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And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.
—(Fictional) Arabian Proverb
With those words, RKO Pictures introduced one of the most well-known and enduring movie monsters of all time. "Kong" is a giant gorilla living on a hidden island in the South Pacific. When a charter ship travels to this island, the oversized primate becomes enraptured by the crew's sole blonde woman, whom the island natives offer up to it in sacrifice. The crew rescue the girl and even manage to capture Kong, bringing the creature back to Manhattan for a spectacle. However, Kong escapes and causes mayhem in the streets of New York before being shot off the top of a skyscraper.
There have been three major film adaptations of the original story (along with numerous spin-offs, sequels and cross-overs):
Filmmaker Carl Denham brings out-of-work actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on a hurried expedition to find an uncharted island, where he hopes to work on his next film. Ann will provide the "love interest" angle, while an unknown entity called "Kong" will provide the excitement. The ship's crew finds the island inhabited, its natives in the midst of an elaborate ritual where a girl is being ceremoniously decorated. The natives note fair-haired Ann and wish to decorate her instead, and when the crew refuse the natives resort to sneaking aboard the ship and kidnapping her. Tying her to an altar, they resume their ritual, chanting "Kong! Kong! Kong!" until an enormous something comes crashing through the trees...
First mate Jack Driscoll, who has developed feelings for Ann, leads the ship's crew on an expedition through the island's interior, where Kong has taken her. Along the way, nearly the entire crew is killed by the prehistoric creatures and other dangers. Meanwhile, Kong defends Ann from attack from a T Rex and shakes the remainder of the crew off a log into a deep crevasse. Jack evades death and continues after Kong, finally reaching the beast's lair in the island's mountain peak. There, while Kong battles a huge pteranodon, Jack and Ann escape and return to the native village. Kong pursues them, intent on retrieving Ann. He crashes through the hundred-foot gate that protects the village, but Denham subdues the monster with gas bombs.
Bringing Kong back to America instead of a movie, Denham puts the amazing creature on display in Manhattan. However, misinterpreting the intentions of newsmen trying to photograph Ann, Kong breaks loose from his bonds and begins a rampage through the city seeking the "woman of gold". Finally retrieving her from a hotel, Kong proceeds to climb to the highest point in Manhattan--the Empire State Building. There he attempts to fight off a squadron of biplanes, and Ann makes her escape. While he knocks down several that circle too close, the modern war machines finally get the better of the monster, and he plummets to his death.
Followed later that year by Son of Kong.
The story remains pretty much the same, but the characters and situations are changed: instead of a filmmaker seeking an exciting movie locale, an amoral oil executive is seeking an uncharted island (hidden by a perpetual fog bank) where he hopes to find an enormous untapped deposit of crude. The requisite blonde, Dwan (Jessica Lange), is encountered at sea, adrift in a lifeboat, the sole survivor of a yacht explosion; and The Hero is a stowaway anthropologist. The rest of the film plays out more or less as the previous version, albeit with a somewhat more realistic depiction of the natives and with fewer island hazards (the only oversized animals featured are Kong and a snake). The oil exec, upset to learn that the island's crude is unfit for refining, decides to "bring home the big one" in a very literal sense; when the hero brings Dwan back from Kong's clutches, Kong is again captured and brought to New York in a gaudy publicity stunt. Again, Kong misinterprets the intentions of pushy photographers, and the story goes on from there.
This film differs from the 1933 version in another, very important aspect: the relationship between Kong and "his" girl. Fay Wray's Ann was treated as nothing more than a kidnapping victim, a prize for Kong. Dwan, on the other hand, is given several extended scenes--on the island, on the ship back to America, and in New York--actually forming a bizarre sort of bond with the big guy. And when Kong climbs to the top of the (then newly constructed) World Trade Center towers and is attacked by the military, Dwan is right there, trying to be a human shield for him. But to no avail...
Peter Jackson's take on King Kong returns to the story as propounded in 1933: Depression-era filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), dodging debt collectors, hires an out-of-work Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) and quickly leaves on an expedition to find a certain uncharted island...
Jackson's film diverges from the original by providing more of Denham's and Ann's respective back stories. Further, "Jack Driscoll" is changed from the ship's first mate to a playwright, and a narcissistic Hollywood actor is added for comic relief. The natives are much more brutal than past portrayals. And, as with the 1976 film, a good deal of attention is paid to the unusual "romance" between the girl and the primate, which is strong enough that Ann would rather stay on the island with him than see him captured; and later she refuses to participate in his exhibition in America. She does, though, show up in time to halt his rampage through the city, and from there... well, you know how this one ends.
Interestingly, the 2005 version of the film makes a show of Denham filming scenes and dialog lifted from the original 1933 movie.
The various permutations of King Kong provide examples of the following tropes:
- Always Save the Girl
- Animals Lack Attributes: Kong has no nipples.
- Anti-Villain: Even though Kong is a destructive force and responsible for killing extras in every film, he doesn't really comprehend the damage he's causing: he just wants Ann/Dwan. As such, King remains sympathetic in all film versions, and in some interpretations is the hero compared to the more greedy humans (Denham, Wilson the oil exec).
- Attack of the 50 Foot Whatever: In the 1976 version he was 50ft, in the 2005 version he was 25ft, in the original 1933 film he was 21ft in New York and 18ft on Skull Island. In Japan, he was 45m (147ft) when he battled Godzilla, and 20m (65ft) in King Kong Escapes.
- Badass: Are you kidding?
- Beast and Beauty. Also counts as Arc Words.
- Big Applesauce
- Black Dude Dies First: Averted in the '76 film, wherein black crew member Boan is the only member of the search party besides Prescott to survive. The first man to die in the 2005 film was a man who got a native spear through the chest. Ben Hayes died a bit later.
- Breaking the Bonds: Look out!
- Bring It Back Alive: What happens to Kong.
- Cataclysm Climax: Notably, the destruction of Skull Island in both the 1933 and 2005 versions does not happen in the main films themselves (in 1933, it happened in the sequel; in 2005, it is described only on the website and the special features on the DVD.
- The demise of Skull Island is further discussed in A Natural History Of Skull Island.
- Chained by Fashion
- Clothing Damage: Sustained by Ann/Dwan, particularly in the '33 version when Kong tries to "peel" her like a banana.
- This is taken to insane extremes in the little-known Don Simpson "Monster Comics" adaptation. She's stripped completely down to her bra and panties. Likewise, Jack consistently loses bits and pieces of his clothing throughout his travails. By the time he and Ann get back to the wall, he's shirtless and his pants have been shredded to the point where it looks like he's wearing daisy dukes.
- Creator Cameo: In the original, the aircrew that downs Kong was played by the director and producer, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Shoedsack. In the 2005 remake, Jackson puts himself in the fatal plane in a deliberate Homage. Also with him in that plane is Rick Baker, who played Kong in the suit in the '76 version.
- Darker and Edgier: The original was pretty dark as it was, but the '76 version is a bit darker, with much more blood and gore (unsurprising, considering the difference in decades and moviemaking standards). And the '05 version is the darkest yet, with its savage natives, tons of violence, and nightmarish creatures.
- Distressed Damsel: Played straight in the original; subverted/deconstructed in the later films with the girl's Stockholm-esque/Koko-and-Kitten bonding with Kong.
- Downer Ending: Both the '76 and '05 versions, as a result of making Kong even more sympathetic and having Ann/Dwan form a bond with him. The 2005 version in particular gets bleaker and bleaker the more you think about it: Kong's dead, and since he's the Last of His Kind, his whole species is now extinct. Several civilians and many of the soldiers who tried to bring him down and protect the city were killed. Carl Denham's career is ruined for sure, and he'll never be able to donate the proceeds of his film to the families of the Venture's deceased crew members. And of the Venture's crew that survived, most of their friends (and in Jimmy's case, his father figure) are dead. One of the only really bright spots to come out of the whole deal is Ann and Jack's relationship, and even then there's a feeling that it won't last. Granted, a lot of the same points could also apply to the original, but the fact that the story of the '05 version is more "developed" just makes it even sadder.
- East Indies
- Epic Movie
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: ...particularly during the "shaken log" sequence, which both the 1933 and 1976 versions have. Subverted at first in the 2005 remake, where Denham and most of his crew survive the fall, but then double-subverted when the insects attack and consume his entire crew.
- Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: As much a staple of the films as Kong himself.
- King Kong '33 features the famous fight between Kong and a T-Rex, as well as plenty of other dinosaurs.
- Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla, of course (he's kind of a dinosaur).
- Gorosaurus in King Kong Escapes.
- Oddly, the '70s movies featured no dinosaurs whatsoever, though Kong did fight a giant snake.
- The V-Rexes and the stampeding Brontosaurs in King Kong '05.
- Don't forget the RAPTORS! Oh, and the ceratopsian Ferrucutus in the extended version, as well as other dinosaurs.
- Everything's Better with Monkeys: Especially 50-foot gorillas. Which aren't really monkeys.
- Everything Trying to Kill You: Skull Island. So much.
- Helicopter Flyswatter: Probably the Trope Maker.
- ~Hulk's Cooldown Hug Corollary~
- Human Sacrifice
- Intercontinuity Crossover with Godzilla: Kong fought the Monster King in 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla. See the Godzilla page for more of its history, to avoid a Flame War.
- Jaw Breaker: Kong's signature finishing move in all three movies. The only monster who doesn't get it is Godzilla.
- Kaiju: Though misses out on being the first monster to rampage across a city, he's the one people think of as the first proto-kaiju.
- The oldest Kaiju in cinema? A Brontosaurus from Willis O'Brien's The Lost World (1929).
- Lost World: An uncharted island in the original story; hidden by a perpetual fog bank in the 70s version.
- Mars Needs Women: More accurately, Kong needs a blonde wife. (Well, the Islanders think he does...)
- Monumental Battle: Always the tallest skyscraper in New York (Empire State Building, World Trade Center)
- New York Subway: The 1933 classic with Fay Wray features Kong wreaking havoc on the 6th Avenue El, and shows the interior of a Low-V El car.
- The 1976 remake substitutes the destruction of the Astoria El between Astoria Blvd and Ditmars Blvd in Astoria, Queens. The train used in this scene is the R16-type cars (The interiors scenes were sets though).
- Non-Malicious Monster: Kong. Especially notable in the 2005 version, but present in all incarnations.
- Pretty in Mink: In the original film, Ann wears a chinchilla cape. In the 1976 film, Dwan wears a chinchilla jacket, possibly as a Mythology Gag.
- The Remake: Most people agree the '76 film was a Remake Decay; the jury is still out on the '05 version.
- Screaming Woman
- Single Specimen Species: How come you don't see more like Kong in his island?
- Explained in the 2005 A Natural History of Skull Island. Kong is the Last of His Kind. Further, in the 2005 film, we see the bones of others of his kind, further cementing the idea that he is all alone.
- Somewhere a Palaeontologist Is Crying: Flesh-Eating Apatosaur (aka brontosaur) in the original. Most likely due to Rule of Cool.
- The brontosaur didn't actually eat anybody. It just shook around a man in its mouth and then left the guy's body on the ground. It was, however, a common cinematic depiction at that time.
- The 1976 version averts this because there is only a giant snake. The 2005 version makes its own dinosaurs.
- See also Tyrannosaurus Rex.
- Starring Special Effects
- Stock Dinosaurs: Used in the 1933 (as well as averted) and averted in the remake (we get modern equivalents that have the stock dinosaurs as ancestors). Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, Brontosaurus, Plesiosaur and Pteranodon all show up in the 1933 film (with the sequel having Styracosaurus, A Cave Bear, a different Plesiosaur and a dragon-like monster). The 2005 remake has descendants of Tyrannosaurs, Sauropods, Horned Dinosaurs, Duck Billed Dinosaurs and Raptors in it. It also has Giant centipedes, land-crocodiles and other weird thing.
- The 2005 version further subverts this by replacing the Pteranodon (which is not a dinosaur, but its "stock" anyway) with flying rodents, which look like a cross between a bat and a naked mole rat with large eyes and hindlimbs like those of a hawk.
- Title Drop: For most of the movie everyone just calls the ape "Kong," and it's not until near the end that we see "KING Kong" written on a huge sign in New York. After that they still don't say the whole thing in dialogue.
- Why Isn't It Attacking?: He likes that little blonde girl.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: Safari and wildlife travelogues were pretty popular at the time, and a filmmaker like Carl Denham would have been famous.
- Cavemen vs. Astronauts Debate: The original film is a quite literal depiction of the Trope-naming argument. Merian Cooper was a man fascinated by both the past and the future. He traveled the world studying primitive societies that had not changed for hundreds of years. He was also a bold innovator who made important advances in aviation and motion pictures, and talked in his later life about his wish that he could live long enough to travel in space. In King Kong this duality becomes a violent conflict between the mighty but savage Kong and the technology of the modern world. Cooper recognized that the modern world would eventually win, but in many ways his sympathies lay with the primitive.
- Expospeak: The opening lines are rather painful.
- Fan Service: Fay Wray wears a rather thin and clingy dress in the screen test scene.
- Giant Spider: Hoo boy, the spider pit has got many of them, but only in the deleted scene from the 1933 original.
- Moe Greene Special: How they take out the stegosaurus.
- Public Domain Feature Films: The original 1933 film is a famous staple of the Public Domain.
- Punny Name: Ann's last name is a Shout-Out to famous lawyer Clarence Darrow, best known for his participation in the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial".
- Tagline: "The Eighth Wonder Of The World!" for the 1933 release. Jackson's remake quotes it in dialogue.
- Adaptational Villainy: Fred Wilson is corrupt and greed, planning to exploit Skull Island as well as Kon. In the original, Carl Denham was ultimately a good person and even became The Atoner in Son of Kong.
- Asshole Victim: Wilson is killed when Kong breaks free of his restraints.
- Alas, Poor Villain: Kong, of course.
- Character Exaggeration: Wilson takes Carl Denham’s selfishness Up to Eleven while discarding Carl’s good qualities.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Charles Grodin's "Fred Wilson".
- Espy: Fred Wilson is one towards Carl Denham.
- Dada Ad: In-Universe example with Kong's New York premiere. Given that he entered the stadium disguised as a giant Petrox gas pump, one could presume that this whole thing was a stealth ad for Wilson's oil company. Exactly what oil has to do with a 50-foot ape remains unclear.
Wilson: ALL HAIL THE POWER OF KONG! [sotto voce] And Petrox!
- Gorn: Kong's death.
- Made of Explodium: Rampaging through the city, Kong picks up electrically powered subway cars and tosses them from the trestle, making them explode dramatically.
- My Nayme Is ...Dwan.
- Off-the-Shelf FX: It's painfully obvious that the subway cars that Kong picks up are miniature models.
- People In Hairy Suits: The 1976 film and King Kong vs Godzilla and the other Toho Kong film.
- It may bear mentioning that this style of creature making was practically invented for Godzilla because Toho didn't have the time or money to stop motion animate the Big G like Kong was.
- Jawbreaker: Kong does this to the giant snake.
- Technology Marches On — the biplanes are replaced by specialised attack helicopters with rotary cannons.
- Waterfall Shower: Kong gives one to Dwan. (It also appears in the animated musical adaptation The Mighty Kong.)
- Adaptation Expansion: Considerable: Peter Jackson's version was 87 minutes longer than the original, or a full 101 minutes longer in its extended cut – basically, twice as long.
- Adaptational Badass: Captain Englehardt.
- Death by Adaptation: Preston in the video game.
- Eaten Alive: Lumpy, Frank, and many others.
- Changed My Mind, Kid: Snooty actor Bruce Baxter, faced with the perils of Skull Island, gives up on rescuing Ann, only to return later Just in Time for a Big Damn Heroes moment.
- Climbing Climax
- Creepy Centipedes: Jackson's remake is infamous for various horrorific giant centipedes.
- Fallen-On-Hard-Times Job: Ann Darrow's one unlucky break away from going the burlesque chorus-girl route.
- Character Exaggeration: The 2005 film goes out of its way to remove every positive character trait Carl Denham had in 1933, and replace them with something negative.
- Foot Focus: Both the '33 and '05 versions had Ann barefoot for most of the time on the island, but only the latter had repeated closeups of her muddy feet.
- Gory Discretion Shot: It's very difficult to see during the 2005 film's fight with the final Vastatosaurus rex, but Kong actually bites the rex's tongue off, then spits it out and resumes fighting. The film covers it up by cutting from a close-up view to a mid-range shot from an obscured angle so fast it's nigh on impossible to spot. Look closely in this clip, though, about 48 seconds in.
- From the same clip: The scene also switches briefly to Anne's shocked face as Kong crushes the vastatosaur's head like a peanut.
- Hollywood Evolution: Evolutionary biology and ecosystems don't work that way. Creatures trapped on an island tend to select for smaller size, not larger – and yet if you read the natural history of Skull Island or watch the relevant documentary on the DVD, that's exactly the opposite of how the film makers designed the animals. Also, with that many apex predators in such a tiny area (the vastatosaurs, the raptors, not to mention the various giant arthropods), the island would've been devoid of life in no time as the ecosystem fell apart. It is implied in the film (and explicitly said in the "Natural History" tie-in book) that the island used to be much larger and was sinking into the sea/breaking apart. Still, for animals that large, the break-up would have to have been of a very large land mass and would have had to only been happening for a very short period of time, geologically speaking, which makes it something of a Voodoo Shark.
- Improbable Aiming Skills: Right after the Everybody's Dead, Dave scene, the men are attacked by massive, oversized insects. As one man is covered in giant bugs, another fires a Thompson submachine gun full-auto at him from only a few feet away and manages to hit nothing but bugs.
- Last of His Kind: It is implied that Kong is the last giant ape on Skull Island: the most telling evidence is a shot of him entering his cave and walking past multiple skeletons of giant gorillas. This loneliness, along with the hostility of Skull Island's environment, accounts for both his ferocity and his need for company, which Ann Darrow supplies.
Furthermore, as stated in the background materials, Skull Island's entire ecosystem is dying because the island is submerging due to geological activity. Those V. rex that Kong killed, for instance, may just have been the last three members of their entire species.
- Mike Nelson, Destroyer of Worlds: Not whole worlds, but Carl Denham's tendency to unintentionally destroy the things he loves is Lampshaded.
- "Mister Sandman" Sequence
- Mundane Made Awesome: The scene where Skull Island is being typed.
- Mythology Gag:
- A reference to an actress, "Fay", who is working on a film over at "RKO".
- Large chunks of the original dialogue are lifted verbatim from the 1933 film, sometimes as near-parody (the original's banter between Jack and Ann is used as Denham films his two actors)
- Kong's stage show in New York includes an elaborate (and inaccurate) depiction of the native sacrifice ritual, which is remarkably similar to the depiction of the actual ritual seen in the 1933 film. And the music for the entire sequence is a new performance of the original's score.
- Rewriting Jack into the role of the writer gets spun into a gag as Ann initially mistakes another character for him. Bonus points for having the scene turn immediately into a Right Behind Me moment.
- The fight between Kong and the last Vastatosaurus rex is practically move-for-move the same as the last half of the fight between Kong and the Tyrannosaurus rex in the original, right down to Kong playing with the dinosaur's head after killing it and then roaring and beating his chest triumphantly.
- Never Trust a Trailer: In the trailer, Denham is heard saying, "Scream, Ann! Scream for your life!" as one homage to the 1933 original. That part never made it into the final cut.
- No Endor Holocaust: In the remake at least, it appears no-one ever bothers to tell Ann Darrow about the twenty or so guys who died horrible, horrible deaths trying to save her. Either that or she's the most callous bitch of all time.
- Morality Pet: Cho is one to Lumpy.
- One-Scene Wonder: His scene was cut, but the sergeant who's about lead an attack on Kong in New York is one of the film's most awesome fellows.
- Pacing Problems: A common criticism of the 2005 movie, which clocks in at 188 min (201 in the extended version). It takes over an hour before we see the titular ape.
- To be fair, that was probably done on purpose, as Peter Jackson stated that King Kong was the film that made him want to go into film-making, and wanted as faithful an adaptation as possible. In the 1933 film, which was about 90 minutes long, Kong wasn't first shown until 45 minutes in, about halfway through the movie.
- Papa Silverback: If you're a Vastatosaurus, don't even think about sneaking a nibble from Kong's new surrogate child, Ann.
- Serkis Folk: Quite literal: Andy Serkis provides both vocalizations and Motion Capture for Kong. He also plays the ship's cook.
- Spared by the Adaptation: In the FPS video game based on the film, Hayes has a much larger role as The Lancer, and survives the events of the game. Meanwhile Preston, who survived in the film, has no significant role in the game other than getting eaten by the first V-Rex fairly early on.
- There's also the unlockable bonus ending in which Kong survives , due to Jack and Captain Englehardt swooping in to save him in a bi-plane.
- Stock Scream: One sailor does a Wilhelm scream during the brontosaur stampede as he is knocked off the cliff.
- Super-Persistent Predator: The vastatosaurs. One of them spots Ann and decides to give chase — despite having just eaten a large reptilian Komodo-dragon thing. And then two more join in. Every time they're given a chance to go for Kong instead of Ann, they go for Ann anyway. And then the last one keeps going after Kong kills the other two...
- Possibly Justified Trope. Given the sheer amount of competition for food as a result of the...bizarre ecosystem discussed above, it's possible the eat-everything-in-sight instinct is high on the list of priorities.
- And the raptors in the apatosaur stampede scene keep trying to get a bit of human instead of, you know, getting away from the stampede.
- well the raptors are shown to be pretty agile, the only one that got killed(at least on-screen) was due to a human knocking it down. Also what is easier to kill, a 100-ton super-size dinosaur that can kill you with its foot, or an easy human?
- other than the fact that, a million years after he dies, Kong will become oil
- island gigantism is a thing that only happens on larger islands, not tiny ones like Skull Island