Beauty & The Beast
Very few cinematic creatures rival that of King Kong. He remains one of the most recognizable and iconic movie monsters ever conceived. The giant ape was the creation of American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper, whose vision of a mysterious uncharted island and the tragic story of beauty and beast was the first true special effects extravaganza, taking the art of filmmaking into its own uncharted territory. Mind you, I’m referring to 1933’s King Kong, still in its black and white. The film had a profound impact on popular culture across the world, influencing an entire generation of filmmakers. The image of a gigantic gorilla climbing the Empire State Building with a beautiful damsel in distress, has been burned into the consciousness of the entire globe, making Beast one of the few characters to transcend geography or culture. It’s no surprise then, that the story has been retold over the years. Outside of the numerous sequels and spin-offs, the original King Kong has been remade twice, once in 1976 and then in 2005, by Peter Jackson. 2005 will be the focus here.
There is a near unanimous agreement among scholars and critics that the original, released in 1933, “is a kind of racist allegory, symbolically depicting white America’s view of black people at the time.” The US society was marred by racial and social tensions at that time. Even though the plot seems like an epic adventure on paper, observe the plot carefully: A heroic film crew sails to an uncharted island, which is home to a gigantic ape. Here, the film’s “white” leading lady is abducted by Kong, only to be rescued later by her “white” knight in shining armour. The brute that is Kong is captured and taken to New York to be exhibited as the Eighth Wonder of the World. But Kong somehow breaks free, kidnaps the leading lady, and goes on a destruction spree, before being shot down atop the Empire State Building.
Many film scholars believe that the capturing and chaining of Kong is metaphorically linked to the US slave trade. Released 35 years prior to the birth of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a landmark law that outlaws discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin — the movie implies if black men (represented by Kong) were given total freedom, destruction and chaos will ensue. Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, the movie is also viewed as a cautionary tale about interracial romance.
Kong films also draw uncomfortable parallels with colonialism. A team of explorers from the West invade the fictional Skull Island, whose inhabitants are depicted as Blacks. In fact, Kong is viewed by many as a fearless leader of these people — a warrior who is forcefully shackled and transported to a different world for the amusement and profit of white people. The rebellion by Kong is seen as a movement by the natives to overthrow the colonist power. Whereas, the killing of Kong in the end, signifies the crushing of that rebellion by brute force.
All three versions are relatively similar to each other, telling the same story beat for beat, at least in the broader sense. An expedition to an uncharted island, where the characters discover a native tribe who sacrifices the alluring blonde to beast. Kong, attracted to the girl’s exotic presence, protects her from harm that the island imposes. The other humans carry out their search-and-rescue mission, then tackle down the gorilla, drag it back to New York to show off the modern world. Being the hero that it is, Kong escapes custody, “rescues” the girl, before it is shot down from the tallest building. Peter Jackson goes through great lengths to honour the spirit of the original while expanding on the premise to a near absurd extent, even going so far as staging the film during The Great Depression, thus making the King Kong from 2005 a period piece. With the deleted scenes, the whole film runs at three and a half hours long, a bloated and intensely excessive remake. This is arguably its greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
It was beauty killed the beast.
The premise is still the same, but there is a much larger supporting cast to give the film a grander feel. Special shoutout has to go to Naomi Watts for her portrayal of Ann Darrow; she is damn near perfect for the role, and what cements her place is her great range of emotions the previous Ann Darrows simply could not, at least in my opinion. A lot of time was invested towards building the reputation of Kong, far more menacing than its own previous predecessors. As for creativity, no one can doubt the efforts put in place. CGI dinosaurs, CGI insects, CGI monsters that seemed to have escaped Darwin’s analysis. Hand in hand with the periodic element, King Kong is also an action film, with plenty of elaborate action sequences, be it on the island or in New York.
At the end, Kong is the undisputed star here. We can marvel at the all-star team Jackson assembled for this film, the likes of Adrien Brody, the aforementioned Naomi Watts, Jack Black and co, but they are just side pieces to the big guy, literally. Kong is not a monster. He is an animal, overgrown perhaps, but still an animal. Unlike the original and the first remake, Kong in 2005 actually develops a friendship with the blonde girl, not an infatuation. I fully stan this decision because that kind of beastiality is just too nasty for me to stomach. There is a greater emphasis on the kinship between beauty and beast. Ann is the only person out there capable of understanding Kong. She understands his loneliness, thereby making his death from atop the building so much more emotionally potent.
Peter Jackson’s remake is a true epic. There are numerous homages and Easter eggs to the original, every subtle nuance is blown to take advantage of the better technology today. I indulge in this. Even though the film is often criticized for its length. While the criticism is understandable, there is not a single minute I would personally take out of the film. I love the intricate backstories to practically every single character, giving more emotional punch to the audience when that specific character… dies. The sailors no one seems to care about, suddenly become more significant. The characters as a whole, are flawed, ponderous and silly, yet exciting, brilliant and heartfelt.
King Kong is definitely not everyone’s favourite film. That is where subjectivity comes in. Me, this was one of the first few films I remember from my childhood, so it bears a monumental significance for me. It was sad, watching Kong fall off the building, after we realize that he is actually not trying to harm anyone. He is just a big dumb guy who is new to the world. Looking deeper into the film, it is not just “beauty that killed the beast”. In the face of beauty, we feel threatened, especially when it overwhelms us, and we pay a terrible price when we try to deny its essential nature and turn it into a product, or a target.