This month, we were given the return of the cinematic movie monster that is King Kong with Kong: Skull Island, a fun return to form for the famous giant ape as it sets up the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong crossover in 2020.
But let’s look back to the King Kongs that we’ve come to know and love, specifically the 1933 King Kong:
and the 2005 remake version by Peter Jackson:
Those are two of the most well known adaptations of the character prior to this recent Kong movie. While it’s hard to underplay the 1933 movie and its’ cultural significance, most people have had a hard time deciding which version was better, the 1933 classic or the 2005 Peter Jackson movie. Today, we answer that question? Let’s find out which Kong rules supreme in this battle, the 1933 classic or the 2005 reboot:
KING KONG (1933) vs. KING KONG (2005)
Let’s begin our look by taking a look at the big guy himself, this is the best King Kong:
BEST KING KONG
Now, this is a tough one because in both movies, King Kong is essentially the same character, a gigantic sized ape who reigns supreme on Skull Island and ends up falling for this woman who he finds on the island and also is trying to protect his land over the other humans who have inhabited his island.
In his first appearance in King Kong (1933), Kong was a gigantic prehistoric ape, or as RKO’s publicity materials described him, “A prehistoric type of ape.” While gorilla-like in appearance, he had a vaguely humanoid look and at times walked upright in an anthropomorphic manner. Indeed, Carl Denham describes him as being “neither beast nor man“. Like most simians, Kong possesses semi-human intelligence and great physical strength. Kong’s size changes drastically throughout the course of the film. While creator Merian C. Cooper envisioned Kong as being “40 to 50 feet (12.2 to 15.2 m) tall“.
In the 2005 movie, Jackson opted to make Kong a gigantic silverback gorilla without any anthropomorphic features. This Kong looked and behaved more like a real gorilla: he had a large herbivore’s belly, walked on his knuckles without any upright posture, and even beat his chest with his palms as opposed to clenched fists. In order to ground his Kong in realism, Jackson and the Weta Digital crew gave a name to his fictitious species Megaprimatus kong and suggested it to have evolved from the Gigantopithecus. Kong was the last of his kind. He was portrayed in the film as being quite old, with graying fur and battle-worn with scars, wounds, and a crooked jaw from his many fights against rival creatures. He is the dominant being on the island, the king of his world. But, like his film predecessors, he possesses considerable intelligence and great physical strength; he also appears far more nimble and agile. This Kong was scaled to a consistent height of 25 feet (7.6 m) tall on both Skull Island and in New York.
So, he’s scaled down in size considerably between both versions.
In the original 1933 film, he was seen as just a movie monster with not a whole lot of depth to him except he’s a monster and he has a thing for this woman who is used as a sacrifice.
With the remake, Jackson used a motion captured Andy Serkis, then known for his role as Gollum in the Lord Of The Rings, as King Kong and not only did it make King Kong look more humanistic in the way that Kong’s emotions and facial expressions can lead to more interesting development with him and especially Ann but they were still able to make him look very threatening and intense.
With the advanced technology in the 72 year timeframe, these are two very different yet competently done creatures. In choosing the best one, I have to go with the newer version because of how much Andy Serkis brings to the character and how he’s not just shown as a monster but he can also be sentimental too.
Point goes to the new.
BEST KING KONG WINNER: King Kong (2005)
But what about the damsel-in-distress herself, Ann Darrow? Who did it best, Fay Wray or Naomi Watts? Let’s find out:
BEST ANN DARROW
As I said, Ann Darrow in the Peter Jackson remake is played by Naomi Watts. In the remake, Darrow is a struggling vaudeville actress who is desperate for work. Carl first meets her when she tries to steal an apple from a fruit stand. Further into the voyage, she falls in love with Jack and forms a special relationship with Kong.
Fay Wray plays Darrow in the original version and in the original, Darrow is a penniless woman and is convinced by Carl Denham to join him for what he proposes as the adventure of a lifetime.
Both movies are very much playing the character in the same way, the remake does a better job of giving Ann Darrow more character development and more than just to be the typical damsel-in-distress while Wray is essentially the damsel-in-distress with not a whole lot of development to that character.
With this one, it’s essentially a pick-your-poison position, do you want a typical damsel-in-distress character or do you want a more fully developed female protagonist? Personally, I liked the one that has more development to her but I’m gonna go with the original in this case, the typical damsel-in-distress but still a slightly more enjoyable character to watch.
Point goes to the old.
BEST ANN DARROW WINNER: Fay Wray, King Kong (1933)
But what about the rest of the cast? Carl Denham, Jack Driscoll, Captain Englehorn….the rest? This is the Best Supporting Cast:
BEST SUPPORTING CAST
Both versions play their characters pretty much the same way they do in both versions.
In the original movie, Carl Denham is played by Robert Armstrong and Jack Driscoll is played by Bruce Cabot and Captain Englehorn is played by Frank Reicher.
The remake has Denham played by Jack Black, Driscoll played by Adrien Brody, Englehorn is played by Thomas Kretschmann and they also have Colin Hanks as Preston, Driscoll’s assistant, Jamie Bell playing the kid on the ship, Serkis playing the cook, and Kyle Chandler playing the actor working with Ann Darrow, Bruce Baxter.
Again, it’s good to have more characters that can easily be developed better but sometimes the simplicity of characters can actually benefit more than the remake that tries to do a better job of expanding a story. So, for that, I give the point to the original film.
Point goes again to the original.
BEST SUPPORTING CAST WINNER: King Kong (1933)
The visual effects for both movies are very much ahead of their respective time periods but do advanced visual effects effectively advance a movie overall? Let’s find out:
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
The 1933 King Kong obviously had a lot to work with in terms of the visual effects. You had a creature made from four different statuettes because there was no computers back in the 30s to work with. Four models were built: two jointed 18-inch aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur models (to be rotated during filming), one jointed 24-inch model of the same materials for the New York scenes, and a small model of lead and fur for the tumbling-down-the-Empire-State-Building scene.
King Kong is well known for its groundbreaking use of special effects, such as stop-motion animation, matte painting, rear projection and miniatures, all of which were conceived decades before the digital age.
With the remake, they obviously had a lot to work with and a much easier way to do it with the advent of computers and technology.
Jackson saw King Kong as opportunity for technical innovations in motion capture, commissioning Christian Rivers of Weta Digital to supervise all aspects of Kong’s performance. Jackson decided early on that he did not want Kong to behave like a human, and so he and his team studied hours of gorilla footage. Serkis was cast in the title role in April 2003 and prepared himself by working with gorillas at the London Zoo. He then traveled to Rwanda, observing the actions and behaviors of gorillas in the wild. Rivers explained that the detailed facial performance capture with Serkis was accomplished because of the similarities between human and gorilla faces. “Gorillas have such a similar looking set of eyes and brows, you can look at those expressions and transpose your own interpretation onto them.” Photos of silverback gorillas were also superimposed on Kong’s image in the early stages of animation. Serkis had to go through two hours of motion capture makeup every day, having 135 small markers attached to different spots on his face. Following principal photography, Serkis had to spend an additional two months on a motion capture stage, miming Kong’s movements for the film’s digital animators.
Apart from Kong, Skull Island is inhabited by dinosaurs and other large fauna. Inspired by Dougal Dixon’s works, the designers imagined what 65 million years or more of isolated evolution might have done to dinosaurs.
You have to commend the original 1933 version for doing so much with not as much, it’s a technically impressive movie that was ahead of its’ time, albeit dated, it’s still impressive to look at for the time.
But I will get the remake the point because it does do the job better to advancing the story and creating a nice visual look to the film that fits the original movie but also fits’ Peter Jackson’s style of filmmaking.
Point goes to the new one.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS WINNER: King Kong (2005)
It all comes down to which movie was the better movie, the 1933 classic or its’ 2005 remake? Let’s take a look:
BEST OVERALL MOVIE
Over 80 years old and King Kong still looks badass. Some of the most memorable moments in movie history are in the original King Kong that’s hard to top although Peter Jackson came close enough…
With the remake, Peter Jackson really did a great job with the remake of King Kong. Granted, the movie does run way too long but at the same time, I was with it for a good majority of it and it followed the same storyline with the original film and added necessary scenes to bridge the gaps. Overall, a really great movie.
In choosing the better overall movie, I do have to go with the Peter Jackson version, I think it is a much better more competently made and more well told story than the original movie. Does it go on for too long at over 3 hours long? Yeah, but you know what, they were entertaining three hours. The visual look of the film is great, the characters are nicely written, the action is pretty good, it gives you everything you want to see and more.
The original 1933 movie is a defining groundbreaking movie in what can be done with film at that time, it has its’ place in history and there’s nothing that can be taken away from it that would not make it a classic movie in film history.
But in my personal opinion, I prefer the 2005 King Kong movie over the 1933 film…just barely, it’s the superior movie.
BEST OVERALL MOVIE WINNER: King Kong (2005)
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