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
"The Eighth Wonder of the World!"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.The original 1933 film has had two official remakes, along with numerous spin-offs, sequels, crossovers, and spoofs. Retellings in other media range from a Direct-to-Video animated feature in The Nineties to an Australian stage musical in 2013 (a Broadway production of this version has been announced, though the opening date is currently in limbo). The plots of the three major film versions are as follows:1933 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. Yet Denham asserts that it wasn't the bullets that truly killed Kong... it was Ann's rejection of him: "It wasn't the planes that killed the beast. It was beauty."Followed later that year by Son of Kong.1976 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...A sequel, King Kong Lives, followed... ten years later.2005 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:
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 original film, the stop-motion Kong models used on Skull Island were scaled to look 18 feet tall, but the one used in New York was made to appear 24 feet tall. The life-size hand, foot, and head props were built with a 40-foot Kong in mind, and RKO's marketing said Kong was 50 feet high. In the first remake, he's ranges from 42 to 55 feet, in King Kong Lives, he's 60 feet, in King Kong vs. Godzilla he's 148 feet, in King Kong Escapes he's 66 feet, and in Peter Jackson's remake, he's 25 feet tall, but would probably be closer to 35 if he stood upright like the others instead of walking on his knuckles.
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.
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.
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.
Damsel in Distress: Played straight in the original; subverted/deconstructed in the later films with the girl's Stockholm-esque/Koko-and-Kitten bonding with Kong.
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.
Downer Ending / Bittersweet 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 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. The bittersweet part to this is that at least New York is saved from destruction.
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.
Originally, this was supposed to happen in the 1933 version as well. The scene, now known as "Spider Pit Sequence", was actually shot, but removed because according to Cooper "it stopped the story".
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.
There's also the fact that the Stegosaurus in the original is enormous. Judging by how long it takes the crew to walk from its head to its tail, the thing must be at least 100 feet long, closer in size to most sauropods than to the 30 foot length of a real Stegosaurus.
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.
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-namingargument. 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.
Fanservice: Fay Wray wears a rather thin and clingy dress in the screen test scene.
For the Evulz: Unlike the other creatures in the film, the Brontosaurus really has no apparent reason to be attacking those sailors, especially since he actually bites down on them before either leaving them to die or tossing them aside.
The vicious grin he wears as he corners the sailor in the tree makes it even clearer.
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 apenote other than the fact that, a million years after he dies, Kong will become oil remains unclear.
The movie's actually pretty clear on why Kong is a perfect mascot. He's Petrox's way of answering to Exxon's "We'll put a tiger in your tank!" slogan. A giant gorilla is better than a normal-sized tiger any day.
Gorn: Kong's death, as well as the death of the giant snake. Kong literally tears its head off.
Made of Explodium: Rampaging through the city, Kong picks up electrically powered subway cars and tosses them from the trestle, making them explode dramatically.
Off-the-Shelf FX: The subway cars that Kong picks up are miniature models. Also, when Kong picks up the first car of the train, the wire holding it up is visible.
People in Hairy Suits: The 1976 film and King Kong Lives are the only two American-made official Kong films to use men in ape suits. The closeups of Kong lifting Ann in one of his hands, however, were made with a full-sized King Kong robot.
Adaptation Expansion: Considerable: Peter Jackson's version was 87 minutes longer than the original, or a full 101 minutes longer in its extended cut – twice as long.
All There in the Manual: The "Natural History of Skull Island" documentary, explaining how various species of prehistoric animal evolved to better suit the Island's hostile climate and terrain, as well as history of the once grand human civilisation on the island.
Big Damn Heroes: Bruce Baxter leads a moment that is amusingly right out of the movies he doesn't appear to live up to in real life.
Bloodless Carnage: Almost everywhere, to keep the film at PG-13; natives and animals are shot at point blank range, people are speared, people are Impaled with Extreme Prejudice on razor sharp teeth...all without a drop of blood spilled.
Covered In Scars: Kong has scars all over his body to show that he's been through some fights.
Creepy Centipedes: Jackson's remake is infamous for various horrific giant centipedes (and other incredibly large arthropods). In the natural history book of Skull island there are shown to be quite a few species, with one group (the "neopedes") even being aquatic.
Eldritch Location: Skull Island could very easily be one of these. It's full of creatures that are larger than should exist in nature, they're all aggressive and dangerous, the natives are so feral they can barely be considered human, and even the geography is frightening.
Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Ann Darrow's one unlucky break away from going the burlesque chorus-girl route (a stripper, in other words).
Flanderization: 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.
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 largernote island gigantism is a thing that only happens on larger islands, not tiny ones like Skull Island – 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, plus 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.
Also, the mockumentary tie-in says that King Kong is a relative of Gigantopithecus, a real ape (and a very large one, although nowhere near Kong-sized) believed to have died out about 100,000 years ago. But Gigantopithecus was a relative of modern orangutans, not gorillas. There is no way an unrelated ape could evolve to be 100% identical to an oversize gorilla.
Improbable Aiming Skills: When Jack is swarmed by giant bugs, Jimmy fires a Thompson submachine gun full-auto at him from only a few feet away and manages to hit nothing but bugs.
Jerkass Has a Point: In the 2005 version, Jack has absolutely no kind words for Bruce Baxter once the latter leaves the rescue party, citing how utterly pointless the whole thing is. However, being as said party had already been mostly destroyed, with dozens of men dying to try and save one woman, his point of view can come across as very understandable.
Englehorn is a not particularly pleasant human being with an unusual number of automatic weapons hidden around his ship. He's absolutely right to use excessive force on all things Skull Island.
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.
Presumably not quite the last, as the tie-in book describes something of their life cycle and behavior, including juvenile behaviors, as observed by naturalists who investigated the island shortly after the "Kong" incident. They were probably the parents of the species' last generation, however.
The Natives are actually The Remnant of the former grand civilisation that once occupied the centre of the island. As the Island began sinking into the sea, the wall surrounding their city ended up being breached and they were forced to evacuate to the other side of the wall, making refuge in the barren landscape containing the catacombs outside their city. Ironically, the wall once meant to keep predators out now became the only thing that was keeping them in.
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.
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.
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.
Papa Silverback: If you're a Vastatosaurus, don't even think about sneaking a nibble from Kong's new surrogate child, Ann.
Raptor Attack : A pack of "raptors" appear in the brontosaurus stampede, but more resembles a miniature Allosaurus than known raptors like Deinonychus and Velociraptor.
They're Venatosaurus, a fictional genus (even so they do have a lot of anatomical errors).
Spared by the Adaptation: The unlockable bonus ending of the video game, 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. 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. The tie-in book also suggests that the reptilian Komodo-dragon thing was actually a scavenging creature that only the most desperate of predators would feed on, because it tastes extremely foul and has a gut full of toxic bacteria.
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, or feasting on the tons of dead bronto-meat now before them.
The tie-in book also explains that the raptors actually specialize in hunting the enormous Brontosaurus. Really. Apparently running them off cliffs in a panic is a normal hunting tactic for them.
There's one aversion: in the same scene a raptor chases Jack. When Jack gets in between a Bronotsaurus' legs, the Raptor goes for closer, less protected prey: Carl.