King Kong (1933/1976/2005) / King Kong Lives / Kong: Skull Island

D: Merian C. Cooper & Ernest Schoedsack
RKO (Merian C. Cooper)
US 1933
100 mins


W: James Creelman & Ruth Rose
DP: Edward Linden, Vernon Walker & L. O. Taylor
Ed: Ted Cheesman
Mus: Max Steiner
PD: Carroll Clark, Al Herman & Van Nest Polglase

Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Fay Wray (Ann Darrow), Bruce Cabot (John Driscoll), Frank Reicher (Capt. Englehorn), Sam Hardy (Charles Weston)

Although later versions updated visual effects and production values for modern audiences, the original 1933 version of King Kong remains a pioneering enterprise in filmmaking as well as a milestone in photographic effects and stop-motion animation. The film also remains one of the greatest monster movies of all time.
An unscrupulous film director sets sail for an undiscovered island, where prehistoric creatures still exist, including Kong, a giant ape which takes a beautiful actress as its hostage, before they overcome it and bring it back to New York City in chains for it to become a fairground attraction.
Unlike later versions, the pacing of the story doesn't let up and despite some of the effects looking dated, it is still a marvellous spectacle to behold.

King Kong
King Kong

D: John Guillermin
Universal (Dino de Laurentiis)
US 1976
135 mins


W: Lorenzo Semple, Jr. [based on the screenplay by James Creelman & Ruth Rose]
DP: Richard H. Kline
Ed: Ralph Winters
Mus: John Barry
PD: Dale Hennesy & Mario Chiari

Jeff Bridges (Jack Prescott), Charles Grodin (Fred S. Wilson), Jessica Lange (Dean), John Randolph (Captain Ross), Rene Auberjonois (Roy Bagley), Julius Harris (Boan), Ed Lauter (Carnahan)

Though the bare bones of the story remain, many changes evolve from the 1933 version to make this more apt for the 1970's. A filmmaking crew becomes an oil company, visiting Skull Island for raw petroleum when they make the discovery of the island's giant ape inhabitant.
Another change is The World Trade Center replacing the Empire State Building at the climax, but through it all, this feels like a spoof rather than a remake, with some hammy performances and special effects of varying quality (some scenes are clearly a man in a suit, while other scenes, barely on screen for a few seconds, were created from large scale models at huge expense).
Completely inferior to the original film and largely ignorable now since another remake was released in 2005.

King Kong
King Kong

D: Peter Jackson
Universal/Wingnut (Jan Blenkin, Carolynne Cunningham, Fran Walsh & Peter Jackson)
US/New Zealand 2005
179 mins


W: Fran Walsh, Phillipa Boyens & Peter Jackson [based on the screenplay by James Creelman & Ruth Rose]
DP: Andrew Lesnie
Ed: Jamie Selkirk
Mus: James Newton Howard
PD: Grant Major
Cos: Terry Ryan

Naomi Watts (Ann Darrow), Adrien Brody (Jack Driscoll), Jack Black (Carl Denham), Thomas Kretschmann (Capt. Englehorn), Colin Hanks (Preston), Jamie Bell (Jimmy), Andy Serkis (Kong / Lumpy)

The original film was clearly of huge inspiration to Peter Jackson who makes this a labour of love with cutting edge visual effects and huge attention to the Depression Era period bringing this remake to the big screens.
Despite all this, the film is stretched out way beyond its running time with almost suicidal pacing (the first hour is practically redundant) and spending way too much time developing characters who are only peripheral to the main plot (does anybody really care about Lumpy the ship's cook?). Unfortunately, this is Peter Jackson's biggest weakness of all his films, not knowing when enough is enough and blowing everything up to huge excess.
The Oscar-winning visual effects may be a feast on the eyes, but it won't stop your backside from going numb. The 1933 original still remains the outstanding film, but this remake is a huge improvement on the 1976 version.

King Kong
King Kong


D: John Guillermin
DEG (Martha Schumacher)
US 1986
105 mins


W: Nathan Jenson & Steven Pressfield
DP: Alec Mills
Ed: Malcolm Cooke
Mus: John Scott

Linda Hamilton (Dr. Amy Franklin), Brian Kerwin (Hank Mitchell), Peter Elliott (Kong)

A sequel to the 1976 remake (which wasn't particularly good in the first place), this features a rather silly storyline and some incredibly poor visual effects.
In short: King Kong survives his fall from a New York skyscraper and a female "Queen Kong" is discovered on (another) Skull Island.
Kong just wants to get it on. That's pretty much the long and short of it. It's all very ridiculous.

King Kong Lives
King Kong Lives


D: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Warner Bros/Legendary/Tencent (Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni & Alex Garcia)

US 2017

118 mins


W: John Gatins [based on the screenplay "King Kong" by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace]

DP: Larry Fong

Ed: Richard Pearson

Mus: Henry Jackman

Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson (Lt. Col. Preston Packard), John Goodman (Bill Randa), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), John C. Reilly (Hank Marlow), Toby Kebbell (Jack Chapman), Jing Tian (San Lin)

The Hollywood reboot machine continues to churn, even going as far as to ask us to ignore that classic films ever existed and just pay our money, sit out asses down and watch what is presented.

The plot of 1933's King Kong is the victim here, regurgitated into an anti-Vietnam war parable with the action based in the 1970's, rather than the roaring thirties. 

A joint military-scientific mission sees a large group sent to the island of the title, where they are met with hostility by the giant ape after dropping destructive bombs willy-nilly. 

Those who survive must find their way to the north side of the island to await rescue with a host of large, prehistoric beasties ready to gobble them up at every turn. The twist soon emerges that King isn't the real beast, and is actually a protector for the indigenous people of the island, but this doesn't matter to militant colonel Samuel L. Jackson, who had revenge in mind for all the blood spilt.

As a standalone film, Kong: Skull Island is very enjoyable, with some superb visual effects, and the Vietnam allegory does work for the most part. Unfortunately, sticking the knife in a classic film just doesn't sit well for me, at all, and I would have had more respect if this was a completely original work, but it's becoming increasingly clear that originality doesn't belong in Hollywood, and without slapping fake nostalgia over everything they touch, they just aren't willing to take a gamble.

It's worth noting that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts doesn't seem to take to criticism of his film well, and has defended it on Twitter with various posts... and this film is probably a good example of too many cooks spoiling the broth, as it's obvious that studio involvement was a hindrance. It's actually very well directed, but it's still a huge insult to the 1933 film, which should always be hailed as a cinematic masterpiece.

It's probably on a par with Peter Jackson's version, and is an improvement on both the 1976 King Kong and the atrocious 1986 film King Kong Lives.


Kong: Skull Island
Kong: Skull Island