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King Kong: Thank God For The Snake

By Karel Segers

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John Guillermin directed two films that I enjoyed as a child: The Towering Inferno and King Kong.

I will forever remember the moment, age eleven, when I left the cinema after seeing King Kong die on the New York streets. I was devastated. Yet I wanted to go straight into the dark again to re-watch the movie. I loved it. Later I would see Peter Jackson’s version, and it didn’t affect me remotely as much. So I re-watched Jessica Lange (Dwan) and Jeff Bridges, to be reassured that the seventies will forever be the best movie decade ever.

THE BIG PICTURES

Guillermin worked in an industry full of big ideas, big people, and big money; everything was possible. And legendary producers such as Dino De Laurentiis made it possible. William Goldman wrote about that Hollywood in his book Adventures In The Screen Trade.

Coincidentally, days before Guillermin’s passing I watched his King Kong again with my son Baxter (10). The film has a PG rating, and Baxter loves adventure stories with a few scares, so it seemed a perfect fit.

He enjoys the picture, and up until the mid point I still find it entertaining, too … but ultimately dated. I’m also surprised that Guillermin doesn’t always maximise on cinematic opportunities, in particular in terms of suspense. My ideal of the perfect movie starts to crumple.

THE CURSE OF MEGA MONKEY

Then, under a loud action score, we wait until Kong storms out of the jungle, towards the wall behind which Jessica Lange is tied up. Interesting choice… Why didn’t Guillermin use silence as a tool of suspense, instead of the barely dramatic score? (Spielberg - who had been considered as a director for King Kong - did this so perfectly with the goat scene in Jurassic Park.)

Next follows the movie moment that makes me see this picture in a new light altogether…

Dwan is taken by the ape, and after some carnal cat-and-mouse, she rolls into a mud puddle. Now, Kong tries to take her top off. You’ve read that correctly: the giant ape makes several attempts - the last one temporarily successful - to expose Jessica’s breasts. How could I have possibly forgotten this scene?

I’m sitting here, with my 10-year-old, contemplating the meaning of “PG”.

THANK GOD FOR THE SNAKE

I’m also contemplating how Lange is struggling to deliver anything resembling a performance. Given the caliber of the script at this point, she does a pretty stellar job, though.

The scene seems to last an eternity, until - thank God - out of nowhere slithers Giant Snake. Frankly, at this point I would have been happy even if the filmmakers had sent in Godzilla.

The remainder of the film is okay, though bloody at times. We enjoyed the New York sequence, in which my son asked me a few times if we were looking at miniatures. The effects were spectacular for the time, but today, a ten year-old sees through the tricks.

Before our next family viewing, perhaps I should check The Towering Inferno.

Just making sure things didn’t get too hot.

About Karel Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplay at age 17. Today he is a story analyst, script editor and producer with experience in rights acquisition, script development and production. His screenwriting classes have trained writers in Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and his clients include international award-winning filmmakers as well as three Academy Award nominees. Karel is the founder of The Story Department and Logline.it!, and he ranks in the world's Top 10 of most influential people for screenwriting on Twitter.

 

Screenwriting Article by Karel Segers

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