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Bewildering Stories

Kevin Ahearn writes about...

the King Kong remake


As we count down the days to the premiere of three-time Academy Award winner Peter Jackson’s three-hour, $207 million remake of King Kong, tongues and pens, tape recorders and keyboards are primed for every utterance comparing the full-color CGI spectacular epic to the original black-and-white film from more than 70 years ago.

It’s obvious that the 1933 movie will be overwhelmed, virtually obliterated by the state-of-the-art, big screen extravaganza and the Hollywood media and the Internet fanboys will bow and fawn before the new Kong. In the hype and glow of the most mammoth, most expensive monster movie ever made, what chance does an old, slow classic have against the fast, full-color future?

Not that it should. Times change. Life goes on. Progress pushes everything forward. The new Kong is bigger and better and therefore, infinitely more NOW! than some old movie made before all of us were even born.

Okay, so Kong was the first fantasy film with a great original score. On that basis, you can compare Superman and Star Wars to Kong. Its breakthrough special effects... 2001, a Space Odysssey and Star Wars (Yet again!) and Jurassic Park can be compared to Kong.

Kong is also thought of as a great love story, so compare every tragic romance to the 1933 tearjerker. Considered the first great animated film, compare the dozens that followed. The first “giant monster” movie, compare Godzilla and his brethren to Kong. Sequeled and re-made, compare those turkeys to the immortal ape if you want.

But know this: King Kong is compared to no one. Kong’s greatest contribution to the history of fantasy films was the standard set by this 1933 masterpiece. Imagine a vault where all the immortal fantasy films would reign for eternity, and guarding the door is this black-and-white stop-motion ape. Kubrick, Spielberg, Lucas, Jackson and so few others challenged the gatekeeper. Now Jackson’s CGI Kong will take on the old. Whether the new Kong will surpass the original will be debated for decades.

Why does Kong still stand tall while so many other films have faded from memory? Beyond excellence, Kong means so much more now than when it premiered nearly 75 years ago.

Mediocre films imply. Great films infer. Don’t merely look at King Kong, look into him.

Set in the Great Depression, Ann Darrow was the virginal Lady Liberty, down on her luck but willing to boldly go where no white woman has gone before. And did she ever!

Was Kong racist? No more than any other film made in that era. Sure, outnumbered 100 to 1, the Denham party quickly dominated the black savages. Trade one white blonde for six black women? You’ve got to be kidding. Fire a few volleys over their heads and the blacks ran “like scared rabbits.” Cut from the original were scenes of black savages and white New Yorkers being eaten and stomped by the monster. Did the suggestion of equality in the eyes of the ape have to be removed?

But the inference that Kong symbolized the enslaved black male brought to America in chains is pure hokum. Kong was “evil” black. The monster had seized Lady Liberty and we Americans, white and black and all other colors, would charge through the wall and take on all comers to preserve her honor. And so we would from the Normandy beachhead to Okinawa to Inchon and Da Nang to Kabul and Baghdad. And in the end, we would defeat the monsters. Yes, folks, the airplanes got ‘im!

The Empire State Building finale was the greatest plug for American air power imaginable. A giant monster killed, with no collateral damage by airplanes and only a 25% loss rate!

Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. War Department was watching. Hitler was. Legend has it that Kong was his favorite movie. The notion that the film may have inspired the formation of the fearsome Nazi Luftwaffe may be more fact than fantasy.

In WW II, my father flew over the Atlantic Wall to bomb Germany. In the Sixties, I guarded the wall in Europe containing the Communist monster on the other side of Iron Curtain. The guys in Vietnam fought without a wall and wouldn’t get one, etched with the names of the fallen, until after the war was lost. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we knocked down all the walls only to discover that the evil beast was living in the rubble with everybody else.

The question facing the Peter Jackson production is not how many millions it will gross or the number of Academy Awards it will win or how many licensed toys it will generate, but what will this new Kong mean?

And don’t give me that “Beauty & the Beast” stuff. How old is that?

Kevin Ahearn

Copyright © 2005 by Kevin Ahearn

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