished, Kong believes the popping lights are guns being fired at his female love.

Kong roars in fury and breaks free of his chains to protect and rescue Ann - first freeing his right arm and then the rest of the manacles binding his other arm, waist, and ankles. Driscoll grabs Ann's hand and helps her escape into the alley where they flee into a nearby hotel, while the panic-stricken audience hysterically stampedes and races for the exits. Kong smashes his way out of the theatre, causing mass havoc. Crashing through the stage door, Kong sees Ann and Driscoll enter the revolving doors of the hotel building across the way. After a car crashes into the hotel entrance where Ann and Driscoll have fled, the frustrated Kong kills the driver of the car in his mouth. In his violent rampage and assault on Manhattan [a symbolic, Depression-era attack by the impoverished victim on Wall Street and its bankers and stock dealers?], he rips the marquee from the hotel entrance and throws it into the crowds on the street.

After hearing a scream and seeing a woman peering down from a window, he scales the tall hotel building. Kong's great eyes peer through a window searching for Ann. He reaches into the window of the room and grabs a sleeping woman from her bed. When he discovers she isn't the object of his affection, he opens the fingers of his hand and drops her headlong to her death on the street far below. Then he peeps through another window and glimpses Ann and Driscoll in another room higher up in the hotel skyscraper. He crashes through the window with his giant arm and Driscoll is knocked out defending Ann. Then Kong plucks her from the bed in the bedroom and recaptures her. He carries her to the roof, but then descends soon after, before Denham and Driscoll can stop him.

On his way, after being startled by the sight of a passing elevated train on Third Avenue - thinking it is some gigantic snake - he tears up the track as a second train approaches, causing the second train to turn over and crash. Kong further damages the train (killing and injuring more passengers) by destroying one of its cars with his fists. A radio report details Kong's progress - he carries her across New York City in his giant hand and makes his way for the city's tallest point or "tree", the Empire State Building, possibly because it reminds him of his mountaintop lair on Skull Island. Denham thinks they're defeated:

Denham: "That licks us."

Driscoll: "There's one thing we haven't thought of."

Police Officer: "What?"

Driscoll: "Airplanes. If he should put Ann down, and they could fly close enough to pick him off without hitting her..."

Police Officer: "You're right, planes..."

Four Navy biplanes are dispatched, each with fore and aft machine guns mounted on them. They approach the Empire State Building at sunrise, just as Kong is nearing the domed summit for a tryst with his Beauty.

The film's final moments contain some of the most familiar and memorable of all images and sequences in film history. Atop the building, Kong clutches the girl whose blonde beauty touched his heart. He places Ann on a ledge and then roars in defiance at the planes. A squadron of fighter biplanes swirl around him in an attack to shoot him down, as he swats at them like irritating mosquitoes or bees, but he cannot reach them. His battle against the biplanes is futile. [Note: The film's producers and directors, Cooper and Schoedsack, played the roles of pilot and gunner in this plane-attack scene.] Kong flinches as machine gun bullets rip into his body. Kong sends one careless pilot to a fiery death. After a vicious attack into his throat and body, he is weakened and knows that he is dying. He touches his chest, and then looks at the blood on his fingers from a chest wound. He wipes his forehead with the back of his hand. He gently picks Ann up one last time to gaze at her with tender affection and love. Then, he returns her to the ledge and strokes her gently with his fingertips. After another volley of bullets into his throat, his head droops and his body sways and staggers - he is barely able to hold on. When he loosens his hold from the building, he silently plunges to his death on the street below. Tragically, Kong is no longer an object of terror and fear, but of pity. Moments later, Ann is rescued by Jack Driscoll on the Empire State Dome. He embraces his fiancee tightly in his arms: "Ann, Ann, hang on, dear."

In the final scene on the street's pavement below, next to Kong's lifeless body that is sprawled there with blood trickling from his mouth, Denham pushes his way through the police cordon to examine the massive, crushed body of the fallen monster: "Let me through, officer, my name's Denham...Lieutenant, I'm Carl Denham." He corrects the police officer lieutenant who claims he knows what killed Kong. Rather than the 'airplanes' - a symbol of civilization, Denham states what finally 'killed the Beast.' He shakes his head and replies with relish, in a classic line, the final line of the film:

Police Officer Lieutenant: "Well, Denham, the airplanes got him."

Denham: "Oh, no. It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."

Two books to read:

SPAWN OF SKULL ISLAND: The Making of King Kong


George E. Turner with Orville Goldner

ASIN: 0498015106

To this day the cinematic beauty-and-the-beast imagery of 1933's King Kong remains a vibrant force in the history of Hollywood. However, few film fans know the true story behind the making of King Kong - the heroic war exploits of Kong creators Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; the daring desert and jungle explorations which led to successful documentaries such as Grass; the meeting of Schoedsack and his soon-to-be wife, actress Ruth Rose; the dedicated special effects crew and hard working actors... Ruth Rose would go on to pen the screenplay of King Kong, much of which was based on the real life adventures of Cooper, Schoedsack and Rose. The stories behind the film make this ultimate filmic adventure all the sweeter, and make this book a must have for all fans of fantastic cinema.

The Making of King Kong [2005]


Jenny Wake

ISBN: 1-4165-0257-2

King Kong was the blockbuster film of the last year. And it's an immensely visual film, with such a lot making it onto the screen. And so comes the inevitable making of book. Now these are usually very variable in quality. I've seen some extremely bad "Making Of" books, tacky rushed books that detract from the film they aspire to compliment. But also I have seen some good ones...

This is most definitely one of the good ones. Every aspect of the film and its development is covered here, from the initial planning director Peter Jackson and his co-script writer Fran Walsh undertook in 1996, through the initialise concept visualisations, the development of the sets and computer effects, the casting, and tricks of filming that lead to the wonderful re-imagining Peter Jackson brought to the screen last year.

And the tricks that the film-makers used are fascinating. The one section that really stands out for me is the reproduction of 1930s New York city. The amalgam of the one storey high street and the computer graphics adding on the higher floors and sky is incredible, and the merging of 1930s Manhattan buildings and stylings from old photos and modern video is superb.

But this is just one of the secrets of the film that are explained here - the model making, blending of these scale models with live action and computer generated backgrounds and creatures shows just how much work goes into a film like this. It's so impressive, the whole process of this film's development, and this book illustrates it all so wonderfully.

And then there is another fun thing to recommend this book. Andy Sertis, the man who "played" Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films, is once again called by Peter Jackson to provide the motion-capture acting for his film. This time Serkis is Kong, and so once again doesn't appear in a film. So in many ways this book is the only sighting you get of him in the Kong suit and it's funny to see.

This is one "Making Of" book that is not going to reduce your enjoyment in the way that some of the lesser quality ones can. It's well researched, and given the amount of evidence of set access in the book I think it's easy to state it is going to be very accurate � again I've seen some unofficial tie-ins where I have to say I am dubious about some of its "facts". This one however has no such concerns, this is a definitive background volume to the King Kong movie.

Full of information, insights, photos and interest. Superb!

"The Lost World" [1925]--silent film of significance

Return To Essay