The Five Ages of King Kong


THE WOMAN A very blond Fay Wray, who has a place in film history thanks to this role and the terrifying screams she bellows when Kong first comes for her.

Photo

Kong making reptilian friends in 1962.

Credit
Universal Pictures

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

THE PLOT Ishiro Honda’s Japanese film from Toho tells parallel stories. In one, the head of a pharmaceutical company is looking to capture and use Kong for advertising. In the other story, a submarine crew hits an iceberg that had trapped Godzilla for several years. He breaks out, and he and Kong meet for an ultimate battle.

THE KONG This version features the man-in-a-gorilla-suit aesthetic frequently found in Toho’s kaiju, or monster, movies. The lame design makes this among the least convincing of Kong portrayals.

THE ERA The nuclear fears of the 1950s had paved the way for Godzilla, and those concerns are in evidence here. Mix that fear with what Kong has represented, and the chaos that follows elaborates on what happens when man tampers with nature.

THE WOMAN A passenger plucked by Kong from a train car and held hostage. But he mostly busies himself with fighting a giant octopus and, of course, Godzilla.

Photo

Kong and the love of his life, played by Jessica Lange, in 1976.

Credit
Paramount Pictures/Fotos International, via Getty Images

King Kong (1976)

THE PLOT An oil company executive (Charles Grodin) assembles a team to scope out a remote island that he believes to be rich in oil. It has a little oil but does have one giant gorilla. It spawned a not-as-successful sequel, “King Kong Lives,” in 1986.

THE KONG Also an ape-suit situation, but thanks to its design by the makeup specialist Rick Baker, the creature looks convincing. Multiple masks allow him to make an emotional connection with us.

THE ERA The nation was going through an energy crisis, and the film pointedly wags its finger at the idea of draining places of their natural resources for economic gain. It also updates the 1933 version by having Kong climb to the top of the World Trade Center’s twin towers, a bittersweet scene to watch now.

THE WOMAN Here it’s a very blond Jessica Lange, as an aspiring actress who takes part in some of the more sensual encounters to be found in a Kong movie as he falls hard for her. In one scene, he bathes her in a waterfall after she has wound up in the mud and dries her with his own deep breaths.

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Kong in 2005 with another reptile acquaintance and a very tiny Naomi Watts.

Credit
Weta Digital/Universal Studios

King Kong (2005)

THE PLOT Peter Jackson’s big-budget remake was set in the same year as the 1933 original, but this time the filmmaker Carl Denham is played by Jack Black, and he hires a vaudeville actress (Naomi Watts) to shoot a film on Skull Island.

THE KONG This is the most gorilla-like of the Kongs. The creature doesn’t walk upright but uses his long arms and legs to get around. He is given a human touch through the digital innovation of motion capture and a performance by Andy Serkis. It may take him three hours to get there in this version, but Kong does end up back atop the Empire State Building.

THE ERA Though it’s set in the same time as the original, this remake shows how much rich new ground was being broken in visual imagery. Kong’s effects were created by Weta Digital, the company that would also help turn James Cameron’s “Avatar” into a spectacle four years later.

THE WOMAN Naomi Watts as another blond actress with big career dreams. She also makes a connection with Kong.

Video

Trailer: ‘Kong: Skull Island’

A preview of the film.


By WARNER BROS. PICTURES on Publish Date March 6, 2017.


Photo by Warner Bros..

Watch in Times Video »

Kong: Skull Island

THE PLOT It’s 1973, and a secret organization called Monarch discovers a mysterious island. A crew goes there to investigate, and pretty soon there is stomping, chomping and helicopter smashing.

THE KONG A behemoth towering above the trees who can drop a human into his mouth like a Mentos mint. When we first meet him, he’s a menace.

THE ERA It’s set toward the end of the Vietnam War, and its imagery suggests a kind of “Apocalypse Now,” with a humongous gorilla. This is about the same time that the Landsat program, in which NASA mapped the earth from space, was starting, thus bringing closer to an end the possibility of discovering the unknown on our planet. It also touches on the climate concerns that were beginning to mount during the period.

THE WOMAN Brie Larson, a brown-haired war photographer who has had some difficult assignments, but none that would compare with this one. Her relationship with Kong is a tender if less romantic one than in some previous movies.

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