Merian C. Cooper: Big Monkeys 2 & 3
Anyone who’s seen The Son of Kong knows it’s a huge disappointment; it’s a missed opportunity to develop further adventures of the Kong franchise because of a low budget, what feels like an unfinished script, and a deadline to deliver a finished film for a Christmas 1933 premiere date – the same year that began with the original King Kong.
You can blame RKO for wanting a sequel to a hit film (and maybe producer Merian C. Cooper was equally guilty of going for a rush job), but come on: not in the same year!
The easiest parallel of blundered franchises for current audiences (well, those from the nineties) is Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) that broke box office records, animation technology, and featured now-classic sequences in a film with a fascinating hook about the cloning of dinosaurs – creatures that were also present on Skull Island, the locale where King Kong lived before he was rudely whisked away to appear in chains in front of upper class NYC snots.
The idea of taking a missing link back to civilization wasn’t explored in Jurassic Park, but it made up the finale of the 1997 sequel, The Lost World (which is an amusingly chosen title, since Kong’s animator, Willis O’Brien, gained fame for his stop-motion dinos in the 1925 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyles’ same-titled story of missing link creatures).
Spielberg’s first sequel was simple: dinos eat lots of people, but then it turns into a ‘Godzilla in L.A.’ satire with the T-Rex rampaging through streets, backyard pools, Blockbuster Videos, and coffee shops.
The next film, Jurassic Park III (2001) was no different than Son of Kong: half-cooked script, poor special effects, a rushed release date, and a hastily concocted ending (although in fairness to Son of Kong, its ending was better than the tacked-on army and tanks on the beach finale, butt-cut onto Jurassic III).
The parallels between the Kong and Jurassic franchises are important because they proves how little things change when it involves money. It doesn’t even have to be a Hollywood or American production. The German slasher Anatomie (2000) was hampered by attention-deficit editing, but the story more or less worked, and made sense; its 2003 sequel was, with the exception of Marius Ruhland’s score, rubbish, but like Son of Kong, it featured many of the same talent involved with the first production.
The lesson learned is if you make a sequel, you need to focus on the characters or conflicts that people wanted to see developed into further logical stories, not a rehash, not a crackhead plot, or just a mess designed to fill theatres and/or video rental shelves.
Son of Kong starts out well and is notable for trying to dramatize how Kong’s arrogant promoter, Carl Denham, deals with failure and the responsibility of Dada Kong’s horrible demise, but then the script’s rough edges show, and things get stupid, which I’ve somewhat itemized in the review [M].
When Cooper made Mighty Joe Young in 1949, it was a better planned film with a simple story and superb stop-motion animation integrated into some elaborate action sequences.
The story, however, has one serious flaw – something covered in the review [M] – but the film is still beloved by old kids for its fairy tale story (the big monkey lives!) and by animators for the effects supervised by O’Brien & largely executed by Ray Harryhausen (who could do anything he wanted after this perfect calling card).
Both The Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young were released on DVD back in 2006 by Warner Home Video, and flawed as they are, fans of King Kong can’t really skip either one because the former does dramatize an important emotion previously absent in lead character Denham – remorse – whereas the latter film is kind of fun for being a fast-paced, wonky little oddity.
And the Big Monkey Lives!
Mark R. Hasan, Editor