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Last Updated: Monday, 5 December 2005, 08:12 GMT
The enduring appeal of King Kong
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News

King Kong still (1933)
The original Kong was a ground-breaking movie
As Peter Jackson's new version of King Kong receives its world premiere on Monday, the BBC News website looks at the lasting legacy of the original film.

King Kong has become one of the most enduring monster films of all time - not bad for a picture made 72 years ago, starring an 18-inch model ape.

Co-directed by the maverick film-makers Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack, it was made decades before the computer-generated special effects seen in contemporary fantasy films.

The tale of a gigantic ape who falls for a beautiful woman was partly shot using the stop motion technique - where Kong and dinosaur miniatures were moved an infinitesimal amount, shot, moved again, re-shot, moved again...

'Absolutely staggering'

The revolutionary but painstaking technique thrilled 1933 cinemagoers.

And its effect - even in these days of computer-generated epics - has not lessened.

Documentary maker and film historian Kevin Brownlow, who has made a film about Cooper, says King Kong was an "absolutely staggering" film on its 1933 release.

King Kong
King Kong has thrilled cinemagoers since the 1930s

"People hadn't seen anything like it," he says.

"A lot of people have called it the greatest picture they have ever seen, like Ray Harryhausen, who spent the rest of his life using the same techniques as King Kong's."

Nick Setchfield, features editor of SFX magazine, says that at its heart, King Kong is a "really primal tale of adventure".

"It's a tale of going after the unknown, and finding something very big and very scary and very, very hairy."

It's a tale with an enduring effect.

Decades after its release, King Kong, made a huge impact on a certain nine-year-old boy, watching it on TV in Pukerua Bay, a tiny coastal village near Wellington, New Zealand.

Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson - that nine-year-old boy in question - has long regarded the 1933 film as his biggest inspiration to be a film-maker.

'Labour of love'

As a teenager he tried to make his own low-budget version of it, and is said to have cut up his mother's fur coat to help make the miniature model. Making his own version of Kong became a pet project.

Peter Jackson
Will Jackson pick up an Oscar for Kong?

King Kong had already been remade, but the 1976 version, starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange, is seen as a lacklustre effort.

After his Lord of the Rings success, Jackson persuaded film studio United International Pictures (UIP) that he could do justice to the great ape.

But Kong has been anything but a cheap shoot.

In the red

The original budget of $150m (87.3m) proved too little; UIP raised it again to $175m (101m) but that again proved to be optimistic.

Kong's final budget ended up as $207m (120m) - and Jackson and his production company shared a fine for taking the ape's tale into the red.

But can it thrill modern audiences like the original did?

"It's difficult for the new film to have anything close to the initial reaction that the original Kong had just because audiences have higher expectations and are more savvy these days," says Empire magazine's features editor Ian Freer.

dinosaur in King Kong
This Kong's dinosaurs are computer-generated foes

And both Mr Freer and Mr Setchfield dismiss critics who say the film is merely an indulgence by its director.

"Jackson wanted to remake Kong because it's a real labour of love," says Mr Freer.

"I don't think it is a vanity project," adds Mr Setchfield.

"It's probably Jackson working out an obsession, albeit on a scale grand enough to make the studio suits nervous."

"But King Kong is being done for love, and that's worth championing."

Peter Jackson's King Kong is released in the US on 14 December and in the UK the following day.


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