King Kong (1933) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
Numbers, King Kong was at the top of the box office in 1933 and grossed
$10 million in the USA. Tickets used to cost 25 cents in
those days, so 40 million people paid to see it, equivalent
to about $250 million in ticket sales at today's average price.
However, it must be noted that the
population of the United States was only 125 million at that
time, so Kong was seen by about one person out of every
three. Extrapolating the percentage to the current population
of 295 million would result in 94 million tickets, or about $600 million at
today's ticket prices, competitive with Titanic! At the time
of its theatrical run, per The Numbers, Kong was among the top four
grossers of all time, exceeded only by Frankenstein ($12M), The Big
Parade ($11M), and Tom Sawyer ($11M). All of those films were very
strong performers. Frankenstein's $12 million would continue to hold
the record for a non-animated film until 1941, when Sergeant York took
the crown. Kong's 1933 total was as high as the 1948 champion! Because
its costs were not exceptionally high, Kong was highly profitable for
its studio. The Konger's
budget was a modest $600,000 - equivalent to about nine
million dollars today, per the
U.S. Government database.
It also receives 100% positive reviews at IMDb, and the online comments about this film look approximately like the comments about Jesus at an agape.
So is it truly a great movie, to provoke such enthusiasm? No, not at all.
It was a major cultural event and a great technical achievement in 1933 (maybe - see the Variety review below), but there's nothing worthwhile watching today unless you are studying the history of filmmaking. Historically, it is extremely important, as important as Citizen Kane or Birth of a Nation. The film includes iconography that has become integral to the history of film as a medium, and everyone who loves movies can picture Kong atop the Empire State Building, or holding Fay Wray in his hands.
Although King Kong is historically important, it is very tedious work to watch the film today, a task roughly equivalent to reading Moby Dick in order to study the history of the American novel - necessary, but not pleasurable.
As for the plot and editing - they often make no sense at all. I used to find this movie confusing and lacking in credibility when I was ten. First of all, when the ship arrives at an isolated, legendary island - it turns out that the captain can speak their isolated, legendary language. I suppose he took a legendary language minor at the Merchant Marine Academy, and I suppose he can speak every language in the world, since nobody knew in advance which language the natives would speak, or even if the island really existed at all. Then, the film simply skips over the problems of how the men got Kong on the ship, how they shackled him, and how they fed him on the trip back. One minute the giant Kong is prostrate on an island, then the next minute he has a one-ape show on Broadway in the next theater down from Jolson. Oh, yeah, then when he gets loose in New York, one of the world's most populous cities, he manages to find Fay Wray within minutes.
You know what is truly amazing to me about the critical comments about this movie? On a scale of 1 to 100, it's approximately a 10. Taken out of its historical context, it is not just a bad movie, but an abomination, one of the worst films you will ever see, maybe the worst unless you specifically make an effort to see bad movies. It is difficult to find even one good thing to say about the film - and yet the reviews are 100% positive! Talk about the ultimate Naked Emperor! To be brutally honest, you could get together with your friends, write a better script, and do better F/X on your PC. Moreover, you and your friends would probably be better actors than the people in this film, unless you hang around with Tom Green.
The new two-disk DVD, however, is tremendous. The original version of the film is now available, with all the censored scenes worked back into the film. Well, to be completely honest, it's almost the original version. The deleted/censored material is now fully restored except for the lost "spider sequence," which is covered in detail in a separate documentary. That gruesome sequence was shown only on opening night, and was subsequently deleted by the director himself.
The DVD even includes a commentary track by dead people - like the director and Fay Wray! Clever how they did that, although the director sounds like he's on an old-time 78 recording of a man shouting into a canyon! In addition to the two hours of film with the optional commentary track, there is another two and a half hours of documentary material about the movie, and yet another documentary on director Merian C. Cooper, who was as colorful a character as the Carl Denham character in the movie. Cooper not only wrote and directed, but even flew the plane that shot Kong off the Empire State Building!
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