85 Years After Cinematic Debut, ‘Kong' Is Still King

“Kong: Skull Island” extends the reign of cinema's most compelling non-speaking, non-human character

The original 1933 version of "King Kong" ends with the classic, if often misquoted line, "It was Beauty killed the Beast."

Invoked verbatim or otherwise, the capper is a bit of a misnomer – giving too much credit to Beauty and sadly underestimating the so-called Beast.

Nearly 85 years after his cinematic debut, Kong still reigns as moviedom's most compelling non-speaking, non-human character. He roars back to life with Friday's release of “Kong: Skull Island” – the latest and perhaps biggest test yet of his legend.

For all his size and strength, much of Kong's appeal as a misunderstood anti-hero rests in his deep-set simian eyes, by turns angry, haunted and even loving. The range of emotions never proved more effective than in his debut, rendered with stop-motion effects ahead of their time, though primitive compared to today’s CGI technology.

Kong’s inability to speak the language of the humans out to exploit him helps make him a figure of empathy onto whom movie audience project their own feelings and larger notions. The Kong story has been pegged as metaphor, variously, for race, colonization and environmental crimes, depending on the times and the film.

But the enduring essence of Kong’s relatability is that no one will leave him alone in his own domain – a fate ingrained deep in cinematic history, along with the retired Old West gunslinger everybody wants a last shot at.

In “Skull Island,” set in 1973, Kong appears on tap to get some help (his human co-stars include Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman) as he battles to save his kingdom from a bevy of scary monsters. The movie, with a reported $190 million budget, arrives a week ahead of perhaps more frightening competition: Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” a very different take on a tale as old as time.

He's survived falls from skyscrapers, clashes with Godzilla and some lackluster movies. Kong’s resilience rules. That's a thing of wonder and beauty, lending the beast big-screen immortality no sequel can ever kill.

Jere Hester is Director of News Products and Projects at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.

Copyright FREEL - NBC Local Media
Contact Us