Long Live the King
Generations of filmmakers and artists have been inspired by the 1933 film classic, King Kong. Whether they were a baby boomer catching it on UHF television, or a younger generation that discovered the original via the 1976 or 2005 remake, the original’s endearing special effects and youthful sense of adventure continues to make the early creature feature highly influential. Trish Geiger and Frank Dietz’s “Long Live the King”, a documentary about King Kong 1933 and its legacy, serves as a love letter to both the film, and the fans it’s acquired over the years.
Indeed, Geiger and Dietz manage to assemble a pretty impressive (and eclectic) group to talk about Kong. A-listers such as Joe Dante (director of Gremlins, the Howling, TV’s Legends of Tomorrow), Dana Gould (writer/creator of Stan Against Evil and a writer for the Simpsons) Greg Nicotero (special effects expert and director of The Walking Dead), creature character actor Doug Jones, horror royalty Felissa Rose (Sleepaway Camp, Death House) are joined by other lesser known journalists, artists and actors (to include King Kong expert Bob Burns) to gush about all things Kong. It’s a lot of fun to learn of the origins of some of these creative types love for the film, and for their observations on the material.
Still, with a run time of only 67 minutes, it feels like a Cliffsnotes overview of Kong, that lacks a lot of focus diehard fans will yearn for. Once “Long Live the King” moves past King Kong ‘33, we get lighting rounds about Son of Kong (Felissa Rose really shines in this segment), Mighty Joe Young, the Toho Kong films and the 1976 remake (and it’s so bad it’s good sequel, “King Kong Lives”, which was shot partially in Tennessee!), before settling in for another lovefest for Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Because of this bookending format, the documentary feels a bit like an extra for a King Kong 2005 blu ray box set.
In addition, the documentary largely sidesteps the racial connotations that loom heavy over the Kong legacy (so much so that in 1962, even Toho studios felt the need to dress Japanese actors in blackface for King Kong vs. Godzilla). I realize the documentary is meant to be a love letter to all things Kong, but such an omission is unforgivable in a documentary about Kong in the year 2017. To make matters worse, Greg Nicotero steps directly in the mess, stating (somewhat tongue in cheek) that Kong was captivated by Fay Wray’s blonde, fair skinned Ann Darrow because up until then, Kong “had only eaten dark haired native girls.” Yeesh.
However, if you’re a big Kong fan, this is a mostly fun watch. I particularly enjoyed seeing Doug Jones acting out some of Fay Wray’s most inspired moments, and I could listen to Dana Gould talk about King Kong all day. In fact, can we get a Dana Gould King Kong commentary track?
“Long Live the King” is available to stream on Amazon prime.
PS- This documentary mentions a short film by Greg Nicotero that’s a real treat for monster fans: The United Monster Talent Agency. Check it out!