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Foundation Degree Media_ Production and Design_ Year 2

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					               Foundation Degree: Media, Production and Design, Year 2
                            Contextual Reading of a Film




                           “The Eighth Wonder of the World!”

                                       By Anthony Reid

Academy Award-winning director Peter Jackson of New Zealand first fell in love
with the story of King Kong 37 years ago when he was just 9 years old, Jackson “cites
the vision of Kong, lying dead on 34th street, as his inspiration to make movies”1.
With the “gargantuan success of Lord of the Rings behind him, Jackson has fulfilled
his life-long ambition by bringing the mighty Kong to the screen”2 once again. He
says “The original Kong to me is just a wonderful piece of escapist entertainment”
and that “it was the moment in time when I really wanted to do special effects and
ultimately become a director”3
        Jackson says “I‟ve wanted to make this movie for a long, long time. I‟ve had
images and ideas in my head for years and years”4, which may explain why some
have shunned the movie for being too experimental and not adhering to the well loved
original story line.
        The movie stars Naomi Watts who Jackson says “was our first and only choice
for the role of Anne”5, alongside Jack Black as troubled film-maker Carl Denham and
Adrien Brody as popular playwright Jack Driscoll.
        With a “sky-high budget of $207 million”6 it was, at the time, the most
expensive film ever made. “Peter Jackson was paid $20 million to direct the movie,
the highest salary ever paid to a director in advance of shooting”7. Written by Edgar
Wallace and Merian Cooper the film opens in 1933‟s New York City. (Scene 1)




1
  Grey, Dinah. “King Kong”, www. Tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/film/reviews/king_kong/2.htm, 2/1/08
2
  Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
3
  Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
4
  Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
5
  Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
6
  Grey, Dinah. “King Kong”, www. Tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/film/reviews/king_kong/2.htm, 2/1/08
7
  www.imdb.com/title/tt0360717.html, 3/1/08
       This was the darkest year of the depression following the stock market crash
of 1929. A million and a half unemployed in New York alone, mass evictions led to
shanty towns being erected, known as „Hoovervilles‟ in reference to the president at
the time, times were so hard even the soup kitchen charities were bankrupt. This
setting was the backdrop for the introduction of Anne Darrow, a struggling
Vaudeville actress who was, like all of her colleagues, as poor as everyone else. The
Vaudeville theatres were in the process of being converted into movie theatres hence
in scene 3 of the film Anne turns up to work to find the theatre has closed down.




Denham is speaking to his assistant (played by Tom Hank‟s son Colin) in a car trying
to decide which actress they can use for their latest picture, Carl says “Fay‟s a size
four” to which Preston replies “Yes but she‟s doing another movie with RKO”, Fay
was the name of the actress in the original Kong and RKO was the studio that made it.
In a shot directly taken from the 1933 original Anne is caught stealing an apple, when
she is unable to pay Carl Denham comes to her rescue. He goes on to pitch the movie
idea to her and she signs on after learning her favourite playwright (Driscoll) is
involved (Scene 6).




They board the SS Venture, captained by Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann)...
…and set off on their voyage with Denham the only one who knows their true
destination. For these shots there was a real vessel bought and converted, a full size
set in a parking lot behind the studios in Wellington, a 12th scale, extremely detailed
miniature model and a GCI double. During the journey Driscoll and Anne slowly fall
in love, with scenes taken directly from the original such as Anne‟s and co-star
Bruce‟s dialogue scene (scene 17). Eventually, shrouded in fog, the ship crashes
ashore on Skull Island (scene 22). Carl and his production crew and cast set off on an
expedition ashore…




…where they are attacked by viscous natives. Vicky Haughton, who plays the
frightening matriarch Witch Doctor had to spend six hours in make-up each morning
and receives less than two minutes screen time. Two of the party are killed. As Anne
screams a roar is heard responding from behind the massive wall that forms a
perimeter around the island. Kong‟s roar was made by playing a Lion‟s roar
backwards. Englehorn and his men save the party and return them to the damaged
ship.
        Anne is kidnapped by the natives (scene 25), and is offered to Kong in a ritual
sacrifice, Englehorn‟s new rescue party reaches the site too late to help her but
Denham catches a glimpse of the enormous creature that has taken her (Scene 26).




The WETA Workshop and WETA Digital departments worked feverishly for two
years to bring Kong to life. He was played by Andy Serkis (who also played the ships
cook „Lumpy‟), Andy “studied gorillas in the mountains and tracked a group of them
in Rwanda for a few weeks”8, in order to be able to mimic their movements and
behaviour, he “also developed a close relationship with a female gorilla called „Zaire‟
at a London zoo”9.
        Jackson states “The movie was ultimately going to live or die on whether you
believed in Kong”, and whether his performance enabled you to “Suspend your
disbelief”10. Many ultimately thought the impressiveness of Kong, who stole the show,
coincidently highlighted the lack of believability in the human characters.
        WETA is “a movie studio of its own, everything that needs to be done for live
action is also done”11 there. Their work “encompasses anything you can think of”12,
“all that doesn‟t exist or is incomplete from other departments”13 goes there, from
models to costumes, lighting, animation, rotoscoping, painting, touch-ups and
compositing. The mixing of CGI into live action and visa verse. Animating Kong‟s
every blink or gesture, creating a 360o view of 1930‟s Manhattan, 1,000‟s of digital
extras, cars, trains…anything that was “too impossible to film”14. The artists at
WETA say the benefits of digital doubles is that they are unlimited, they can be put
into situations an actor could not, WETA is able to continue creating new scenes after
the actors have finished and gone home – they literally make „perfect‟ replicas, they
scan the exact face of the actor, they match skin tone and texture, clothing…etc to
create invincible stunt doubles.
        The motion capture part of their work is achieved by placing 60 small,
adhesive balls covered in scotch tape all over the surface of Andy, these reflect light
back into the motion capture cameras which map their movement in a 3D space.
These markers are paired with markers on the CGI puppet of Kong allowing real-time
capture and playback. This, combined with Key Frame animation, provides the bulk
of the information needed for Kong‟s bigger movements. Key-Frame animation relies
on the hypothesising power of computers, an animator can state how he wants Kong
to look or stand on one second and how he wants him to look on the next and the
computer will fill in the gaps.

8
  Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
9
  www.imdb.com/title/tt0360717.html, 3/1/08
10
   Fischer, Paul. “Interview with Peter Jackson”, www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08
11
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
12
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
13
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
14
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
After discovering the remains of the previous sacrifices Anne stabs Kong with a bone
from her ceremonial necklace (scene 28). Kong proceeds to take her deep into the
jungle. Far from any help Anne uses her entertainment skills to humour Kong and
begins to establish a relationship. Furious when she stops playing Kong rampages
around the mountain (scene 33). Anne escapes shortly after.




In the meantime her rescue party is caught up in a Venatosaurus pack hunt of
Brontosaurus where four of them are killed. Continuing to search for Anne they
encounter Kong at a chasm bridged by a large log. He forces them off the log into a
ravine. Kong reunites with Anne just in time to save her from three Vastosaurus
Rexes.




Kong protects Anne as if he were her guardian.




This is the „water-cooler‟ moment in the film, the snap shot of which in the trailers
enticed you into the theatres. The Rexes have three fingers instead of the more
scientific two, in homage to the original movie. Kong snaps the jaw of the last Rex,
also a shot from the 1933 original.
         Kong takes Anne to his lair where we get the first glimpse of Kong as an
emotional being, the last of his kind he sits looking out over his prehistoric world,
there is a picturesque sunset on the horizon and Anne shows compassion by telling
him both it, and he, are “Beautiful”15. Jackson says this time was “the last age of
exploration”16 and that Skull Island is to be perceived as “the last blank space on the
map”17




A large part of pre and post production fell on the shoulders of the sound recordists
and engineers who were out gathering the components needed to create the effects.
They didn‟t use any existing sound libraries as they wanted an entirely original sound
track. They gathered over 100,000 effects using half a terabyte of storage, from
branches and logs splitting as Kong moves through the jungle to the smallest of
footsteps.
         The original music used was scored by James Newton Howard though
Howard Shore had written and recorded most of the score before departing from the
project shortly before the films release due to „differing creative aspirations‟ between
him and Jackson. Howard had less than two months to create the whole thing from
scratch.




The two miniature units had 800 shots to complete, they were shooting 20,000 feet of
film per day, per camera. They made their shots 20% longer than Jackson needed
them to be so he would have room for manovering when it came to editing. Their
briefs would simply consist of Jackson saying to them “make that painting”18.


15
   “King Kong",Peter Jackson, Universal, 2006
16
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
17
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
18
   Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
Driscoll decides to continue on and rescue Anne while Denham decides to capture
Kong and salvage his reputation. In scene 39 Driscoll rescues Anne while Kong is
sleeping, Kong wakes and chases them to the perimeter wall…




…where Denham and Englehorn‟ crew are waiting with chloroform, ropes and nets.
A distraught Anne tries to stop the men from abducting Kong but fails.




Kong is presented by Denham on Broadway in chains as “The Eighth Wonder of the
World!”19 (scene 41), Carl cites an ancient proverb at the premier which also served
as the prologue to the original movie and the actors in his show perform the same
native dance performed in the original to the same score, sporting the same spears
originally used (from Peter Jackson‟s personal Kong memorabilia collection).
David Rosen, writer of „King Kong - Race, sex and rebellion‟ states:

            It doesn‟t require to great an exercise of the imagination to perceive
            the element of race in Kong, racist conceptions of blacks often
            depict them as subhuman, ape or monkey-like…taken from their
            jungle homes and brought to the states in chains where they are put
            on stage as a freak entertainment attraction20




19
     “King Kong",Peter Jackson, Universal, 2006
20
     Rosen, David , “King Kong – Race, sex and rebellion”, www.ejumpcut.org.onlineessays, 3/01/08
Enraged by camera flashes and an unconvincing substitute of Anne Kong breaks free
of his restraints and begins a rampage around New York.




The set built for New York was only four blocks wide and one story high though the
digitally rendered set is so detailed it contains 90,000 separate buildings. A few
hundred extras were used for the sequence, each with three different costumes to
create the overall effect.
           The Avid editors of the movie compiled an enormous vault of footage – over
370 hours (2,000,000 feet) of film, taking up 1.9 terabytes. They were fed by the main
unit, the second unit, miniature departments, visual FX departments, animators, pre-
vis and so on, each individual shot containing information of the scene, the camera
used, the lenses, the speeds, lighting descriptions, whether it was a wide shot or close
up, the actors used …etc, 60% of which had to be sound synced in order to keep
WETA fed with organized shots which would later be fed back into the “engine
room”21 (or „cutting room‟) and eventually be moved on to the sound departments.
           The release date was set at December the 15th 2005 giving the post production
process 38 weeks to complete the movie. Sets had to be rebuilt for „pick-up‟ shooting,
the last opportunity for Jackson to add extra looks or dialogue. The whole team
reunited for two short weeks in order to gather all close ups and additional ideas, then
everything was „in the can‟ – there was no going back.

Kong is tamed only by the arrival onto the scene of Anne, as the two are reunited,
with blissful music and falling snowflakes, we are shown the most beautiful and
tender shot of the movie, a peaceful Anne approaching the confused, disorientated and
distressed Kong. His finds a moment of content in the chaos.




21
     Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
The two leave the urban madness and find sanctuary in Central Park, where they skate
and laugh and play on the frozen pond. In stark contrast a mortar shell blasts onto the
scene and the military hunt is on for Kong (scene 46).
           Seeking safety Kong takes Anne to the most isolated place he can find in this
new, steel world – the top of the Empire State Building, where she once again calls
him beautiful.




The „Curtiss Helldivers‟ (a group of bi-planes) shortly attack. One of the pilots is
performed in a cameo by Rick Baker, who played Kong in the original movie. After
managing to take out three of the planes Kong is riddled in ammunition and falls
week.




Following a futile objection to the pilots by Anne and a tear jerking farewell Kong
looses strength and grip and falls to his death.




A crowd gathers around his corpse, where Denham replies to a photographer “it
wasn‟t the planes. It was beauty killed the beast”22


Delivered to 38 cinemas in 9 25minute, 35mm canisters for the premiers, under the
name „Tiny Dancer‟, Jackson described the finale as being like a “child leaving
home”23.


22
     “King Kong",Peter Jackson, Universal, 2006
23
     Production Diaries, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006
The film went on to receive 3 Oscars, a further 20 award wins and 39 nominations.



Bibliography

“King Kong” (The movie), Peter Jackson, Universal, 2006

“Production Diaries”, King Kong Special Edition 2 Disc Set, Universal, 2006

“King Kong”, Grey, Dinah. www.
Tiscali.co.uk/entertainment/film/reviews/king_kong/2.htm, 2/1/08

“Interview with Peter Jackson”, Fischer, Paul.
www.DarkHorizons.com/news05/Kong.php, 3/1/08

www.imdb.com/title/tt0360717.html, 3/1/08

“King Kong – Race, sex and rebellion”, Rosen, David ,
www.ejumpcut.org.onlineessays, 3/01/08

“John Hiscock reports on the first screening of Peter Jackson's thrilling remake of
King Kong”, Hiscock, J, http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/king_kong, 15/01/08

“King Kong”, Newman, K, http://uk.rottentomatoes.com/m/king_kong, 15/01/08

“King Kong 2005 Movie Review”, Travers, P,
www.rollingstone.com/reviews/movie/6137426/review/8936747/king_kong_2005_m
ovie_review

				
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