"Beauty killed the
beast? Yea, the fall had nothing to with it."
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
Kong is a fictional character, a giant movie monster resembling a
colossal gorilla, that has appeared in several movies since 1933.
These include the groundbreaking 1933 movie, the film remakes of 1976
and 2005, as well as various sequels of the first two films. The
character has become one of the world's most famous movie icons and,
as such, has transcended the medium, appearing or being parodied in
other works outside of films, such as a cartoon series, books,
comics, various merchandise and paraphernalia, video games, theme
park rides, and even an upcoming stage play. His role in the
different narratives varies, ranging from a rampaging monster to a
tragic antihero. The rights to the character are currently held by
Universal Studios, with limited rights held by the estate of Merian
C. Cooper, and perhaps certain rights in the public domain.
The King Kong character was
conceived and created by U.S. filmmaker Merian C. Cooper. In the
original film, the character's name is Kong, a name given to him by
the inhabitants of "Skull Island" in the Pacific Ocean,
where Kong lives along with other over-sized animals such as a
plesiosaur, pterosaurs, and dinosaurs. An American film crew, led by
Carl Denham, captures Kong and takes him to New York City to be
exhibited as the "Eighth Wonder of the World".
Kong escapes and climbs the
Empire State Building (the World Trade Center in the 1976 remake) as
Denham comments, "It was beauty that killed the beast," for
he climbs the building in the first place only in an attempt to
protect Ann Darrow, an actress originally offered up to Kong as a
sacrifice (in the 1976 remake, the character is named Dwan).
A mockumentary about Skull
Island that appears on the DVD for the 2005 remake (but originally
seen on the Sci-Fi Channel at the time of its theatrical release)
gives Kong's scientific name as Megaprimatus kong, and states that
his species may have evolved from Gigantopithecus.
Kong is a Pre-Code 1933 monster/adventure film directed and produced
by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. The screenplay was by
Ruth Rose and James Ashmore Creelman from a story by Cooper and Edgar
Wallace. It stars (Canadian born) Fay Wray, Bruce Cabot and Robert
Armstrong, and opened in New York City on March 2, 1933 to rave reviews.
Before King Kong hit the
silver screen, a long tradition of jungle films and books existed.
The films, whether drama or documentary, generally adhered to a
narrative pattern that followed an explorer or scientist into the
jungle to test a theory only to discover some monstrous aberration in
the undergrowth. In such films, scientific knowledge could be turned
topsy-turvy at any time and it was this that provided the genre with
its vitality, appeal, and endurance. The
literary tradition of a remote and isolated jungle populated by
natives and prehistoric animals was rooted in the "Lost
World" genre, specifically Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The
Lost World, which was itself made into a silent film of that title in
1925 that Doyle lived long enough to see. The special effects of that
film were created by Willis O'Brien, who went on to do those for the
1933 King Kong. Another important book in that literary genre is
Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1918 novel The Land That Time Forgot .
At the turn of the 19th to
20th century, the Lumière Brothers sent film documentarians to
places westerners had never seen, and Georges Méliès
utilized trick photography in film fantasies that prefigured that in
King Kong. Jungle films were launched in the United States in 1913
with Beasts in the Jungle, a film that mixed live actors with lions,
a tiger, and other animals. The film's popularity spawned similar
pictures, including a few about "ape men" and gorillas. In
1918, Elmo Lincoln starred in Tarzan of the Apes, and, in 1925,
The Lost World made movie history with special effects by Willis
O'Brien and a crew that later would work on King Kong.
The little-known but
recently partially rediscovered Mascot Pictures 1927 movie serial
Isle of Sunken Gold may have provided fundamental inspirations for
story and character elements of King Kong - it featured shipwrecked
sailors on a remote island, and a seafaring hero (Bruce Gordon) clad
in white who fights to protect the scantily clad heroine (Anita
Stewart) from primitive natives and their deity, a cave-dwelling
fanged ape named "Kong."
fascination with gorillas began with his boyhood reading of Paul du
Chaillu's Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa (1861) and
was furthered in 1929 by studying a tribe of baboons in Africa while
filming The Four Feathers. After reading W. Douglas Burden's The
Dragon Lizards of Komodo, he fashioned a scenario depicting African
gorillas battling Komodo dragons intercut with artificial stand-ins
for joint shots. He then narrowed the dramatis personae to one
ferocious, lizard-battling gorilla (rather than a group) and included
a lone woman on expedition to appease those critics who belabored him
for neglecting romance in his films. A remote island would be the
setting and the gorilla would be dealt a spectacular death in New
The idea of a gorilla
kidnapping and lusting for a human woman is an old concept as
reflected in Emmanuel Frémiet's sculpture, Gorille enlevant
une femme (Gorilla Carrying off a Woman, 1887) Cooper took his
concept to Paramount Studios in the first years of the Great
Depression but executives shied away from a project that sent film
crews on costly shoots to Africa and Komodo. In 1931, David O.
Selznick brought Cooper to RKO as his executive assistant, and, to
sweeten the deal, promised him he could make his own films. Cooper
began immediately developing The Most Dangerous Game, a story about a
big game hunter, and hired his friend and former film partner Ernest
Schoedsack to direct. A huge jungle stage set was built and Robert
Armstrong and Fay Wray were the picture's stars. Once the film was
underway, Cooper turned his attention to the studio's big-budget-out-of-control
fantasy, Creation, a story about a group of travelers shipwrecked on
an island of dinosaurs. The film had special effects wizard Willis
O'Brien on board.
Cooper screened O'Brien's stop-motion Creation footage, he was
unimpressed but realized he could economically make his gorilla
picture by scrapping the Komodo dragons and costly location shoots
for O'Brien's animated dinosaurs and the studio's existing jungle
set. It was at this time Cooper probably cast his gorilla as a giant
named Kong, and would have him die at the Empire State Building. The
RKO board was wary about the project but gave its approval after
Cooper organized a presentation with Wray, Armstrong, and Cabot, and
O'Brien's model dinosaurs. In his executive capacity, Cooper ordered
the Creation production shelved and put its crew to work on Kong.
Merian C. Cooper wanted
King Kong to be more of an ape, but Willis O'Brien wanted King Kong
to be more of a human being. A compromise was met with King Kong
being made into an apeman. This was Brien's third time creating an
apeman, as he had previously created an apeman for his short film The
Dinosaur and the Missing Link: A Prehistoric Tragedy and The Lost World.
Cooper assigned recently
hired RKO screenwriter and best-selling British mystery/adventure
writer Edgar Wallace the job of writing a screenplay and a novel
based on his gorilla fantasy. Cooper understood the commercial appeal
of Wallace's name and planned to publicize the film as being
"based on the novel by Edgar Wallace". Wallace conferred
with Cooper and O'Brien (who contributed, among other things, the
"Ann's dress" scene) and began work on January 1, 1932. He
completed a rough draft called The Beast on January 5, 1932. Cooper
thought the draft needed considerable work but Wallace died on
February 10, 1932 just after beginning revisions. Cooper insisted
however that Wallace died having written "not one bloody
word," and that he gave the writer a screen credit simply
because as producer he had promised him one.
called in James A. Creelman (who was working on the script of The
Most Dangerous Game at the time) and the two men worked together on
several drafts under the title The Eighth Wonder. Some details from
Wallace's rough draft were dropped, notably his boat load of escaped
convicts. Wallace's Danby Denham character, a big game hunter, became
film director Carl Denham. His Shirley became Ann Darrow and her
lover-convict John became Jack Driscoll. The 'beauty and the beast'
angle was first developed at this time. Kong's escape was switched
from Madison Square Garden to Yankee Stadium and (finally) to a
Broadway theater. Cute moments involving the gorilla in Wallace's
draft were cut because Cooper wanted Kong hard and tough in the
belief that his fall would be all the more awesome and tragic.
Time constraints forced
Creelman to temporarily drop The Eighth Wonder and devote his time to
the Game script. RKO staff writer Horace McCoy was called in to work
with Cooper, and it was then that the island natives, a giant wall,
and the sacrificial maidens entered the plot. When Creelman returned
to the script full time, he hated these 'mythic elements', believing
the script already had too many over-the-top concepts. RKO head
Selznick and his executives wanted Kong introduced earlier in the
film (believing the audience would grow bored waiting for his
appearance), but Cooper persuaded them that a suspenseful build-up
would make Kong's entrance all the more exciting.
felt Creelman's final draft was slow-paced, too full of flowery
dialogue, weighted-down with long scenes of exposition, and written
on a scale that would have been prohibitively expensive to film.
Writer Ruth Rose (Mrs. Ernest Schoedsack) was brought in to clean
things up and, although she had never written a screenplay, undertook
the task with a complete understanding of Cooper's style. She
streamlined the script and tightened the action. Rather than
explaining how Kong would be transported to New York, for example,
she simply cut from the island to the theater. She incorporated
autobiographical elements into the script with Cooper mirrored in the
Denham character, her husband Schoedsack in the tough but tender
Driscoll character, and herself in struggling actress Ann Darrow. She
rewrote the dialogue to give it some zip and created the film's
entire opening chunk showing Denham plucking Ann from the streets of
New York. Cooper was delighted with Rose's script, added the Arab
proverb seen on the screen at the beginning, and approved the script
(now called Kong) for production. Cooper and Schoedsack decided to
co-direct scenes but their styles were different (Cooper was slow and
meticulous, Schoedsack brisk) and they finally agreed to work
separately with Cooper directing the miniature and special effects
scenes and Schoedsack directing the live-action scenes.
After the RKO board
approved the production of a test reel, Marcel Delgado constructed
Kong (or the "Giant Terror Gorilla" as he was then known)
per designs and directions from Cooper and O'Brien on a one-inch-equals-one-foot
scale to simulate a gorilla 18 feet tall. Four models were built:
two jointed 18-inch aluminum, foam rubber, latex, and rabbit fur
models (to be rotated during filming), one jointed 24-inch model of
the same materials for the New York scenes, and a small model of lead
and fur for the tumbling-down-the-Empire-State-Building scene. Kong's
torso was streamlined to eliminate the comical appearance of the real
world gorilla's prominent belly and butt. His lips, eyebrows, and
nose were fashioned of rubber, his eyes of glass, and his facial
expressions controlled by thin, bendable wires threaded through holes
drilled in his aluminum skull. During filming, Kong's rubber skin
dried out quickly under studio lights, making it necessary to replace
it often and completely rebuild his facial features.
huge bust of Kong's head, neck, and upper chest was made of wood,
cloth, rubber, and bearskin by Delgado, E. B. Gibson, and Fred Reefe.
Inside the structure, metal levers, hinges, and an air compressor
were operated by three men to control the mouth and facial
expressions. Its fangs were 10-inches in length and its eyeballs
12-inches. The bust was moved from set to set on a flatcar. Its scale
matched none of the models and, if fully realized, Kong would have
stood thirty to forty feet tall.
Two versions of Kong's
right hand and arm were constructed of steel, sponge rubber, rubber,
and bearskin. The first hand was nonarticulated, mounted on a crane,
and operated by grips for the scene in which Kong grabs at Driscoll
in the cave. The other hand and arm had articulated fingers, was
mounted on a lever to elevate it, and was used in the several scenes
in which Kong grasps Ann. A nonarticulated leg was created of
materials similar to the hands, mounted on a crane, and used to stomp
on Kong's victims
The dinosaurs were made by
Delgado in the same fashion as Kong and based on Charles R. Knight's
murals in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.
All the armatures were manufacted in the RKO machine shop. Materials
used were cotton, foam rubber, latex sheeting, and liquid latex.
Football bladders were placed inside some models to simulate
breathing. A scale of one-inch-equals-one-foot was employed and
models ranged from 18-inches to 3-feet in length. Several of the
models were originally built for Creation and sometimes two or three
models were built of individual species. Prolonged exposure to studio
lights wreaked havoc with the latex skin so John Cerasoli carved
wooden duplicates of each model to be used as stand-ins for test
shoots and lineups. He carved wooden models of Ann, Driscoll, and
other human characters. Models of the Venture, subway cars, and
fighter planes were built.
King Kong was filmed in
several stages over an eight-month period. Some actors had so much
time between their Kong periods, they worked other films. Cabot
completed Road House and Wray appeared in the horror films, Dr. X and
Mystery of the Wax Museum. She estimated she worked ten weeks on Kong
over its eight-month period.
MayJune 1932, Cooper directed the first live-action Kong
scenes on the jungle set built for The Most Dangerous Game. Some of
these scenes were incorporated into the test reel later exhibited for
the RKO board. The script was still in revision when the jungle
scenes were shot and much of the dialogue was improvised. The jungle
set was scheduled to be struck after Game was completed so Cooper
filmed all the other jungle scenes at this time. The last scene shot
was that of Driscoll and Ann racing through the jungle to safety
following their escape from Kong's lair.
In July 1932, the native
village was readied while Schoedsack and his crew filmed establishing
shots in the harbor of New York City. Curtiss O2C-1 Helldiver fighter
planes taking off and in flight were filmed at a U.S. Naval airfield
on Long Island. Views of New York City were filmed from the Empire
State Building for backgrounds in the final scenes and architectural
plans for the mooring mast were secured from the building's owners
for a mock-up to be constructed on the Hollywood soundstage.
August 1932, the island landing party scene and the gas bomb scene
were filmed south of Los Angeles on a beach at San Pedro, California.
All of the native village scenes were then filmed on the
RKO-Pathé lot in Culver City with native huts recycled from
Bird of Paradise (1932). The great wall in the island scenes was a
hand-me-down from DeMille's The King of Kings (1927) and dressed up
with massive gates, a gong, and primitive carvings. The scene of Ann
being led through the gates to the sacrificial altar was filmed at
night with hundreds of extras and 350 lights for illumination. A
camera was mounted on a crane to follow Ann to the altar. The Culver
City Fire Department was on hand to do their job should the set go up
in flames from the many native torches used in the scene (the wall
and gate were destroyed in 1939 for Gone With the Wind's burning of
Atlanta sequence). Kong's rampage through the village was filmed
(again, with hundreds of extras) and filming was completed with
individual vignettes of mayhem and native panic.
the scene depicting a New York woman being dropped to her apparent
death from a hotel window was filmed on the soundstage using the
articulated hand. At the same time, a scene depicting poker players
surprised by Kong's face peering through a window was filmed using
the 'big head'; the scene was eventually dropped. When filming was
completed, a break was scheduled to finish the interior sets and to
allow screenwriter Ruth Rose time to finish the script.
1932, Schoedsack returned to the soundstage after completing the
native village shoots in Culver City. The decks and cabins of the
Venture were constructed and all the live-action shipboard scenes
were then filmed. The New York scenes were filmed, including the
scene of Ann being plucked from the streets by Denham and the diner
scene. Following the interior scenes, Schoedsack returned to San
Pedro and spent a day on a tramp steamer to film the
Driscoll-slugs-Ann scene and various harbor atmosphere scenes. The
Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles was rented for one day to film the
on-stage scenes with Kong in chains and the backstage theater scenes
following his escape. Principal photography wrapped at the end of
October 1932 with the Driscoll-rescues-Ann scene at the top of the
Empire State Building. Schoedsack's work was completed and he headed
to Syria to film outdoor scenes for Arabia, a project that eventually
In December 1932-January
1933, the actors were called back to film the optical effects shots
which were mostly rear-screen projections. Technical problems
inherent in the process made filming difficult and time-consuming.
Wray spent most of a twenty-two hour period sitting in a fake tree to
witness the battle between Kong and a T. rex. She was sore for days
after. Many of the scenes featuring Wray in the articulated hand were
filmed at this time. In December, Cooper reshot the New York woman
falling to her death scene. Stunt doubles were filmed for the water
scenes depicting Driscoll and Ann escaping from Kong. A portion of
the jungle set was reconstructed to film Denham snagging his sleeve
on a branch during the pursuit scene. Originally, Denham ducked
behind a bush to escape danger but this was later considered cowardly
and the scene reshot. The final scene was originally staged on the
top of the Empire State Building but Cooper was dissatified and
reshot the scene with Kong lying dead in the street and a crowd
gathered about him.
Kong was settled upon as the title and the film cut from 125 to 100
minutes with scenes that slowed the pace or diverted attention from
Kong deleted. Probably the most infamous deleted scene was what later
became known as the "Spider Pit Sequence", where a number
of sailors from the Venture survived a fall into a ravine, only to be
eaten alive by various large spiders, insects and other creatures. In
a studio memo, Merian C. Cooper said that he cut the scene out
himself because it stopped the story. Aside from some
still photographs and pre-production artwork, no trace of it has ever
been found. Peter Jackson later did a reimagining of this scene for
his King Kong movie, and he also shot another version of the scene
for fun using stop-motion animation, which was included among the
bonus features of the two-disc DVD of the 1933 original.
Kong's roars and grunts
were created by manipulating the recorded roars of zoo lions. For
budget reasons, RKO decided not to have an original film score
composed but directed composer Max Steiner to simply reuse music from
other films. Cooper thought the film deserved an original score and
paid Steiner $50,000 to compose it. Steiner completed the score in
six weeks and recorded it with a 46 piece orchestra. The studio later
reimbursed Cooper. The score was unlike any that came before and
marks a milestone in the history of film music. Steiner experimented
with a number of new film scoring techniques, such as the use of leitmotifs
King Kong opened at the
6,200-seat Radio City Music Hall in New York City and the 3,700-seat
RKO Roxy across the street on Thursday, March 2, 1933. The film was
preceded by a stage show called Jungle Rhythms. Crowds lined up
around the block on opening day, tickets were priced at $.35 to $.75,
and, in its first four days, every one of its ten-shows-a-day were
sold out setting an all-time attendance record for an indoor event.
Over the four day period, the film grossed $89,931. Variety thought
the film a powerful adventure. The New York Times gave readers an
enthusiastic account of the plot and thought the film a fascinating
adventure. The film's subtextual threat to Aryan womanhood got Kong
banned in Nazi Germany.
did not receive any Academy Awards nominations. Selznick wanted to
nominate O'Brien and his crew for a special award in visual effects
but the Academy declined. Such a category did not exist at the time
and would not exist until 1938. Sidney Saunders and Fred Jackman
received a special achievement award for the development of the
translucent acetate/cellulose rear screen the only
Kong-related award. The film has since received some significant
honors. In 1975, Kong was named one of the 50 best American films by
the American Film Institute, and, in 1991, the film was deemed
"culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by
the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United
States National Film Registry. In 1998, the AFI ranked the film #43
on its list of the 100 greatest movies of all time.
KING KONG (1933)
New York harbor, Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong); a fierce
independent film director famous for shooting animal pictures in
remote and exotic locations, has recruited a bunch of macho seamen,
but is unable to hire an actress for his newest project. His usual
agent, Charles Weston refuses to supply anyone because of the
dangerous nature of the expedition, so Carl goes wandering in the
streets of New York searching for a suitable girl. He chances upon
starving unemployed Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and tries to convince her
to join him on the adventure of a lifetime, offering her the lead in
his project. Although Ann is apprehensive, she has nothing to lose
They set sail aboard the
Venture, a tramp steamer, and travel for weeks in the direction of
Indonesia, where Denham claims they will be shooting. Despite his
ongoing declarations that women have no place on board ships, the
ship's first mate, Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) is obviously becoming
attracted to Ann. Denham informs Driscoll he has enough trouble
without the complications of a seagoing love affair. Driscoll sneers
at the suggestion, reminding Denham of his toughness in past adventures.
Denham's reply outlines the
theme of the movie he is making: "The Beast was a tough guy too.
He could lick the world, but when he saw Beauty, she got him. He went
soft. He forgot his wisdom and the little fellas licked him."
After maintaining secrecy
for weeks, Denham finally tells Driscoll and Captain Englehorn (Frank
Reicher) that they're searching for an uncharted island shown on a
map in Denham's possession. Denham then describes something monstrous
connected to the island, a legendary entity known to the islanders
only as "Kong".
As the Venture creeps
through the fog surrounding the island, the crew hears drums in the
distance. Arriving at the island's shore, they see a native village
on a peninsula, cut off from the bulk of the island by an enormous
stone wall. A landing party, including the filming crew and Ann, goes
ashore and encounters the natives, who are about to hand over a girl
to Kong as a ritual sacrifice.
native chief spots them, getting a clear look at Ann, and proposes
to swap six native women for her. Denham delicately declines as he
and his party edge away from the scene, assuring the chief that they
will return tomorrow to get better acquainted.
However, later that night,
a stealthy contingent of natives captures Ann, takes her back to the
wall, where she is presented to Kong in an elaborate ceremony,
leaving her tied to columns behind the wall. Soon after, Kong emerges
through the trees and is revealed to be a giant gorilla, who carries
off Ann deep into the jungle.
The Venture crew returns to
the village and open the huge gate on the wall; half of the crew then
go after Kong in hopes of rescuing Ann from his clutches. While
venturing through the dense jungles, the crew discover that not only
does Kong live on the island, but also prehistoric dinosaurs that
have somehow escaped extinction, such as enraged Stegosaurus, a
territorial Brontosaurus, and a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex who tries to
eat Ann, but Kong fights and eventually defeats it.
Jack, after braving through
the many obstacles the island has to offer, rescues Ann and takes her
back to the village, but Kong chases after them, breaks through the
large door in the wall and rampages through the village, killing many
natives. Denham hurls gas bombs at Kong, knocking him out, whereupon
he exults in the opportunity presented: "We're millionaires,
boys! I'll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months, his name
will be up in lights on Broadway! Kong! The Eighth Wonder of the World!"
next scene shows those last words in lights on a theater marquee.
Along with hundreds of curious New Yorkers, Denham, Driscoll and Ann
are dressed in evening wear for the gala event. The curtain lifts,
and Denham presents a subdued and shackled Kong to the stunned
audience. All goes well until photographers, using the blinding
flashbulbs of the era, begin snapping shots of Ann and Jack, who is
now her fiancé. Under the impression that the flashbulbs are
attacking Ann, Kong breaks free of his bonds and escapes from the
theater, as the screaming audience flees.
He rampages through city
streets, destroying an elevated train and killing several citizens.
He looks into windows, his glaring eyes looming in the windows of the
wrecked elevated train Kong sees Ann in an upper floor hotel room, he
reaches in the window, grabs her, and carries her to the top of the
Empire State Building. He gets into a battle with a squadron of
military airplanes and despite taking one of them down is wounded by
gunfire and falls to his death. Ann is reunited with Driscoll. Below
on the street, Denham makes his way through the gathered crowd to
look upon the fallen Kong. A police lieutenant says to him, "Well
Denham, the airplanes got him." The film ends with Carl
Denham's famous reply, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes... it
was Beauty killed the Beast."
While one of the most
famous movie icons in history, King Kong's intellectual property
status has been questioned since his creation, featuring in numerous
allegations and court battles. The rights to the character have
always been split up with no single exclusive rights holder.
Different parties have also contested that various aspects are public
domain material and therefore ineligible for trademark or copyright status.
When Merian C. Cooper
created King Kong, he assumed that he owned the character, which he
had conceived in 1929, outright. Cooper maintained that he had only
licensed the character to RKO for the initial film and sequel but had
otherwise owned his own creation. In 1935, Cooper began to feel
something was amiss when he was trying to get a Tarzan vs King Kong
project off the ground for Pioneer Pictures (where he had assumed
management of the company). David O. Selznick suggested the project
to Cooper, and a flurry of legal activity over using the Kong
character would follow. Pioneer had become a completely independent
company by this time and access to properties that RKO felt were
theirs was no longer automatic. This gave Cooper pause as he came to
realize that he might not have full control over the figment of his
later in 1962, Cooper had found out that RKO was licensing the
character through John Beck to Toho studios in Japan for a film
project called King Kong vs Godzilla. Cooper had assumed his rights
were unassailable and was bitterly opposed to the project. In 1963 he
filed a lawsuit to enjoin distribution of the movie against John Beck
as well as Toho and Universal (the films U.S. copyright holder).
Cooper discovered that RKO had also profited from licensed products
featuring the King Kong character such as model kits produced by
Aurora Plastics Corporation. Cooper's executive assistant, Charles B
FitzSimons, stated that these companies should be negotiating through
him and Cooper for such licensed products and not RKO.
Cooper and his legal team
offered up various documents to bolster the case that Cooper had
owned King Kong and only licensed the character to RKO for two films,
rather than selling him outright. unfortunately Cooper had lost key
documents through the years and his rights were relegated to the
Lovelace novelization that he had copyrighted. He was able to make a
deal for a Bantam Books paperback reprint and a Gold Key comic
adaptation of the novel, but that was all he could do. Cooper
lamented: "It seems my hassle over King Kong is destined to be a
protracted one. They'd make me sorry I ever invented the beast, if I
weren't so fond of him! Makes me feel like Macbeth: 'Bloody
instructions which being taught return to plague the inventor'."
rights over the character didn't flare up again until 1975, when
Universal Studios and Dino De Laurentiis were fighting over who would
be able to do a King Kong remake for release the following year. De
Laurentiis came up with $200,000 to buy the remake rights from RKO.
When Universal got wind of this, they filed a lawsuit against RKO
claiming that they had a verbal agreement from them in regards to the
remake. During the legal battles that followed, which eventually
included RKO countersuing Universal, as well as De Laurentiis filing
a lawsuit claiming interference, Colonel Richard Cooper (Merian's son
and now head of the Cooper estate) jumped into the fray.
During the battles,
Universal discovered that the copyright of the Lovelace novelization
had expired without renewal, thus making the King Kong story a public
domain one. Universal argued that they should be able to make a movie
based on the novel without infringing on anyone's copyright because
the characters in the story were in the public domain within the
context of the public domain story. Richard Cooper then filed a
cross-claim against RKO claiming while the publishing rights to the
novel had not been renewed, his estate still had control over the
plot/story of King Kong.
In a four-day bench trial
in Los Angeles, Judge Manuel Real made the final decision and gave
his verdict on November 24, 1976, affirming that the King Kong
novelization and serialization were indeed in the public domain, and
Universal could make its movie as long as it didn't infringe on
original elements in the 1933 RKO film, which had not passed into
public domain. Universal postponed their plans to film a King Kong
movie, called The Legend of King Kong, for at least 18 months, after
cutting a deal with Dino De Laurentiis that included a percentage of
box office profits from his remake.
However, on December 6,
1976, Judge Real made a subsequent ruling, which held that all the
rights in the name, character, and story of King Kong (outside of the
original film and its sequel) belonged to Merian C Cooper's estate.
This ruling, which became known as the "Cooper Judgment",
expressly stated that it wouldn't change the previous ruling that
publishing rights of the novel and serialization were in the public
domain. It was a huge victory that affirmed the position Merian C.
Cooper had maintained for years. Shortly thereafter, Richard Cooper
sold all his rights (excluding worldwide book and periodical
publishing rights) to Universal in December 1976. In 1980 Judge Real
dismissed the claims that were brought forth by RKO and Universal
four years earlier and reinstated the Cooper judgement.
KING KONG (1976)
The 1976 King Kong movie
was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin.
It is a remake of the 1933 classic film of the same name, about a
giant ape that is captured and imported to New York City for
exhibition. The remake's screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple
Jr., based on the original story written by Merian C. Cooper and
Edgar Wallace, which had been adapted into the 1933 screenplay by
James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose. It stars Jeff Bridges, Charles
Grodin, and Jessica Lange in her first film role, playing the part
made famous in the original by Fay Wray.
in the 1970s, King Kong tells the story of Fred Wilson (Charles
Grodin), an executive of the Petrox Oil Company, who forms an
expedition based on infrared imagery which reveals a previously
undiscovered Indian Ocean island hidden by a permanent cloud bank.
Wilson believes the island has a huge deposit of oil. Jack Prescott
(Jeff Bridges), a primate paleontologist, sneaks onto the
expedition's vessel and attempts to warn the team against traveling
to the island, citing an ominous final message about "the roar
of the greatest beast" from previous doomed explorers. Wilson
orders Prescott locked up, claiming that he is really a spy from a
rival corporation. The ship happens upon a life raft which carries
the beautiful and unconscious Dwan (Jessica Lange). Upon waking, Dwan
tells Prescott that she is an aspiring actress who was aboard a
director's yacht which suddenly exploded. During the rest of the
ship's voyage, Prescott and Dwan become attracted to each other.
Upon arriving at the
island, the team discovers a primitive tribe of natives who live
within the confines of a gigantic wall, built to protect them from a
mysterious god known as Kong. The team finds that while there is a
large deposit of oil, it is of such low quality that it is unusable.
The natives kidnap Dwan, drug her, and offer her as a sacrifice to
Kong. A monumental ape grabs Dwan from the altar and departs back
into the jungle.
Although an awesome and
terrifying sight, the soft hearted Kong quickly becomes tamed by
Dwan, whose rambling monologue calms and fascinates the monstrous
beast. Kong takes Dwan back to a waterfall. He washes her, and uses
great gusts of his warm breath to dry her.
the meantime, Prescott, and First Mate Carnahan (Ed Lauter) lead a
rescue mission to save Dwan. The rescue party encounters Kong while
crossing a log bridge, and Kong rolls the huge log, sending Carnahan
and the rest of the sailors falling to their deaths. Prescott and
Boan are the only ones to survive. Kong takes Dwan to his lair. A
giant snake appears and attacks the pair, and while Kong dispatches
the snake, Prescott escapes with Dwan. Kong chases the pair back to
the native village, only to fall into a pit trap and be smothered
Without any of the promised
new oil, Wilson decides to transport Kong to America as a promotional
gimmick for his company. When they finally reach New York City, Kong
is put on display in a beauty and the beast farce, bound in chains
with a large crown on his head. When Kong sees a group of reporters
pushing and shoving Dwan for interviews, the ape breaks free of his
bonds and goes on a rampage throughout the city. Wilson trips while
running away and Kong steps on him, killing him instantly. The ape
also destroys an elevated train in his search for Dwan. Prescott and
Dwan flee across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan while Kong
pursues them. At an abandoned Manhattan bar, Prescott calls the
military and tells them to let Kong climb to the top of the World
Trade Center. Kong locates Dwan and she allows him to take her; he
begins to make his way to the World Trade Center, with Jack and the
military in hot pursuit.
In the climax, Kong climbs
the South Tower of the World Trade Center. After being attacked by
men with flamethrowers while standing on the roof, Kong flees by
leaping across to the North Tower. Later, he is attacked
by military helicopters while Dwan is trying to stop them. The
fatally injured Kong falls from the roof to the World Trade Center
plaza, where he dies from his injuries. Dwan is bombarded by a sea of
photographers. The crowd is so big though that Dwan can't even get
close to Jack. She stands still and is photographed relentlessly by
reporters while Kong lies dead in a pool of blood and broken concrete.
Although the film received
mostly mixed reviews from critics and Kong fans and is often
described as being a financial flop, King Kong was commercially
successful, earning Paramount Pictures back over triple its budget.
The film made approximately $80 million worldwide on a $24 million budget.
1982 Universal filed a lawsuit against Nintendo, which had created
an impish ape character called Donkey Kong in 1981 and was reaping
huge profits over the video game machines. Universal claimed that
Nintendo was infringing on its copyright because Donkey Kong was a
blatant rip-off of King Kong. During the court battle and subsequent
appeal, the courts ruled that Universal did not have exclusive
trademark rights to the King Kong character. The courts ruled that
trademark was not among the rights Cooper had sold to Universal,
indicating that "Cooper plainly did not obtain any trademark
rights in his judgment against RKO, since the California district
court specifically found that King Kong had no secondary
meaning." While they had a majority of the rights, they didn't
outright own the King Kong name and character. The courts ruling
noted that the name, title, and character of Kong no longer signified
a single source of origin. The courts also pointed out that Kong
rights were held by three parties: RKO owned the rights to the
original film and its sequel, the Dino De Laurentiis company owned
the rights to the 1976 remake and Richard Cooper owned worldwide book
and periodical publishing rights.
The judge then ruled that:
misrepresented their degree of ownership of King Kong (claiming they
had exclusive trademark rights when they knew they didn't) they were
ordered to pay fines and all of Nintendo's legal bills from the
lawsuit. That, along with the fact that the courts ruled that there
was simply no likelihood of people confusing Donkey Kong with King
Kong, caused Universal to lose the case and the subsequent appeal.
Cooper estate retains publishing rights for the content they claim.
In 1990 they licensed a six-issue comic book adaptation of the story
to Monster Comics, and commissioned an illustrated novel in 1994
called Anthony Browne's King Kong. In 2004 and 2005, they
commissioned a new novelization to be written by Joe Devito called
Merian C Cooper's King Kong to replace the original Lovelace
novelization (the original novelization's publishing rights are still
in the public domain) and Kong: King of Skull Island, a
prequel/sequel novel that ties into the original story. They are
working on an upcoming musical stage play due out in 2013 called King
Kong Live on Stage with Global Creatures, the company behind the
Walking with Dinosaurs arena show.
RKO (whose rights consisted
of only the original film and its sequel) had its film library
acquired by Ted Turner in 1986 via his company Turner Entertainment.
Turner merged his company into Time Warner in 1995, which is how they
own the rights to those two films today.
Dino De Laurentiis (whose
rights were limited to only their 1976 remake) did a sequel in 1986
called King Kong Lives (but they still needed Universal's permission
to do so). King Kong Lives starred Linda Hamilton, and had Kong
surviving his original fall from the sky and requiring a coronary
operation. It includes a female member of Kong's species, who, after
supplying a blood transfusion that enables the life-saving surgery,
escapes and mates with Kong, becoming pregnant with his offspring.
Trashed by critics, this was a box-office failure. Today most of
DDL's film library is owned by Studio Canal, which includes the
rights to those two films. The domestic (North American) rights to
King Kong though, still remain with the film's original distributor
Paramount Pictures, with Trifecta Entertainment & Media handling
television rights to the film via their licence with Paramount.
Since the court case,
Universal still retains the majority of the character rights. In 1986
they opened a King Kong ride called King Kong Encounter at their
Universal Studios Tour theme park in Hollywood (which was destroyed
in 2008 by a backlot fire), and followed it up with the
Kongfrontation ride at their Orlando park in 1990 (which was closed
down in 2002 due to maintenance issues). They also finally made a
King Kong film of their own, King Kong (2005). The Universal Pictures
remake was set in the original film's 1933 time period by Academy
award-winning New Zealand director Peter Jackson, best known for
directing the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The most recent
incarnation of Kong is also the longest, running three hours and
eight minutes. Winner of three Academy Awards for visual effects,
sound mixing, and sound editing. It received positive reviews and
became a box office success. In the summer of 2010, Universal opened
a new 3D King Kong ride called King Kong: 360 3-D at their Hollywood
park replacing the destroyed King Kong Encounter. In 2012, Universal
will open another King Kong ride, a King Kong-themed dueling roller
coaster at Universal Studios Dubailand.
KING KONG (2005)
2005 King Kong is a fantasy adventure film directed by Peter Jackson
and is a remake of the classic 1933 film. It stars Naomi Watts, Jack
Black and Adrien Brody. Andy Serkis, through performance capture,
The film's budget climbed
from an initial $150 million to a record-breaking $207 million. The
film was released on December 14, 2005 and made an opening of $50.1
million. While the film performed lower than expectations, King Kong
made domestic and worldwide grosses that eventually added up to $550
million, becoming the fourth-highest grossing movie in Universal
Pictures history. It also generated $100 million in DVD sales upon
its home video release. The film garnered generally positive reviews
from film critics and appeared on several 'top ten' lists for 2005,
though some reviewers also criticized it for its 3 hour, 7 minute
running time. It won Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Best
Sound Mixing, and Best Sound Editing.
1933, at the height of the Great Depression in New York City, Ann
Darrow (Naomi Watts) has lost her job as a vaudeville actress but is
hired by troubled filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) to act in his
new motion picture. Ann signs on when she learns her favourite
playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) is the screenwriter. As their
tramp steamer SS Venture sails to the mysterious Skull Island, they
slowly fall in love. As for Carl, a warrant is out for his arrest and
Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) begins to have second
thoughts, following the fears of his crew about Skull Island and its
strange creatures that have evolved alone from the outside world.
Despite his attempt to turn around, the ship is lost in fog and runs
aground on the rocks encircling the island.
Carl and his crew explore
the island to film and are attacked by the vicious natives. Mike
(Craig Hall), the sound technician, is speared, one of the sailors
has his head bashed in, and Jack is knocked out. Ann screams as she
is captured, and a roar beyond the wall responds. The matriarch of
the tribe vows to sacrifice her to "Kong", a 25 ft (8m)
tall gorilla, and the last of its kind. Englehorn and his crew break
up the attack and return to the stranded ship. They lighten their
load to steer away, but Jack discovers Ann has been kidnapped. On the
island, Ann is hung from a balcony on the side of the wall. The crew
comes armed, but is too late as Kong takes Ann into the jungle.
Captain Englehorn organizes
a rescue party to find Ann and hunt down the beast. The rescue party
is caught up in a Venatosaurus pack's hunt of Apatosaurus, and Herb
(John Sumner), the cameraman, is killed along with three sailors. The
rest of the rescue party come across a swamp where Bruce Baxter (Kyle
Chandler) and two others leave the group. Meanwhile, Ann manages to
entertain Kong with juggling and
dancing. The survivors stumble across a log, where Kong arrives and
attacks, shaking them off the log into a ravine. He returns to rescue
Ann from three Vastatosaurus Rex, and takes her up to his mountain
lair. Englehorn and the rest of the crew rescue what is left of the
rescue party from the pit of giant insects, and as Jack decides to
continue to search for Ann, Carl decides to capture Kong. Jack goes
to Kong's lair, waking him. As Kong fights a swarm of flying
Terapusmordax, Ann and Jack escape by grabbing the wing of one of the
bats and then jumping into a river. They arrive at the village wall
with the angry Kong following them, and Ann becomes distraught by
what Carl plans to do. Kong bursts through the gate and struggles to
get her back, but he is eventually knocked out by chloroform.
In New York around
Christmas, Carl presents a chained Kong - the Eighth Wonder of the
World on Broadway, starring Baxter and an imprisoned Kong. Ann has
become an anonymous chorus girl and a double of her is no replacement
in Kong's eyes. Camera flashes from photographers enrage the gorilla.
Kong breaks free from his chrome-steel chains and chases Jack across
town, where he encounters Ann again. They share a quiet moment on a
frozen lake in Central Park, before the army attacks. Kong climbs
with Ann onto the Empire State Building, where he fights off planes
sent to attack him, downing three of them. Ultimately, Kong is hit by
several bursts of gunfire from the surviving planes, and gazes at a
distraught Ann for the last time before falling off the building to
his death. Ann is greeted by Jack, and the reporters gather around
Kong's carcass. Carl takes one last look and says, "It wasn't
the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
Jackson was a nine-year-old in the New Zealand town of Pukerua Bay
when he first saw the 1933 version of King Kong. He was in tears in
front of the TV when Kong slipped off the Empire State Building. At
age 12 he tried to recreate the film using his parents' super-8
camera and a model of Kong made of wire and rubber with his mother's
fur coat for the hair, but eventually gave up on the project. In
1996, he developed a version that was in pre-production for 67
months, but the studio cancelled it. This is most likely because of
the release of Mighty Joe Young and Godzilla the same year. No
casting was ever done, but he had hoped to get George Clooney and
Robert De Niro for the roles of Jack Driscoll and Carl Denham, respectively.
He then began work on The
Lord of the Rings trilogy. With the overwhelming box office and
critical success of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
Universal contacted him during production of the second film, and he
was paid $20 million to direct this film, the highest salary
Hollywood ever paid a director.
Jackson has stated that the
script significantly changed between the 1996 and 2005 drafts. He
described his first rough draft as a "tongue-in-cheek comedic
film with elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark and other films",
and in retrospect he is glad that Universal pulled the plug on this
version of the film, as he was able to rework the screenplay into
In Jackson's original 1996
draft of the script, Ann was the daughter of famed English
archaeologist Lord Linwood Darrow exploring ancient ruins in Sumatra.
They would come into conflict with Denham during his filming, and
they would uncover a hidden Kong statue and the map of Skull Island.
This would indicate that the island natives were the last remnants of
a cult religion that had once thrived on the mainland of Asia.
Instead of a playwright, Jack was the first mate and an ex-First
World War fighter pilot still struggling with the loss of his best
friend, who had been killed in battle during a World War I prologue.
Herb the camera-man is the only supporting character in the original
draft who made it to the final version. The fight between Kong and
the three T. rex also changed from the original draft. In the draft,
Ann is actually caught in the T. rex's jaws, where she becomes
wedged, and slashed by the teeth; after the fight, Kong gets her out
but she is suffering from a fever, from which she then recovers.
The rewriting of the script
between 1996 and 2005 involved basing the characters more closely on
the 1933 ones, but adding more detail (the screenplay takes no
material from the 1976 version).
References to earlier
versions of King Kong:
Wray, the original Ann Darrow, was asked by Peter Jackson to do a
brief cameo in which she would utter the film's final line: "It
was beauty killed the beast." At first she flatly refused, but
then seemed to consider the possibility. However, she died shortly
after her meeting with Jackson. The line ultimately went to the
character of Carl Denham, as in the original.
An ad for Universal
Pictures is visible while Kong is tearing up Times Square. In the
original film, an ad for Columbia Pictures appeared in the same spot,
and the production designers replicated it, but Columbia asked for a
large amount of money for its use, so effects artists replaced it.
When Denham is considering
who to play the part before meeting Ann, he suggests "Fay",
but his assistant Preston replies, "She's doing a picture with
RKO." Music from the 1933 original is heard, and Denham mutters,
"Cooper, huh? I might have known." Fay Wray starred in the
1933 film, which was directed by Merian C. Cooper and released by RKO.
When Carl Denham calls
Bruce Baxter and Ann Darrow to film a scene on the deck of the ship,
the shot is essentially identical to a scene between Ann and Jack
Driscoll in the 1933 version.
In the original film,
Merian C. Cooper made up an "Arabian proverb" about
"beauty and beast". The 2005 remake repeats the fake proverb.
Kong's New York stage
appearance looks very much like a re-enactment of the sacrifice scene
of the 1933 film, including the posts the 'beauty' is tied to and the
nearly identical performance and costumes of the dancers. In
addition, the music played by the orchestra during that scene is the
original 1933 score by Max Steiner.
The 1933 film featured an
extended sequence in which several members of the party were devoured
by massive spiders and insects after being shaken off a log into a
ravine by Kong. This scene was pulled before release when Cooper
decided it slowed the film down. Peter Jackson recreated the scene
for the 2005 remake. He also paid homage to the spider pit sequence
by recreating the scene using stop motion photography, which he
included as an extra for the deluxe DVD release of the original 1933 film.
The battle between Kong and
the final T-Rex is almost move-for-move like the last half of the
fight between Kong and the T-Tex in the original 1933 film, right
down to Kong playing with the dinosaur's broken jaw and then
standing, beating his chest and roaring victoriously.
After the crew captures
Kong on the beach, Denham speaks a line from the 1933 film: "The
whole world will pay to see this! We're millionaires, boys! I'll
share it with all of you. In a few months, his name will be up in
lights on Broadway! KONG, THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD!"
In the original film,
director and co-director Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
appear in cameos as the pilot and rear-gunner who shoot Kong. In the
2005 film, Jackson plays one of the gunners; the pilot is played by
Rick Baker, who played Kong (in a rubber suit) in the 1976 remake.