Skip to main content

'King Kong 1933' The Father of all Special Effects Films 15/10/2015

Fig 1 'King Kong 1933' Poster

This review will focus on how 'King Kong' was influenced by the films that came before it and how it has had an impact on films in later generations. It will also cover topics such as how 'King Kong' was designed, the detail that went into designing him and how other assets are displayed in the film, physically and symbolically.

 'King Kong' is a film that was released in 1933 and it was made by 'Merian C. Cooper' and 'Ernest B. Schoedsack'. The film was one of the first of its kind and is also known as "The father of "Jurassic Park," the "Alien" movies and countless other stories in which heros are terrified by skillful special effects." (Roger. Ebert 2002). It set the standard for future special effects films to come and when you look at some of the details really closely you can see that the team that designed 'King Kong' (Character) and the sets really pulled out all the stops in order to get the best quality product possible.

Fig 2 'King Kong' Log Scene
When the film was made 'King Kong' was described as "The Eighth Wonder of the World", a gigantic ape taller than homes and had enough strength to lift buildings, but the thing was 'King Kong' had never existed before. The artists needed to design 'King Kong' with little to no references, luckily for them their references would have been a lot closer than we think. We know as a species that we are very closely related to apes, so when doing the animation it was easy to see where the animators got their inspiration from. How 'King Kong' was animated though was a simple and genius concept, traditionally matte painting had only been used for backdrops so the team working on 'King Kong' did the animations with stop motion, then layer that over the original footage, giving the illusion that 'King Kong' was in the actual scene.

Fig 3 'King Kong' vs T-rex Concept Art

When actually designing the props/characters in 'King Kong' they had very little reference, for example the T-rex. No-one had ever seen a T-rex before, so the team had to come up with a design that you could straight away say "Oh look! A T-rex!". Using lizards as an reference they would be able to come up with some sort of design that looked like a T-rex and you could easily tell it was a reptile which was what the T-rex was. King Kong's design however was much different, they could have based King Kong off of humans but that would have taken away from the realism. Instead they decided to base the design off of a gorilla. The main reason being is that a Gorilla is big, black and brutal, attributes of something scary but it also had another not very well known design choice. During the time that this film was made Racism was quite a bit more controversial than it is today, some "coloured" people were seen as more of a threat than others. So having a Big black brute instead of a tall white giant would easily have been a lot more intimidating than most designs.

Fig 4 'King Kong' vs T-rex

'Ann Darrow' (Fay Wray) is also represented in a way which may be hard to spot but once you have seen it it is almost impossible to not see. Now as we know the film was made in the 1930s and another issue that was going around were the views on women, how they were treated and how they were viewed. In this case Ann is taken by King Kong as a sort of prize for his efforts and displays, now this could just be the generic theme carried over from 'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari' where Ceaser carries the women over rooftops to get away from danger, but there is on scene in the film that can heavily back up this theory. During the fight with the T-rex, 'King Kong' puts 'Ann Darrow' on a tree. This single shot almost portrays Ann as a trophy, a prize of some sort, for the T-rex it could be part of a meal and to King Kong it could be a companion or toy. Women in the 1930's were to some men objects and having this one show showing 'Ann Darrow' as some sort of prize heavily reinforces this theory, even when 'King Kong' fights the snake she is placed up high like a trophy again, as if she is something to be won but brute force and fighting which is how some women were obtained. A lot of women are attracted to stronger muscular men and having a man who can throw a punch well and win a fight is more likely to get a women rather than someone who is getting beat up all the time, in this case the T-rex being killed.

 Fig 5 'King Kong' 'Ann Darrow'

The team also must have put a lot of work when designing the animations behind 'King Kong', the reason is the way he acts can be related to apes and humans. In the scene where 'King Kong' kills the T-rex you can that using nothing but brute force he snaps its jaw then plays with it? There is a reason for this, we know we are related to apes and the best way that we both learn is through experimentation and playing. 'King Kong' moves the jaw around almost as if it were a three year old child playing with a toy, learning from playing and previous experience. "What may surprise you about the film is the richness of Kong's character, which is due to attention put into the special effects" (Almar Haflidason. 2001) Also the way he interacts with 'Anne Darrow' in some scenes is very interesting because he treats her almost as if she is a toy and how some men would have treated women in the 1930s. In a scene where 'Ann Darrow' and 'King Kong' are on a cliff 'King Kong' picks up 'Ann Darrow' and beings to tickle her. What happens next is very symbolic but was very controversial because of how it was shown, 'King Kong' rips some of 'Ann Darrow's'clothing making her more exposed each time to the point where she is almost naked. If that wasn't bad enough he then rubs her, sniffs his finger as if to pleasure himself. "Shortly before the Pteranodon tries to eat Anne, Kong sits down with her on the top of a mountain and takes a moment to look over his new toy in some depth. What made this scene unacceptable to the censors of later years is the fact that Kong tears of-- and sniffs-- most of Anne's clothing in the process of poking at her and fiddling with her to see how she works" (Scott Ashlin 2003-2015) Now whilst this scene was very "different" it did have some meaning behind it, 'King Kong' is this Big Black Brute and 'Ann Darrow' is this Beautiful Innocent woman, the two are almost like partners and will do thing to strengthen this bond, she gives the brute "pleasure and company" whilst 'King Kong' provides "protection". This fits in perfectly with the theory that was presents earlier, men would fight over the woman, but when someone else attempted to take 'Ann Darrow' away from 'King Kong' he lashed out violently, protecting his prize, his possession.

Fig 6 'King Kong' Chained Up

The last point to make is how King Kong is represented when he is brought to New York. He was a King his own world, free, powerful, was able to do whatever he wished. When is brought over to new York his is a prisoner, a slave for our amusement, our labour. What this scene shows is this big black brute being imprisoned for us to us, starting to get where this is going? Race enslavement was a big thing in the 1930s as was racism, what you then get is a perfect example of 'King Kong' being deceived by 'Ann Darrow' and then using him as a tool to do her bidding. In this one scene 'King Kong' is also shown what happen when he attempted to free himself from enslavement, he is met with a death penalty, being gunned down by teams of people. This would have been what happen when some races were enslaved in the 1930s, their masters bidding was not done so the slave must pay for it with his/her life.

Fig 7 'King Kong' Empire State Building Fight


Quote 1:

Almar Haflidason. (2001). King Kong. 


 Last accessed 15/10/2015.

Quote 2:

Roger Ebert. (2002). King Kong (1933). 


Last accessed 15/10/2015.

Quote 3

Scott Ashlin. (2003-2015). King Kong (1933).


Last accessed 15/10/2015.

Illustration Bilbography

Fig 2 'King Kong' Log Scene:

Fig 3 'King Kong' vs T-rex Concept Art:

Fig 4 'King Kong' vs T-rex:

Fig 5 'King Kong' 'Ann Darrow':

Fig 6 'King Kong' Chained Up:

Fig 7: 'King Kong' Empire State Building Fight:


  1. Another interesting review; you have discussed the main themes of the film in some depth :)

    Just be careful that you don't slip into 'chatty' writing - here for example

    '...starting to get where this is going?'

    Also, you don't need to rewrite the characters' full names every time, or put them in italics; so the first time you mention them you would use the full name, but thereafter, just the surname is enough.

    So for example, in the first instance,

    'Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) is also represented in a way which may be hard to spot...'

    but the second and subsequent times you mention her it would be,

    'During the fight with the T-rex, Kong puts Darrow on a tree.'

    In your in-text referencing, you only need the author's surname and the date, not the full name, so for example (Haflidason, 2001). You still need to have another look at the referencing guide for details of how your bibliography and illustrations list should be set out...see here -


Post a Comment