There’s a very significant difference between all the big-screen King Kongs we’ve seen since Peter Jackson‘s 2005 disappointment and Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien‘s classic, stop-motion, herky-jerky version.
I’m not saying that Jackson and the others made the right or the wrong call in the fashioning of their Kongs, but here’s the thing:
Cooper’s Kong didn’t look like any gorilla, chimp or orangutan that had ever walked the earth. He was something between a prehistoric hybrid and an imaginary monster of the id…a raging nightmare beast designed to scare the bejeesus out of 1933 moviegoers.
O’Brien, the legendary stop-motion phtography pioneer, used three slightly different-looking Kong models during filming, but for me the master stroke was deciding to give his Kong a set of gleaming white teeth and a pair of very bright white eyes.
In some of the darker shots of Kong in the 1933 film those teeth and those eyes just pop right out, and the effect is still primal as hell. Those white eyes and black pupils look so fierce and almost demonic…contrasting as they do with that black bear fur that Kong was covered in…that they almost give you the willies, even now.
There’s no such aura with all the National Geographic Kongs we’ve seen this century. The realism element is awesome but the spook factor is nil. In going for anthropological realism Jackson and the others threw out that creepy, better-than-reality, only-in-the-movies element that gives the 1933 film a serious-nightmare quality.