News for Mar. 29, 2005

The Spirit of Kong: Legacies and Horizons

3/29/05, 2:00 pm EST - Xoanon

Atomicmutant writes: As we all look forward to the release of Kong 2005, these boards are full of speculation and discussion about how the new Kong will honor the original. Will Kong look like 1933? Should he? Will this scene, or that be replicated? Will there be a spider scene? These discussions caused me to think about Kong in a larger context and to begin to examine the legacy that brought us all here in the first place (and as you'll see, yes, I'm also talking about LOTR and Peter Jackson fans). So here are some musings about the legacy of Kong that hopefully in some ways illuminate my thoughts beyond a simple paean to dinosaurs, jungles, and giant apes.

One day, some few years before the fateful year of 1933, a spirit was born. A spirit of adventure, of fantasy, of wonder. Somewhere in the collective imaginations of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, Kong was born. The spirit infused them, and fired the imaginations of a creative team led by Willis O’Brien, devoted to bringing the spirit to life, through the 24 frame per second illusion of motion picture film. Their vision, their craft, their combined abilities, collected together in a film that launched the spirit upon an unsuspecting populace. A film filled with wonder, and music, and exotic imagination the likes of which had not been collectively experienced before.

That spirit, once woven into the film, poured out of projectors across the depression-riddled land and infused an unsuspecting public with itself. It entertained, it thrilled, it lifted, and moved millions. And most importantly, it concentrated in, and inspired a new generation of visionaries, dreamers, and doers. And so creative minds, the likes of Ray Harryhausen, and Ray Bradbury, and Forrest Ackerman, staggered out of Grauman's Chinese Theatre into the California sun, irrevocably changed. They seized the spirit, and, lifted by it, began their enterprises to spread the word and the feeling of wonder that it embodied. They set to work, and they created, and they promoted, and they wrote, and continued the legacy.

You see, the legacy of Kong is one of dreams and wonder, but also one of a pioneering dedication to craftsmanship and creation. It’s not just about the adventure and the fantasy, but about the fact that it was even possible to create and present such an improbable thing. Kong is, and is about, doing and creating, exploring, and dreams made real. The films of Ray Harryhausen bore the torch for this style of film and illusion for many years, and continually astonished viewers young and old with the wizardry and breathless storytelling of ancient myth and legend given substance. Those visions and achievements reached out to many more, and the spirit grew.

The spirit sadly had only a balcony seat at the 1976 King Kong remake. The creators there chose to ignore the legacy, and in an attempt to forge a new paradigm, missed the point entirely. But there were others waiting to catch the fire. Lucas, Spielberg, and their armies of visual magicians, seized the legacy and supercharged it. Their youthful visions of wondrous places and endless fantasies inspired by Kong and Sinbad, and Jason, were now transformed into kinetic sound and colorplay that Cooper and Schoedsack would have been giddy with.

Something about seeing Kong when still young, allows the spirit to overtake in ways that motivate and inspire beyond simple reverence. The creative world today is teeming with people inspired to create by this film experience. The visual effects world in particular bears its unmistakable stamp.

These armies of visual artists multiplied, and their desire to create, and animate and realize worlds unseen fed a new breed of storytelling. In this way, all the creatures, and spaceships, and fantastic makeups, and memorable music, all harken to the sprirt of Kong and the wonder it embodies. Rancors and Robots, Cave Trolls and Spider-Men, Aliens and Cloned Dinosaurs, are all children of the spirit.

And now the spirit has made a trans-oceanic journey, close to the home of Skull Island where it began, and is being made anew for a new generation. The respect, the love, the dedication to that spirit are what seem to propel this new production, and should give us the clue that this new incarnation will honor the legacy. Not honor, in the sense of reverence and devotion, but honor in the sense of pioneering vision. New worlds and creatures are there to be created, in the sprit, not the literal recreation of the original. New techniques and craftsmanship brought to bear, new visual and audio languages, all carrying the spirit of the original to a new place, for a new generation.

The compelling thing about this legacy is the dedication to sheer entertainment, brought to life through devoted and talented craft. The original Kong stands as a landmark of cinema not just for itself intrinsically, but for what it launched; worlds of wonder and imagination, still growing in scope and presentation to this day. Enjoying Kong as a fantasy escape, or a paragon of collaborative craftsmanship, opens our minds to what can either be experienced, created, or both--by any of us.