King Kong (1933)

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Released 1-Oct-2004

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure None
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1933
Running Time 100:22
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Merian C. Cooper
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Studio
Distributor

Magna Home Entertainment
Starring Robert Armstrong
Fay Wray
Bruce Cabot
Frank Reicher
Noble Johnson
Sam Hardy
Steve Clemente
James Flavin
Roscoe Ates
Reginald Barlow
Harry Bowen
Lynton Brent
Barney Capehart
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $4.95 Music Max Steiner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English MPEG 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Film-maker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) plans a trip to the South Seas in search of a subject for a film. What he is missing is a female star for his adventure, with famous actresses turning him down left, right and centre. At a fruit stand he rescues a penniless woman from the clutches of the owner after he catches her reaching for an apple. She turns out to be a beautiful young woman named Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) and he quickly talks her into joining his expedition.

    When they reach the South Seas Denham reveals that he has a map of an uncharted island sold to him by a Norwegian sailor who drew it based on information from a dying native picked up by his ship. The map shows an island with a huge wall at one end, and unchartered territory at the other where a supernatural beast is said to dwell - Kong! Meanwhile, Ann has fallen for Driscoll (Bruce Cabot), the first mate.

    Denham and the crew eventually locate the island, and after landing they stumble into a native ceremony where a young girl is being anointed as the bride of Kong. The native chief offers to buy the golden-haired woman, and when Denham and the crew refuse, the natives take matters into their own hands.

    It hardly seems necessary to describe what happens next, seeing that the giant ape has entered into film folklore. This was RKO Radio Pictures entry in the monster genre that flourished in the early 1930s. The film was a huge success, so much so that RKO rushed out a hastily put-together sequel called The Son of Kong, released just nine months after the original.

    It is easy to see why the film was such a success, having lost little of its power to astound and astonish after seventy-one years. Kong is a convincing and terrifying beast, yet his attraction to Ann Darrow makes him a sympathetic character. The film moves so quickly that any plot holes can be ignored. The acting is pretty good, with the leads giving probably the best performances of their careers. Carl Denham is an amalgam of co-writer/co-producer/co-director Merian C. Cooper and "bring 'em back alive" safari film-maker Frank Buck, and he is well portrayed by Robert Armstrong. This was the pinnacle of Bruce Cabot's long but rarely distinguished career. Fay Wray screams a lot. Mind you, she has a lot to scream at. It is easy to understand why Kong has such a fascination with her, and the scene where he removes her outer layer of clothing, hilariously parodied decades later in Flesh Gordon, must have had men on the edges of their seats in 1933. Max Steiner's score is one of the best and most influential ever written.

    But the real star of the film does not appear on screen. Willis H. O'Brien devised the extraordinary visual effects, including stop-motion animation and convincing rear projection. He brought Kong and the other primeval creatures to life, refining the techniques he used eight years earlier in The Lost World, making Kong seem like a real character. The other creatures on the island are also impressive, and while it is possible to see some of the joins in the effects, it doesn't really matter as the story is just as important.

    The screenplay was by several hands. Famed mystery writer Edgar Wallace was brought in to work on the script but died early in pre-production. Ruth Rose, wife of co-director Ernest B. Schoedsack, then wrote the bulk of the screenplay which concludes with one of the most famous lines in all cinema.

    The film was heavily censored, especially on re-release after the implementation of the Production Code, with some sequences lost entirely (such as the sequence where the crew are attacked by giant spiders). Happily this version seems to have the surviving censored parts restored, most of which involve Kong chewing on natives. Warners, who own the rights to the RKO library, are working on a full restoration for a two-disc Special Edition DVD release, but this does not have a release date at this stage. Perhaps they are also waiting for the next remake so as to cash in on the publicity for that film.

    There have been numerous attempts to resurrect Kong, including pale imitations like the 1949 Mighty Joe Young. In 1976 Dino de Laurentiis produced a dull remake, which was followed by a far worse sequel called King Kong Lives! A mechanical King Kong saved Japan from Doctor Who in King Kong Escapes and a man-in-a-shaggy-monkey-suit King Kong met up with Godzilla in the 1960s, while the less said about A*P*E: Super Kong the better. There was also a TV cartoon series in the 1960s and an unreleased British spoof called Queen Kong (from around the time of the de Laurentiis film) featuring characters called Ray Fay and Luce Habit. Bearded director Peter Jackson is currently working on a big-budget remake of the original for release in December 2005. One wonders what Kong will be like in this digital age. As one who found those Japanese stuntmen in lizard suits more convincing as Godzilla than the digital creature in the Hollywood remake, I have my misgivings. I expect it will be a box office success, but in my mind there is nothing bigger than the original Eighth Wonder of the World.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.29:1, near to the original 1.37:1. It is not 16x9 enhanced.

    This transfer is very disappointing, and yet it gives an impression what might be with a full restoration and quality source material. Despite the problems, it is still watchable. It looks as though original 35mm material was used in the mastering, but how many generations that was before this transfer is a moot point.

    There is a fair amount of detail to be seen in this transfer, but it could not be said to be sharp. I guess from the CEL logo that appears after the film that this transfer has been taken from a video master, and it certainly looks as if it has come from a video original. The image is a little fuzzy in true VHS style. Contrast levels are just adequate.

    This is a black and white film, but the transfer makes it look more like a very dark green and white film. There are no genuine blacks visible, nor are any of the whites pure.

    There are numerous artefacts on display. There seems to be some slight edge enhancement at times, and there is a patina of grain that makes the film look as if it was being seen through a thin sheet of muslin. There are also what appear to be analogue video tracking errors, with a severe one at 25:57 that makes the top half of the frame look like a barcode, and a less severe one at 29:44.

    Every film artefact you can think of is here. There are scratches, white flecks, dirt, splice marks (52:48), reel change markings (17:50 and 36:54), occasional missing frames and so on.

    No subtitles are provided on this single-layered disc.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The sole audio track is English MPEG 2.0 mono.

    Like the video transfer, the audio afforded to this release just makes me long for a full restoration. Dialogue is clear and there is a reasonable amount of bass present to give it some depth. However, the bass has been overdone so that dialogue has an audible thump to it.

    There are sequences where during the quiet passages there is an electronic hum, similar to phono hum. This occurs during most of the first half of the film.

    Apart from this, there is constant audible hiss, with crackling, the occasional pop and a lot of brief dropouts.

    The inspired music score is by Max Steiner, best known for Gone With the Wind, but this is arguably even finer. It includes leitmotivs, such as the Kong theme, tribal themes and drums woven into a complex and multi-layered texture that is discernable despite the limited sound quality, and never seems out of place even when underscoring dialogue. This is one of the best scores you will ever hear and is deserving of an isolated music track.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is not a single extra to be seen. Perhaps Kong ate them all. There are chapter selections, about half of which are noted on the inside of the slick, but even then the title of chapter 5 is incorrect.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This film does not appear to be available in Region 1 at present.

    The UK Region 2 release is a re-release of the 1993 "60th Anniversary" VHS edition, using a restored 1971 print of the film. It includes a half-hour "making of" documentary and some text notes.

    There are two releases available in Brazil, one of which is taken from a colourised VHS tape and the other is a bootleg of a laserdisc edition. I could not recommend either of these.

    There are two Region 2 editions from Spain, one of which is black and white and the other colourised.

    There is a Region 3 release available from Korea, which seems to be taken from a laserdisc release. So is the Hong Kong Region 3, which has some hilarious misspellings and poor grammar on the slick.

    I would have to recommend the UK Region 2 as the best edition of this film at present, though hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will get the Warners Special Edition.

Summary

    A great film, one of the best monster films ever made, and deserving of full special edition treatment. This is not it. Still, this release is very inexpensive, so if you are desperate to see it and can't wait...

    The video quality is poor.

    The audio quality is poor.

    No extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, October 23, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Wait until 2005. -
Give me the restoration or give me nothing! -
re: give me... -
King Kong disc - wolfgirv REPLY POSTED
Good enough. -
The UK region 2 release. -
Magna-ficent DVD - Sing Song
King Kong 1933 SE Extra Subs - AndAlf
King Kong 1933 SE Extra Subs - Steven Cameron (read my bio)