It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
On good days I consider "Citizen Kane" the seminal film of the sound era, but on bad days it is "King Kong." That is not to say I dislike "King Kong," which, in this age of technical perfection, uses its very naivete to generate a kind of creepy awe. It's simply to observe that this low-rent monster movie, and not the psychological puzzle of "Kane," pointed the way toward the current era of special effects, science fiction, cataclysmic destruction, and nonstop shocks. "King Kong" is the father of "Jurassic Park," the "Alien" movies and countless other stories in which heroes are terrified by skillful special effects. A movie like "Silence of the Lambs," which finds its evil in a man's personality, seems humanistic by contrast.
I've seen "King Kong" (1933) many times, most memorably in its re-release in the 1950s, when it did indeed scare me. In recent years I have focused on the remarkable special effects, based by Willis O'Brien and others on his f/x work in "The Lost World" (1925) but achieving a sophistication and beauty that eclipsed anything that went before. The movie plunders every trick in the book to create its illusions, using live action, back projection, stop-motion animation, miniatures, models, matte paintings and sleight-of-hand. And it is not stingy with the effects; after a half-hour of lumbering dialogue and hammy acting, the movie introduces Kong and rarely cuts away from sequences requiring one kind of trickery or another.
But "King Kong" is more than a technical achievement. It is also a curiously touching fable in which the beast is seen, not as a monster of destruction, but as a creature that in its own way wants to do the right thing. Unlike the extraterrestrial spiders in the "Alien" pictures, which embody single-minded aggression, Kong cares for his captive human female, protects her, attacks only when provoked, and would be perfectly happy to be left alone on his Pacific Island. It is the greed of a Hollywood showman that unleashes Kong's rage, and anyone who thinks to exhibit the beast on a New York stage in front of a live audience deserves what he gets--indeed, more than he gets.
The movie was directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Scheodsack, and produced by them with the legendary David O. Selznick, then head of RKO Radio Pictures. Selznick took little credit for the film, saying his key contribution was to put O'Brien's f/x techniques together with Cooper and Schoedsack's story ideas.