As Peter (LORD OF THE RINGS) Jackson’s much-anticipated remake of the 1933 KING KONG approaches, Warner Brothers has been kind enough to release a boxed set featuring digitally remastered prints of KING KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG on DVD with an obscene amount of extras — including commentary on KONG and JOE by living treasure and absolute master of stop-motion animation, Ray (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) Harryhausen — and my copy of the set arrived today. So much for using my day off for cleaning my apartment…
The 1933 KING KONG is my all-time favorite movie since it contains pretty much everything I would like to see in a film; it’s got suspense, action, graphic violence, an epic scale, romance between a he-man tough guy and a beautiful leading lady, crisp black-and-white photography, and a shitload of dangerous stop-motion monsters. And of course, King Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World! It’s the movie that got me hooked on giant monster flicks the way a hardcore junkie loves a freshly loaded needle, and I will stop whatever I’m doing if I find out that it’s on TV, sit my beige ass down and stare in unabashed wonder at the sheer perfection unfolding before my eyes. I only wish I could have seen it on opening night back in 1933; I saw STAR WARS on opening night by accident in 1977 and it completely rocked my world, so I can only imagine how an audience some thirty-four years earlier must have shat a collective cinder block when faced with such spectacle that they were in no way prepared for.
My usual Monday activities curtailed by the cruddy weather, I delighted at having the films at my disposal and was saddened only by the fact that all of my friends were at work and I couldn’t have anyone over to share my geekery with. Nonetheless I tore open the package and set to viewing.
As I’d seen KONG about eleventy-jillion times since childhood and it’s annual running at Thanksgiving on New York’s WWOR for years, I dove straight into the second disc, a treasure trove of geek spank material including an exhaustive 2 & ½ hour “making of” documentary that has to be seen to be believed. I sat there with my jaw in my lap as Peter Jackson discussed recreating the legendary “Lost Spider Pit Sequence,” a bit cut from the original in which the unfortunate sailors whom Kong cast off of the log into a deep ravine where they were promptly devoured by a bevy of Lovecraftian wigglies; Jackson also reveres KONG as his favorite film, and he had the power and greenbacks to recreate the sequence with actual stop-motion critters rather than CGI and degrade the color into B&W. Lovely…
I then sat through KONG with commentary by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, and the magic of that film was only amplified by having Harryhausen describe what it was like seeing that film when it opened and he was thirteen years old. Movie buffs, we have KING KONG to thank for inspiring — dare I say obsessing? — Harryhausen and spurring him on to create what may arguably be the finest handmade visual effects in film history, so even if you aren’t a fan of the big gorilla you owe him one motherfucking SERIOUS debt.
Next up was the lamentable SON OF KONG, a quickie sequel that actually made it to the screen less than a year after KING KONG. Willis O’Brien’s animation notwithstanding, the less said the better. Robert Armstrong’s reprisal of his role as Carl Denham is still fun, though.
Next up was MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, coming some sixteen years after KONG and being everything that SON OF KONG could never have hoped to be. It’s not a sequel, but it fits neatly into an unofficial trilogy and is an utter delight; the tale of a giant gorilla and his human companion who are appallingly exploited by a lucre-hungry showman — sound familiar? — has charm to burn, and Jo’s personality is the polar opposite of Kong’s insomuch as while Kong is sympathetic Joe is actually sweet-natured until fucked with beyond all reason. Unlike Kong, Joe’s fate is not dire and you and your little one will not be reaching for the Kleenex at the end of the flick. When you watch this one on DVD, check out the commentary from Harryhausen — who cut his stop-motion teeth on that film — Ken Ralston, and Terry Moore; it’s a lot less “Golly, I love this movie” than the KONG commentary, and it’s fun to have Moore along for the ride since she played Joe’s companion. And in the sixteen years between KING KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, the stop motion technique was refined quite a bit and some of the sequences in the nightclub when a drunken Joe rampages are logistical nightmares that no sane animator would even go near these days, but Ray Harryhausen was the Bruce Lee of such techniques, and Joe’s demolition of the nightclub is truly incredible when one takes into account exactly how much concentration, patience and talent goes into the creation of top notch model animation.
So if you’re looking for the perfect holiday gift for your kids or the film geeks in your life, or even for yourself like I did, pick this set up. And I recommend using deepdiscountdvd.com for this; the set cost me a total of $30.42, including postage and handling. Trust me, it isn’t even like spending money.