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VFX & Animation Icons React: Original ‘King Kong’ Returns to Theaters

King Kong (Courtesy Warner Bros.)
King Kong (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

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VFX & Animation Icons React: Original ‘King Kong’ Returns to Theaters

For the first time in more than 60 years, the original 1933 King Kong is returning to movie theaters across the country for one day only. Fathom Events will unleash “Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World” on more than 600 screens as part of the year-long TCM Big Screen Classics series.

Last given a big-screen re-release in 1956 – when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, the average movie ticket cost 59 cents, and not a single manmade item was orbiting the earth – the original theatrical version of King Kong will be accompanied by all-new insight and commentary from TCM Primetime host Ben Mankiewicz. The film stars Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong and Bruce Cabot, and features a lush score by legendary composer Max Steiner. Though it’s been remade twice and has inspired countless movies,TV shows and characters, the 1933 original still holds a power that film critic Roger Ebert called “ageless and primeval.”

Screenings will be held Sunday, March 15 at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. local time. Tickets can be purchased at FathomEvents.com and at participating box offices.

The iconic creature feature has dazzled viewers for nearly a century with its groundbreaking stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien, effects work that continues to inspire today’s top artists. Here’s how some of these living legends reacted to the news:

“I was five in 1956 when King Kong was aired on TV – a small screen. I recall hiding behind an overstuffed chair horrified yet enthralled by the visions. That’s when it all started. This was a seminal film – pure magic. When you consider that sound had only come to the screen a scant four years earlier, the imagination of what could be done exploded. Not to mention Willis O’Brien’s team’s fantastic, cutting-edge stop-motion animation, puppets by Marcel Delgado, matte paintings by Mario Larrinaga and Byron Crabbe, the detailed miniatures, rear projection, etc., were ground-breaking. King Kong remains a monument to the creative mind. Truly a miracle. Everything just seemed to flow together. DON’T MISS IT ON THE BIG SCREEN!” — Phil Tippett, Tippett Studios (Star Wars: A New Hope, Jurassic Park, RoboCop)

King Kong has had an immeasurable influence on the visual effects industry generally, and on my career specifically. Like many practitioners of visual effects before me, the 1933 King Kong was the movie that started me on my path. I saw the film for the first time around 1970 on TV when I was six years old and was instantly obsessed with learning about how it was made. A few years later, when I had my own Super 8 camera, the first thing I did was make my own Kong puppet, and start animating him kicking toy cars, and climbing cardboard buildings. The impossible vision of an enormous ape rampaging around NYC has forever left its imprint on my psyche, and our industry.” — Hal Hickel, Animation Director, Industrial Light & Magic (The Mandalorian, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl)

“I distinctly remember the first time I saw King Kong on TV as a young boy in the late ‘60s, and it blew my young boy’s mind! As a grown man, VFX professional & cinephile, I am still in awe of the work of some of the great pioneers of special visual effects who brought it to life. Though there have been a number of remakes released over the years, all utilizing the latest technologies of their times, it is this original King Kong that will always remain a classic of cinematic history.” — Mike Chambers, Chair, Visual Effects Society (Dunkirk, Inception)

“My Dad showed me King Kong many times as a kid, and being a New Yorker, I was captivated by him climbing the Empire State Building. I wondered, how was that real. To this day, every time I go back home, I still dream I see him up there. But without King Kong and Willis O’Brien’s work in stop-motion animation, I might not do what I do! I certainly would not be in a creative environment every single day where I subconsciously think of that scene, and everything it led to. On some level, King Kong is around me all the time – to me, that’s the definition of movie magic.” — Matthew Senreich, Co-Founder, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (Robot Chicken Co-Creator)

King Kong was made almost 90 years ago, and its visual effects are not just a milestone, they are a great way to see how far we’ve come. This early stop motion didn’t offer the control over the speed or fluidity of the motion that we have today, which makes stop-motion all the more convincing, but were it not for King Kong and the innovations inspired, we would never be here. The original work may seem clunky, but it’s also legendary, and if I had never seen the animation in King Kong, I would never have dreamed of applying it to comedy.” — Seth Green, Co-Founder, Stoopid Buddy Stoodios (Robot Chicken Co-Creator)

“I first saw King Kong in a revival theater at the age of 12. It was an experience that led me to a career in visual effects. Kong, the towering gorilla-like creature, was an 18-inch animation puppet, a fabrication of machined and articulated steel covered with foam skin and rabbit fur that creator and stop-motion model animator Willis O’Brien manipulated frame by frame. It’s a masterpiece that O’Brien developed new visual effect technologies for, making King Kong one of the greatest adventure-fantasies ever made.” — Craig Barron, Film Historian and Oscar-Winning Visual Effects Supervisor (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Captain America: The First Avenger)

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