as coronated King of Skull Island
by Phil Fasso
BEHOLD! THE GREAT AND MIGHTY KONG!
Like the fearful natives who live beyond the gate on his Skull Island, I’ve been enthralled with King Kong for as long as I can remember. I couldn’t have been much more than four or five the first time I watched KING KONG on or local Channel 9, on a Thanksgiving afternoon. From the very first scenes on the shores of his home, I fell into a state of wonderment Beyond that massive gate lie a world of fantasy, where dinosaurs roamed, man was an outsider, and Kong ruled as King. Once the movie took me through that barrier, I was amazed at what I would find.
My sense of amazement rose to its greatest heights with Kong himself. The ape knows how to make an entrance. As Ann Darrow stands tied between two posts, the natives lined up on the high wall, two savages beating a gong behind the decoratively dressed chief, a roar breaks the ceremony. Branches snap and for the first time I see Kong through the thick branches of two trees. He shatters the trees and steps forward to take his bride. His fanged snarl turns into a smile as he takes his bride in hand and goes off into the night, and also into the greatest adventure ever put to film.
On his primordial isle, Kong is the truest essence of the primal beast. He’s all hair and fangs and muscle. The high spot of this part of the film is his brawl with a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The prehistoric reptile is likely just looking to make dinner out of Ann. Kong takes offense, and the two rip, tear, punch and bite their way through a knock down, drag out fight that would make any professional wrestler proud. Kong’s first instinct is always to battle, and he smokes anyone who gets in his way. He’s the supreme beast, the king of this savage place.
Had he stayed on Skull Island, he may still be ruling there today. And here’s the misconception: movie director Carl Denham says at the end of the film that beauty killed the beast, but technology really did the deed. Taken captive, paraded before an audience of thousands of socialites, Kong only breaks free when the paparazzi start to take pictures. Their flashes remind him of the bombs that Denham used to take him out on the shores of Skull Island. Once he escapes and finds Ann, he does what his primal instinct suggests: he climbs to the highest place he can find, the top of the world’s tallest building at the time, the Empire State Building.
A fatal confrontation with some biplanes brings him to his end. It’s key that Denham is a director, a symbol of a burgeoning technology that had by 1933 already started to demystify the world with its own celluloid magic. But it’s also film that made Kong immortal. 80 plus years later, children still find wonderment in Kong. I know this firsthand, because five years ago I showed my then four-year-old nephew the film for the first time, and got to share his first time beholding the mighty Kong.
These are all reasons I revere King Kong so much. But most of all, I love Kong because he has personality. He’s like a curious child, exploring everything new to him. In his quieter moments, when he’s fingering Ann Darrow’s dress, examining his bleeding finger, or flopping open and shut the jaw of the Tyrannosaurus he’s just bested, his primal curiosity is a balance to his primal rage. Credit stop motion animator Willis O’Brien for making Kong more than just a one-dimensional monster. O’Brien does such a captivating job with Kong’s face in these scenes that it becomes easy to forget for a second that Kong is a brute. These scenes humanize him and make him not only a sympathetic beast, but a likable one. His size and ferocity belie it, but deep down, Kong is a sensitive guy.
What amazed me when I watched KING KONG recently is that it held the same sense of wonderment for me at 41 as it did at 4 or 5. Even knowing scene-by-scene what was to come, Skull Island is still a place of mystery, the dinosaurs are still fantastic, and Kong still rules. He’s the don mega of giant monsters, the alpha male, the ground zero. I proudly induct him into the Hell of Fame, where he rules over his own island. The gates couldn’t hold him away from the shores of Skull Island, and the Gates of Hell cannot keep him out of the Hell of Fame, where he rules as King.