King Kong - Appearances and Abilities

Appearances and Abilities

In his first appearance in King Kong (1933), Kong was a gigantic prehistoric ape, or as RKO's publicity materials described him, "A prehistoric type of ape." While gorilla-like in appearance, he had a vaguely humanoid look and at times walked upright in an anthropomorphic manner. Indeed, Carl Denham describes him as being "neither beast nor man". Like most simians, Kong possess semi-human intelligence and great physical strength. Kong's size changes drastically throughout the course of the film. While creator Merian C. Cooper envisioned Kong as being "40 to 50 feet tall", animator Willis O'Brien and his crew built the models and sets scaling Kong to be only 18 feet tall on Skull Island, and rescaled to be 24 feet tall in New York. This did not stop Cooper from playing around with Kong's size as he directed the special effect sequences; by manipulating the sizes of the miniatures and the camera angles, he made Kong appear a lot larger than O'Brien wanted, even as large as 60 feet in some scenes. Concurrently, the Kong bust made for the film was built in scale with a 40-foot ape, while the full sized hand of Kong was built in scale with a 70 foot ape. Meanwhile, RKO's promotional materials listed Kong's official height as 50 feet.

In the 1960s, Toho licensed the character from RKO for the films King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes. For more details on the Toho Kong see below.

In 1975, Producer Dino De Laurentiis paid RKO for the remake rights to King Kong. This resulted in King Kong (1976). This Kong was an upright walking anthropomorphic ape, appearing even more human-like than the original. Also like the original, this Kong had semi-human intelligence and vast strength. In the 1976 film, Kong was scaled to be 42 feet tall on Skull island and rescaled to be 55 feet tall in New York. 10 years later, DDL received permission from Universal to do a sequel, King Kong Lives. Kong more or less had the same appearance and abilities, only he tended to walk on his knuckles more often and was enlarged, being scaled to be 60 feet.

Universal Studios had planned to do a King Kong remake as far back as 1976. They finally followed through almost 30 years later, with a three-hour film directed by Peter Jackson. Jackson opted to make Kong a gigantic silverback gorilla without any anthropomorphic features. Kong looked and behaved more like a real gorilla: he had a large herbivore's belly, walked on his knuckles without any upright posture, and even beat his chest with his palms as opposed to clenched fists. In order to ground his Kong in realism, Jackson and the Weta Digital crew gave a name to his fictitious species, Megaprimatus kong, which was said to have evolved from the Gigantopithecus. Kong was the last of his kind. He was portrayed in the film as being quite old with graying fur, and battle-worn with scars, wounds, and a crooked jaw from his many fights against rival creatures. He is the most dominant being on the island; the king of his world. Like his predecessors, he possesses considerable intelligence and great physical strength; he also appears far more nimble and agile. This Kong was scaled to be only 25 feet tall on both Skull Island and in New York.

Jackson describes his central character: “We assumed that Kong is the last surviving member of his species. He had a mother and a father and maybe brothers and sisters, but they’re dead. He’s the last of the huge gorillas that live on Skull Island, and the last one when he goes...there will be no more. He’s a very lonely creature, absolutely solitary. It must be one of the loneliest existences you could ever possibly imagine. Every day, he has to battle for his survival against very formidable dinosaurs on the island, and it’s not easy for him. He’s carrying the scars of many former encounters with dinosaurs. I’m imagining he’s probably 100 to 120 years old by the time our story begins. And he has never felt a single bit of empathy for another living creature in his long life; it has been a brutal life that he’s lived.”

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