Rod Eaton "Special Effects"
from Super-8 Filmaker (1976).
"A Tale of Two Kongs"
|"By this time,
most of the world has seen Dino De Laurentiis' 24 million dollar remake
of King Kong. Many people have also read the 24 million words written
about the film. The press had a great time detailing the legal battle
between Paramount (who released the film) and Universal Studios, who has
also planned a remake of Kong. The mammoth budget--3 million
dollars spent on Kong in his various forms, 4 million on sets and special
effects, $30,000 for pencils, pens and office supplies--also caused heated
debate. For that kind of money, a few speculated, it might be possible
to breed a real 40-foot ape and put him through college.
"Comparisons to the original 1933 King Kong are inevitable, especially since the remake closely follows the original story. A considerable cult has grown around the original Kong and its creators, especially the man responsible for animating the 18-inch model of Kong, Willis O'Brien. When it was learned that De Laurentiis planned to use a full-size mechanical Kong supplemented by a man in a monkey suit (instead of animation), Kong devotees reacted with disgust. To them, a remake of Kong without animation was a travesty verging on sacrilege. There was no way the remake could be as good as the original.
"Many reviewers of the new Kong seem to agree, but all praise the special effects wizardry in the new version. De Laurentiis feels that, given enough time and money, there is nothing that cannot be brought to film using today's filmmaking technology. His King Kong certainly substantiates that belief: the effects work is stupendous.
"Although much has been said about the 42-foot tall mechanical Kong constructed for the film, in reality this hydraulically controlled creature was used in very few scenes. The majority of Kong's actions were portrayed by make-up artist Rick Baker wearing an ingeniously crafted Kong costume. The basic suit had six interchangeable heads, each capable of several emotions controlled remotely by men pulling wires attached to facial features. In addition to the suited Baker, full-size operable hands and arms were used for scenes with Jessica Lange. The various components of a shot--full-size arms, Baker in "miniature" Kong suit--were composited through a blue screen matte process improved for this production. In many cases, two identical sets were needed--the full-scale set in which the human actors worked and a scaled down set in which Kong was filmed. Frequently, a sequence involved cutting between miniature and full-scale sets, Baker in costume, and the full-size Kong. All of this was so skillfully blended in the final cut that it's impossible to detect flaws--you are rarely sure which version of Kong you're seeing. The result is total suspension of disbelief; Kong becomes real, the story convincing.
"It's difficult for me to watch a film, no matter how good, and not be aware of the technical aspects of its production. This is a fate that befalls every filmmaker as he learns to understand the art. My wife accuses me of spoiling the magic for her by explaining the ways in which things are done. The point of this is, I find it difficult to look at the original King Kong without seeing the rather poor (by today's standards) rear-screen work and the shaky mattes. I consider the original Kong a marvelous period film, a classic of stop-motion animation and a pure delight. The film was a tremendous achievement for its time.
"To compare the original Kong to the new version, however, seems senseless. Over 40 years of motion picture technology separate the two. In early 1930, animation was the only way to bring a fantasy creature like Kong to life; in the middle 1970s that is no longer true. The question isn't whether an animated Kong is somehow superior, intellectually, artistically or aesthetically, to a man in a suit. The question is does the final result of whatever method used work to create a believable film. In the case of the new King Kong, I think the answer is yes.
"The new version is not only believable, it also makes Kong a more interesting, and therefore more sympathetic character. His relationship with Dwan is more fully developed than in the 1933 version. Particularly effective is the bathing scene where Kong blows Dwan dry. Scenes like this build sympathy for Kong so that in the final scenes the audience shares Dwan's anguish over Kong's inevitable death.
"It is virtually impossible for me as an independent filmmaker to relate to a 24-million dollar budget (I have all I can handle relating to the $30,000 spent on pencils). Also, since the matte techniques employed in Kong aren't possible in Super-8, it's difficult to do more than appreciate the special effects work in the film. Nevertheless, there are things to be learned from De Laurentiis' remake.
"The most important point, and one I have made in the past, is not to let special effects dictate the film. Instead, the film should dictate the special effects."
And thanks to Tom Harteis for bringing to our attention this modern review:
from Rating the Movies for
Home Video, TV, and cable.
by the editors of Consumer Guide and Jay A. Brown.
|Kong still reins as King in this 24-million dollar retread of the 1933 classic. The lavish De Laurentiis production is substantially faithful in spirit and imagery to this enduring fantasy of beauty and the beast. In fact, the update contains noticeable improvements: superb special effects, richer characters, and a polished contemporary script. It's old-time movie magic that's intimate, amusing, sentimental, adventuresome, and marvelous fun all the way."|