When Kong: Skull Island opened the American Film Institute commemorated this by posting a gif of the airplane attack from the 1933 film King Kong on their Facebook Page.
I don’t say “the original” King Kong because this film does not purport to be nor is it a remake of the 1933 classic. Unlike the 1976 and 2005 remakes, the only thing that resembles the original is the idea of an adventurer of sorts leading an expedition to an uncharted island where there might be something never before seen by man. And while Kong has its issues, let me tell you why this film actually works.
One thing that drew my attention to the Facebook post was that in their headline they noted that it is listed as their #4 Fantasy film. I took pause for a moment to think about that fact. King Kong never struck me as a fantasy film in the direct sense of the word.
I looked at it the same way you might look at the horror of Frankenstein’s monster. The misunderstood creature on a misunderstood rampage when taken from its home. Or like the sci-fi creature that should not exist in our reality. In the long run, these are all can be considered part of the all-encompassing idea of the fantasy genre, but this Facebook posting reminded me of an underlying theme. In the 1933, 1976, and 2005 versions is that Kong is “the Beast” and there is a “Beauty” that wins over his heart (as Disney called it, the tale as old as time). The stuff of fairy tales turns to a grim overtone to the all the film’s finales – stated best at the end of the original – “twas beauty that killed the beast”.
The filmmakers in the retelling of the classic pull the audience’s heartstrings not by the overall adventure, but at various time reminding the audience that they were watching a modern retelling of a classic fairytale.
However, with Kong: Skull Island the filmmakers say “twas this film that killed the idea of Kong being a fairy tale”. This is most definitely a horror film. A monster’s rampage that doesn’t start when taken from his home, but when his home is invaded and threatened. The monster is on the defense, not offense.
In the original, the creature is an anti-hero, causing destruction, but not by any direct intent of malice. He’s simply trying to find his “beauty” in an unknown jungle. Here Kong is the hero, the creature that protects his land and in the end those that deserve to be protected. A giant monster on a quest against other monsters.
In the end, the reason this film has issues is what we actually have here is an origin story of a superhero (another tale old as time), and origin stories are hard to tell since the really are mostly establishing what kind of hero and heroic flaws will show through as we get to know. Here we have the origin of a new version of a well-known creature that will probably return to not just save his island, but to save us all. From…?
Roll end credits.
I would have recommended seeing it in Dolby Cinema – Kong stomp, floor shakes – but it was actually knock out of Dolby Cinema by Disney’s live retelling of – Beauty and the Beast!