AFI 100: King Kong

I’m only and hour into the 100 minute King Kong, but I’m so bored that I figured I may as well start typing. According to the AFI, this film is one of cinema’s “greatest,” but, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think that word means what they think it means. I’m guessing that, in this case, the ol’ double-k got the nod for being one of the most influential films of all time, but lord knows that ‘s not the same as greatness. Needless to say the special effects are outmoded, but I don’t hold that against the film. After all, the quality of a movie shouldn’t be judged by the caliber of its effects–which is exactly the point: strip them away from King Kong and you’re not left with much. The acting ranges from workaday to wretched, and while the plot is moderately interesting, the middle third, which serves only to showcase the Amazing Stopmotion Animation!!!, is interminable if you don’t find the f/x breathtaking. I will give the film props for lethality, though: I assumed that all death in this film would take place off camera, if at all, but, no, kong fucks up half a battalion of folks with extreme prejudice. The subtext of the film–that the real monsters are the humans, while Kong just wants to live in peace–is intriguing; too bad the filmmaker doesn’t do much with it. Maybe Peter Jackson utilizes the material better in his 2005 remake. 5/10.

Yeah, chickened out of watching Sophie’s Choice this week. I will try to work up the nerve to do so next.

27 thoughts on “AFI 100: King Kong

  1. IMHO, while I enjoy the sheer scope of what Peter Jackson tries to do in his 2005 remake, and find a lot of what he does with Kong very touching, my favorite Kong is the 1976 one with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange. Frankly, the thing is less a monster movie and more a simultaneous indictment of US Oil policy, capitalistic greed, and destructive human nature. Check that one out if you’ve never seen it. It is neither the most influential film of all time (the 1933 one) nor one of the most spectacular special effects films (2005), but I love it.

  2. The Princess Bride quote speaks volumes. A classic in its own right.

    But I remember watching King Kong when I was a wee-little-lad and being downright terrified.

    Our entertainment tastes aren’t what they used to be.

  3. The same can be said for the top albums lists. An album’s rank seems to be based 80% on its influence, and only 20% on actually how good it is.

  4. I often wonder what’s being used to measure the “greatness” of films on this list. Titanic? A Clockwork Orange (bad adaptation), and Toy Story (which should be replaced immediately by The Princess Bride)?

  5. Your review applies 100% to the film–that is, of course, to Peter Jackson’s version of the film. You hit everything on the head that was wrong with the remake, from bad acting to interminable, boring and non-plot-advancing special effects (the 90-minute “tripping dinosaurs” sequence being the prime example), but somehow you missed the epic greatness of the comparatively spare original.

    It might be that you had to see it as a kid first, when the pacing, special effects (it was still at the top of its field when I first saw it in the early 70s), and “pulp” feeling were so captivating. One would probably dismiss Star Wars for a lot of the same reasons if seeing it now as an adult for the first time.

    Sorry, last thing: how exactly did you celebrate Thanksgiving, growing up?

  6. “Maybe Peter Jackson utilizes the material better in his 2005 remake.”

    don’t get your hopes up… I agree with braine, you’re review of the original KK is exactly how I feel about the latest…all effects and no story, worth watching anyway.

  7. Hey – i thought you were supposed to watch the dreaded Sophie’s Choice next??!! Which, by the way, is a horrible adaptation of the novel.

  8. I watched “King Kong” as part of my degree in Film Studies, and I think watching it in a cinema really helped because I couldn’t wander off to do something else. There are some films that require that enforced seperation from the real world for them to work.

    Plus “King Kong” had the advantage of a story, to film students who had been forced to watch hours of plotless art-house uber-experimental stuff as a course requirement it was a massive treat and I’ll always remember it fondly for that alone.

  9. Dear Defective Yeti fans: Can anyone remember a post called “Things You Did Not Just Do” that included “laugh out loud,” “throw up in your mouth a little”, “spit coffee on my monitor,” and other things people exaggerate about in chat rooms? Or was that McSweeney’s or something or I’m just remembering Things I Am Glad I Am No Longer Required to Do?

  10. I agree with braine and zosa; the Peter Jackson remake of Kong (Kong 3.0) is no better than the original. The tripping dinosaurs sequence actually had Spouse and I laughing, it was so excessive that it was like something from a Python film – so unless you’re in it for the unintentional comedy, PASS!

    Shouldn’t there be warning lights and alarms ringing inside the decision-making centres of a studio when anyone suggests remaking a movie again, i.e. making it for a third time?

  11. re: “dreaded Sophie’s Choice”
    I was almost moved to post when I saw you were going to watch “Sophie’s Choice”. It was either that or “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” that now causes me to twitch for a moment when there is any possibility of seeing Meryl Streep in a film.
    Oddly enough I saw both of those in the company of a woman I was hoping to become better acquainted with. One of them (who was also part of my circle of friends) quoted from Sophie’s Choice for months. I bit my tongue a lot.

    The other, as we walked out of the theatre after TFLW, said “Well. That should resolve anyone’s doubts about Meryl Streep’s acting ability”. I agreed whole-heartedly with the statement but was 180 degrees away on the sentiment. I never saw her again.

    +1 on The Princess Bride reference. Sometimes I think there should be parallel best of lists for movies. One would be for those who think that TPB was a brilliant film and the other for those who can’t seem to watch it for even 5 minutes.

  12. I feel obligated to point out two things:

    1) Inigo Montoya did not say that. Westley said it, during his “battle of wits” — a term I use very loosely — with the short Sicilian guy.

    2) You have 12 commenters before me, at least three of whom profess to be true Princess Bride fans, and none of them noticed this or pointed it out?

    Your readers are slipping ;)


  13. You have 12 commenters before me, at least three of whom profess to be true Princess Bride fans, and none of them noticed this or pointed it out?

    That is because you are wrong.

  14. Not to be picky Chris, but actually Inigo Montoya uses this pharse in reference to Vizzini’s repeated use of the word inconceivable.
    Vizzini being the “short Sicilian guy” you mention.

    Never go up against film geeks when correcting a quote from “The Princess Bride”

  15. I love Jackson’s KK. Almost as much as the Princess Bride. I am completely charmed by Naomi Watts’ performance and the “humanity” of Kong (the parallels to the Vaudeville audience at the beginning was great). I think it is well written and acted. I’ll agree that the time spent on Special-Effects Island is not necessary but I was more bothered by the Valley of the Bugs than by the tripping dinosaurs. The amount of time Watts spends on top of the Empire State Building without getting blown away or freezing to death was beyond my willing suspension of disbelief. I spent a lot of that sequence wondering what happened to Kong’s. . . ehem . . . “equipment.”

  16. Matthew, I’m afraid I have to agree with braine on Kong. The original may be creaky, and Bruce Armstrong (who plays Denham) may be a little on the, um, hammy side, but the pathos with which the SFX guy, Delgado, invested Kong is simply stunning, given the technology of the time. Keep in mind that a lot of the films make it onto the AFI list due to recognition of their significance–part of what makes them great–and that Kong broke a lot of new ground in special effects and production design. The crew took rear projection technique to a heretofore unheard of level, and used various matte screen techniques in new ways. The AFI Catalog notes that “for some of the jungle scenes, where a deep, textured look was desired, O’Brien used as many as three planes of painted glass for a single shot with miniature set elements, including live foliage, sandwiched between them. Instructed by Cooper and O’Brien to copy illustrations by Gustave Dor

  17. Do not watch “Sophie’s Choice.” You will be very sad indeed and also wonder A) how the Nazis could be so awful and B) where the heck did Sam Waterston go? And then you’ll realize much too late that he’s not in it – you’re thinking of Peter MacNicol. Waterston was in “Gatsby,” which is a frickin’ walk in the park after this baby.

    Or, okay, watch it, but plan to get drunk.

  18. Re: Sometimes I think there should be parallel best of lists for movies. One would be for those who think that TPB was a brilliant film and the other for those who can’t seem to watch it for even 5 minutes.

    There are people who don’t like The Princess Bride?

  19. I agree, operagal. How can anyone not like TPB? Along with “What’s Up Doc?” and “Noises Off” it’s one of the films that always puts me in hysterics no matter how many times I see it.

    Before anyone pounces on me about “Noises Off”, let me admit that it may be more funny to those of us who have spent most of our lives working in live theater.

  20. Check out Robert Anton Wilson’s comments on seeing King Kong in it’s original release for some ideas about why people love it. I believe they’re in his book, The Illuminati Papers.

  21. I think the original King Kong IS a classic and clearly one of the top 100. Is it just no mention or also no recogniton of the Freudian (he’s currently so not PC) themes and symbolism that was fairly new to mass culture at the time of the movie? Large Louie

  22. You’re totally disappointing on these bold challenges. First, bailing out on Moby Dick, now Sophie’s Choice the movie. Maybe blogging’s better suited to writing about random stuff that happens. Until they start paying us lots of bucks to meet the deadlines and stay up late.

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