King Kong is one of those movies that, like Casablanca, has far exceeded even its creators’ expectations for longevity. The fact that, 70-plus years after its debut, its first release on DVD is big news should give some idea how this modest little monster movie turned into something more than what the filmmakers thought they were putting into it. In short, by overcoming the technical obstacles that stood in the way of it getting made, the creators of King Kong wound up inventing the special effects industry, sound effects editing and the modern concept of the motion picture musical score.
At this point, reviewing the movie itself is kind of like reviewing sex. It’s been around long enough that people have a pretty good idea whether or not they like it.
What is worthy of comment is R.K.O. Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World, the mammoth documentary found on the DVD and Blur-ray. This look back at the making of this landmark movie, which clocks in at an hour longer than the movie itself, was produced with help of filmmaker Peter Jackson, who is currently working on his own remake of King Kong. Not only did he appear in documentary, along with most of the special effects industry, he and his special effects wizards at WETA Digital also contributed remarkably to our understanding of how this film was made.
Because no behind the scenes photos or film was shot of stop-motion animation and visual effects pioneer Willis H. O’Brien as he worked on Kong, there was nothing visual to include in that portion of this documentary. Jackson and the WETA team took the remarkable step of attempting to recreate some footage from the film using the techniques of the day. This including building an (almost) exact duplicate of the original Kong puppet and filming with vintage cameras from the thirties. For special effects artists trained on computer graphics, this trip back to 1932 was a real eye-opener.
Jackson and crew went one step further. Working from the shooting script and surviving drawings and photos, they painstakingly attempted to recreate the legendary lost “Spider Pit” sequence from the film. Given the spotty information available, the fidelity of their version to the original will always be doubtful but it is still an admirable display of their love and dedication for this film. And, if nothing else, they’ve also created what is probably the world’s most expensive and high-tech fan film.
Still, to put forward a not-trivial amount of effort while still working on their $200 million remake, and to do it for a rival studio, this shows a passion and love of film history that genuinely deserves applause.
I’m not going to waste your time telling you what you can learn by watching this remarkable documentary yourself. I will say that, as a DVD extra, this has, in my mind, knocked the previous champions off their throne, those being the mountains of supplements on Jackson’s own Lord of the Rings extended editions. Those are still first class extras, but for its contribution to our understanding of film history and King Kong‘s contribution to it, R.K.O. Production 601 is in a league of its own.
And when I was a kid watching this on a Saturday afternoon movie, I thought King Kong was just a cool monster movie. I guess it’s that, too.