A warm reminder that there were fanboys before the generation made famous by Kevin Smith and The Simpsons‘ comic-book guy, Frank Dietz & Trish Geiger’s Long Live the King interviews a slew of older King Kong fans about the character and his many, many incarnations. Most of the interviewees went into the movie-magic biz themselves — notably Joe Dante, who made a little creature feature of his own called Gremlins. But interviewees both famous and obscure are united by their monkey-love in this humble but enjoyable production, which may do well in one-off bookings but would make the most sense as a bonus feature in a Kong video box set.
Odds aren’t great that any viewer would come to this without knowing the plot of 1933’s King Kong, but the doc starts — after some effusiveness in which one participant calls it “the greatest movie ever made” — with a fun recap of just that, coming from the mouths of both video-generation men and those who discovered it via all-week TV bookings on NYC’s Million Dollar Movie. You had to work to see an old movie in those days, and the effort bred loyalty. Having spent much of the rest of their lives rewatching it and reading about the film’s production, interviewees like The Walking Dead‘s Greg Nicotero and Simpsons producer Dana Gould point out what was exceptional about it — the emotional expressiveness of the puppet, for instance — and non-trivial bits of trivia, like the big share of screenwriting credit due to a female scribe, Ruth Rose.
Kong was so successful a sequel was rushed out the very same year. Our hosts lament that Son of Kong was too light in tone and not as technically inspired; and thus begins a 40-minute or so stretch in which they’ll render verdicts on big- and small-screen appearances by both the real King and his many imitators. Mighty Joe Young fares well in these evaluations, a slicker production with a more human-acting beast, and even a lamentable outing like King Kong vs. Godzilla turns out to have a nearly heartbreaking story behind the scenes.
Nobody wants to entirely slam the Dino De Laurentiis remake from 1976, largely because geek god Rick Baker was involved and the movie’s new damsel, Jessica Lange, was such a babe. (Prepare to see aging men make a couple too many drooly remarks about the young actresses cast opposite Kong.) But they reserve their highest praise for Peter Jackson, who came to his own version armed with a true believer’s fervor.
Career recap aside, one nice note comes when famous movie-memorabilia collector Bob Burns discusses a prize possession: the only surviving metal armature used to animate the original Kong. He has reportedly turned down half-million-dollar offers for the artifact, but in other ways he’s not possessive: Special-effects vet Tom Woodruff, Jr. remembers how Burns happily let him borrow the armature so he could have the experience of animating a short with it himself.
Production companies: Benevolent Monster Productions, Studio 7 Entertainment
Directors-Screenwriters: Frank Dietz, Trish Geiger
Executive producers: Scott Anderson, Steve Iverson, Brian Kelly Jones, Scott Weitz, Frank Winspur
Director of photography: Matthew Renoir
Editors: Frank Dietz, Andrew Kasch
Composer: Michael McCormack