To this day I live, breathe, and dream movies. I love the experience of going to the theater, to surrender myself to another world and forget my problems for a few, blissful hours. I even worked in the film/television industry for around 20 years. To this day, I can blame this fascination on two films: Star Wars and King Kong.
At the urging of my Dad, I first watched King Kong when I was 10- or 11-years old. I was dubious at first. My Dad was a very practical man who did not display any affinity towards Science Fiction, Horror, or Fantasy (as I grew older, I found this to not be the case). So, with his no nonsense approach at life, I was expecting some sort of boring documentary. I had never been so wrong.
Video courtesy of Horror Trailers HD (January 6, 2015)
A a kid, I was blown away. I could not figure out how all of these incredible creatures were brought to life. I knew that they weren't real... the movements were stiff, jerky. But there they were, chasing these people all over the place. I later found that they were brought to life utilizing a technique known as Stop Motion Animation—but that is for another time.
Then there was the case of the giant gorilla. Roughly 50 feet tall with a penchant for blondes, this furry man on the town was not happy in New York. The amount of chaos and destruction he wreaked was (for a little kid) awesome. And I was confused when I felt sad for the big guy when he plummeted from the empire state building to his death. I mean, essentially this behemoth was something akin to an action figure, just with more articulation, and standing around a foot tall or so. Why the emotional response?
Well, it turns out I'd have years to figure this out.
First came Son of Kong, a direct sequel to the 1933 classic. While not met with critical acclaim, it is a fun movie. Little Kong just wasn't as bad-ass as his daddy.
Video courtesy of Willis O'Brien (September 23, 2009)
See what I mean. He's just sort of cuddly and cute—though he does flex his muscles a bit.
After this film, the King Kong craze sort of faded away... until 1962. Classic Godzilla production company Toho Studios revived the giant gorilla for a slug-fest with the massive radioactive lizard. The “fact” that King Kong stood 50 feet tall where Godzilla loomed over the earth at 400 feet tall did not seem to deter Toho from making this epic (pronounced “cheezy”) neo-classic.
Video courtesy of Dr. Droidable (December 13, 2015)
I would really love to hate this movie... but I can't. It was fun. It was Kong. It was God-freakin'-zilla! Plus, as cheezy as the costumes were, you can't help but admire the huge, very detailed models that these guys in suits trample over. This film led to a sequel of sorts: King Kong Escapes.
Oh, but Kong's cinema career is not over yet. In 1976, producer Dino De Laurentiis acquired the rights to the giant ape. With a giant budget, a large cast (including Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange in her first role), one would think that this would be a home-run. The production even boasted a full-sized Kong robot! How could it miss?
Well, it turned out that the full-sized Kong was very limited in movement and only used during one scene in the film. Kong was portrayed by a man in a suit (make-up legend Rick Baker) for the remaining scenes. To be fair, Kong looked pretty good in my opinion. Judge for yourself:
Video courtesy of Sami Alam (October 30, 2006)
What did work in this version was the emotional element upon our love-struck simian's death. Again, I couldn't help feel sorry for the guy. I was getting closer to an answer.
While not a critical success, the 1976 version of King Kong created a cult following. This resulted in a sequel that... well... just wow. Wow. I'm not gonna mince words here: the stench of this film still remains on me. If you dare watch, it is entitled King Kong Lives.
Now we come to the incarnation of the mighty ape that not only exceeded my expectations and cleaned most of the stench from King Kong Lives off of me, but also finally answered my question: Peter Jackson's King Kong. Released in 2005, this film has it all. Action, adventure, remote locations, scary monsters, and the best realization of the mighty Kong ever put to film. The effects are incredible and the film, though suffering from a bloated run-time, does not drag.
In this film we are able to see Kong as a real creature, lonely, scarred, and tired. What makes this work so well is two-fold. First you have an incredible performance by Andy Serkis; second is the use of motion capture technology, and effects system that tracks movements of an actor (no matter how subtle) and relays it to a computer system. The effects team then uses this data to bring the character to life. Note: this is an overly simplified explanation; there's a lot more to it.
Video courtesy of Movieclips Trailer Vault (January 9, 2012)
It is stunning how different the pioneering effects used to bring Kong to life in 1933 are from those used in 2005.
Oh, and I found my answer as to why the emotional button is pushed in some of these movies—particularly the 2005 version; I will never watch the end of that movie again. Take away my Man Card; I cried like a baby.
The answer is two-fold. First, it is the sheer epic nature of the story. Kong is a living, breathing animal in a fully realized environment full of fantastic creatures and wonder.
But the second reason is simple: unrequited love. All the Kong wanted was to be with this beautiful girl that enchanted him to the point to where he would give his life for her just to make sure she was safe. And this makes Kong a hero... even if he caused massive property damage during his brief stay in New York City.
Oh, and don't worry. There is a new Kong movie coming out entitled Kong: Skull Island. And, if rumors are to be believed... Kong and Godzilla are gonna duke it out again. You just can't keep a good gorilla down.