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by Rick Klaw

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King Kong (1976)
King Kong Vs. Godzilla
King Kong (1933)
Peter Jackson
Peter Jackson's King Kong
Logan's Run
Logan's Run remake

It Was Hollywood That Killed the Beast

Thanks to a convergence of projects, I found myself watching the remake of King Kong. I recall the first time I saw the feature during its initial release in 1976. My mother had promised her gorilla-nutty son that she'd take him to see it. But I hated it. As I watched the film, I pined for King Kong Vs. Godzilla, which I had seen the summer before.

The remake was worse than I remembered. I'm not sure how you make a boring movie when you have a scantily clad Jessica Lange and a giant gorilla, but producer Dino De Laurentiis found a way.1 The special effects were vastly inferior2 to the original Kong, which had been made 43 years earlier. The original featured groundbreaking effects with realistic dinosaurs, beautiful locales, and some of the most sensational monster fights in movie history. In the remake, there are no dinosaurs and a poorly choreographed fight between a man in an ape suit and a stuffed giant snake. The fight scenes in King Kong Vs. Godzilla looked better and were more exciting.3

My friend and fellow ape nut Mark Finn tells a great story about seeing the remake as kid. After his initial screening of the flick he decided to stay and watch it again.4 It's not so much that he enjoyed the movie, but he was sure he fell asleep during the dinosaur scenes.

King Kong Why does Hollywood insist on remaking great movies? I hear claims that younger people won't watch old movies, especially black and white films. What is it about black and white films? The fact that the original King Kong was not in color, never bothered me. When I was a kid, I thought that being in black and white meant it was going to be a better film. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, Them and a zillion others all thrilled me as a kid. This was during the mid-70's and most of the science fiction movies of the time were awful. It was a long dry spell between Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) and Star Wars (1977). It was only five years, but to me it seemed like an eternity. Logan's Run and Buck Rogers just didn't cut it. I got my geek movie fix by watching old science fiction movies, most of which were in black and white.

I spent this past Saturday night with my nephews. Alex is seven and Nick is four (or almost five as he tells it). They are the next generation of geeks. When they come to my house, the first words out of their mouths aren't "hi" or "how are you" or any recognizable greeting. They babble something about toys and make a beeline for my office. It's where I keep the toys.

I have this problem. My office is littered with action figures,5 toy robots, figurines, and other weird things. I have a Godzilla, a King Kong (among many other gorilla and ape figures), two Iron Giants,6 multiple Silver Surfers, Beta Ray Bill,7 Underdog, Predator, and many more.

After the usual fights over who gets to play with Godzilla and King Kong,8 and who gets the automated Iron Giant, we settled in the living room to decide which of Uncle Ricky's movies to watch. This is not the first time the boys have stayed at my house, and so I know what to expect. An argument. I don't own that many movies, but a good majority of them appeal to my nephews.

The next argument was over King Kong vs. Godzilla, Shrek, Monsters, Inc., X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Giant and Jimmy Neutron. After fifteen minutes of quarreling, this uncle had just about enough and proclaimed we were watching King Kong. Neither one of them had seen the original classic and I felt it was my duty to share it with them.

King Kong I started the tape.9 Once they realized the movie was in black and white, it took a while to settle them down. Thankfully, after years of introducing them to all sorts of cool geek things, my nephews will give almost anything I suggest a chance. They were antsy until Denham and company actually got to Skull Island and met the natives. From the moment Kong came crashing out of the bushes and grabbed the screaming Anne Darrow, there was nary a peep from the boys. Well, except when their evil Uncle Ricky paused the tape as the T-Rex appears on the screen. I stopped things so they could get in their pjs, brush their teeth, and what not. I knew once they saw the Kong-T-Rex battle, there would be no stopping. Seventy years later and that is still the greatest fight scene in all of monster moviedom.

The next morning, I woke to Nick recreating the famed fight with his stuffed tyrannosaurus and my King Kong. They both went on and on about it all day long. When they saw Grandma later that day, they told her all about the movie.10

Now there are plans to remake Kong once again. At least this time they got an ideal director (Peter Jackson) and the right time period (keeping it in the 30s -- the other remake was set in the 70s.) Long before The Lord of the Rings, Jackson showed himself to be a director who understood the concepts of storytelling and the use of special effects. Besides, any person who could make Tolkien's work palatable to me, can do anything. Setting Kong in the modern world will not work. The idea that there is an island somewhere with a thirty foot gorilla that no one but the natives has seen or heard of is absurd. The secret to making a monster (giant or otherwise) work is to make everything else around the creature as believable as possible.

King Kong Vs. Godzilla King Kong is not the only remake in the works. Seems like every classic science fiction film is in development. Movies such as The Incredible Shrinking Man (as a comedy by Keenen Ivory Wayans!), Forbidden Planet, House of Wax, and Westworld are planned for Hollywood re-envisionings.

Before the letters start, yes, I know about Logan's Run. There are plans for a big budget remake that is much more faithful to the original novel. Logan's Run falls into a completely different category: movies that should be remade. Soylent Green, The Last Man on Earth, and Colossus: The Forbin Project just to name a few. These are movies with creative ideas that were poorly executed (Soylent Green, Logan's Run), lacked adequate budget (The Last Man on Earth), or could be made more compelling by an updating (Colossus: The Forbin Project). Rollerball once belonged to this group, but the remake removed the compelling political motivations of the original. Even though it was a slick production with a good cast, it became pointless.

Pointless describes most movie remakes. The successful SF remakes can be counted on one hand. The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (both times!), and um... okay, perhaps half a hand? Most attempts (like the 70s King Kong) are down and out forgettable. Next time someone tells you about a remake, don't get excited. Yawn, put your money back in your wallet, and watch the original film. I can almost guarantee you'll have a much better time.

1 Being boring is the biggest sin a monster movie can commit.

2 Scarily, the picture won a Special Achievement Academy Award for visual effects!

3 King Kong Vs. Godzilla is a lot like a good pro wrestling match. Fake and badly acted, but some of the best mindless entertainment around.

4 In the seventies, you could often hang out in the theater and see a second screening for free.

5 No dolls. Never dolls. Barbie is a doll. Hello, Kitty! is a doll. Boys don't play with dolls. At least according to my nephews.

6 Including the 12" automated one!

7 I was going to explain this one, but if you don't know who he is then you won't care. If you do, you'll think it's cool.

8 You can't separate them. How else can you have the King Kong vs. Godzilla grudge match?

9 King Kong is NOT available on DVD. The wretched 1976 remake is, but not the original. This is a crime against humanity.

10 She knew all about King Kong. Grandma, better known then as Mom, introduced me to the movie. Little did she know she'd still be hearing about thirty years later.

Copyright © 2004 Rick Klaw

Not content with just being a regular columnist for SF Site, Rick Klaw decided to collect his columns, essays, reviews, and other things Klaw in Geek Confidential: Echoes From the 21st Century (currently available from Monkey Brains, Inc). As a freelance editor, former book buyer, managing editor, and bookstore manager, Rick has experience with most aspects of the book business. He is impressed with himself for not once bashing the recent, vile Planet of the Apes remake in this column.

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