In 1933, Merian C. Cooper and Ernst B. Schoedsack used stop motion photography, puppetry, scale modeling and other special effects to create King Kong, one of the first giant monster movies. The story had adventurer Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) sailing to the mysterious Skull Island in search of a legendary monster named Kong. Kong, an enormous gorilla, becomes infatuated with a young woman, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) whom Denham brought along with him. Kong’s “love” for Ann inevitably brings about his downfall. Captured and brought to New York City, Kong breaks free from his chains, destroys parts of the city, grabs Ann and makes his way to the top of the Empire State Building, where he is eventually killed by fighter planes in a scene that is one of the crowning achievements of early special effects. King Kong made such a splash with the public that the same team quickly put together Son of Kong, an enjoyable but far lesser achievement of the same year. The original King Kong also spawned two separate remakes, decades later.
In 1976, producer Dino De Laurentiis created a new King Kong film, based largely on the original film. There were some differences; for example, instead of an adventurer in search of a monster on a remote island, the 1976 film has an oil company executive in search of oil on a remote island but finding Kong instead. In addition, the final battle does not feature fighter jets and the Empire State Building but rather helicopters and the Twin Towers. The 1976 King Kong did well at the box office, and launched the career of actress Jessica Lange. Although she received some harsh and often misguided notices for her portrayal of an airheaded actress, she would recover from such criticism and go on to give many superb performances in such movies as Frances (1982) and Sweet Dreams (1985).
In 2005, director Peter Jackson, a lifelong fan of the original King Kong, offered his own remake of King Kong that followed the original film more closely than did the 1976 version. At three hours, Peter Jackson’s King Kong is a long movie, perhaps excessively so. His Kong though, created with motion capture and computer generated imagery, is a beautiful invention, much more convincing than the stop-motion Kong of the 1933 version or the gorilla suit Kong of 1976. The “love” story between Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) is entertaining, believable and quite touching at times, while the death battle with the fighter planes on top of the Empire State Building is possibly even more emotionally affecting than the classic climax of the 1933 movie.