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King Kong (1933) March 15th, 2020

It’s March 16th, 2020. We’re in the midst of the first stages of pandemic prevention. Here in Anchorage, Alaska our Mayor Ethan Berkowitz signed an emergency declaration to shut down all dine-in restaurants, bars, cafés and worst of all… movie theaters. Make no mistake, this is a first world problems blog. I had tickets to see the 25th Anniversary screening of Braveheart next weekend. Suddenly people are aware of how filthy theaters are and I’m stuck with an open Sunday afternoon.

I did manage to see the original King Kong the day before theaters closed and let me tell you it was grim. Not the movie, it’s an eternal masterpiece unblemished by the 6 person audience, but the situation at the theater. Cinemark took the crisis seriously and shut down many of my favorite indulgences. No more self serve candy. Those tubes of sugar that always seem to give you WAY too much candy that you can’t put back are now put… in the back? I have no idea where they went but they’re not in the concession line at $17 an gram. Refillable popcorn bucket, they won’t fill it. Instead they fill up a large bag and put it in the bucket. I guess they don’t want to touch anything you bring into the theater. Lastly, the hotdog condiments disappeared. In their place a sign saying snack attendants now distribute condiments individually. Ketchup, mustard and relish are all served in small plastic cups. They may make dressing the hotdogs difficult but don’t let anyone tell you they don’t expose just how disgusting and dangerous the previously normal open-air serving stations.

I’ve never seen King Kong… in a theater. I’ll deliberately delay watching classic films until I can see them on the big screen. Scarface, Gremlins, Halloween, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, The Maltese Falcon. Saw them all for the first time in an actual theater. Prioritizing cinema virginity isn’t easy to do in Alaska. We have 1 second run theater in Anchorage that shows classic films and luckily many theater chains have retro classics playing once or twice a month. It’s not The New Beverly but it’s the best I can do. I have seen King Kong before but this time would be special because…

My new wife Brianne has never seen King Kong on ANY screen. Regardless of size. She’d seen Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong and, while we were waiting at a bus stop in 2007, infamously bet me $100 that Nicole Kidman starred in the picture. She didn’t, but Naomi Watts did. (I forgave the debt because I had previously bet her $100 that Borat’s native Kazakhstan was a fictional country like Dr. Doom’s Latveria.) She really doesn’t like the 2005 King Kong. Mostly because of that scene where the enormous toothed worms eat the crew of The Venture but regardless she knows what to expect. Giant ape climbs the Empire State Building. Got it.

We’ve watched 50 or so movies from the 1930’s and 40’s over the last couple of years so she expected it to have at least a few of these predictable features: slow or boring, poorly justified narrative progression and characters speaking too quickly to comprehend. The fate of this ‘date night’ rests on King Kong‘s gigantic ape shoulders.

She liked it! King Kong doesn’t make the mistakes of an average film of it’s time. Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion sequences are beautiful historic technical achievements, but I can’t let my personal affection get in the way of acknowledging that they can’t compare to a modern special effects action sequence. I don’t think you should watch King Kong if you’re looking for a modern thrill ride but I do expect people to criticize it for being old. But that doesn’t mean it’s boring. I think the plot is very well justified. An adventurous movie producer/director wants a spectacle unlike anything the world’s ever seen. He hires a crew to find such an undiscovered wonder on an uncharted island. The giant ape Kong is his entertainment El Dorado. They capture Kong, ship him to New York where he escapes containment, carries Darrow to the top of the Empire State Building where fighter planes shoot him until he falls to his death. This. Isn’t. Boring. This is… I’m going to regret writing this… bananas. It’s a wild and insane plot where I completely believe each characters’ motivations and actions. That isn’t something I can say for the majority of modern films. Oh, and the characters speak at a reasonable rate. His Girl Friday, this is not!

We left the theater unsure when we’d see a movie in the theater again. 6 people were in our screening, who knows how many others were there in total. It looked pre-ghost town. The one thing we knew for sure… King Kong rules.

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