When Dinosaurs Ruled The Mind #15: King Kong (1933 & 2005)

 

OK, so who’s the star of the King Kong movies?

This guy, right?

WRONG!!!

To me, King Kong was always about the dinosaurs and all the other weird creatures that inhabited Skull Island. Sure, King Kong was cool. But in the end, he’s a big gorilla. We know what a gorilla looks like. Why wouldn’t you want to bring back a live dinosaur for the world to see?

Oh yeah, right.

So, this being a blog about dinosaur depictions in media, you’ll see very little of the big monkey here. However, I thought that the depiction of dinosaurs in both the 1933 classic and 2005 remake were very  interesting, and worth analyzing. I also decided to lump both the movies together so I can compare and contrast the two.

Alright, let’s get started with the original classic, King Kong 1933.

If you read my last review, The Lost World, you may find that the dinosaurs in this film are somewhat similar to the ones in that film. That is because the same animator, Willis H. O’Brien, the man who pioneered the stop motion animation technique. All the dinosaurs are also based on Charles Knight paintings, so there’s that. However, there are some differences from these dinosaurs and the ones in the lost world.

When the team first enters the jungles of Skull Island, the first dinosaur they run into is a Stegosaurus.

Stegosaurus closeup

Although it’s kind of hard to tell in the picture, watching the film you can see that is is obviously based on a famous Charles Knight painting, but not the same one as The Lost World.

Not only can I tell by the arrangement of the plates, but also by the decision to add an extra four spikes on its tail.

Oh yeah, one other thing. IT’S FRIGGIN’ HUGE!!

Seriously, by the look of that tail, this thing is as big as a sauropod (which is an issue I’ll touch upon in the remake).

After the group kills the Stegosaurus, they run into a pretty shockingly aggressive Apatosaurus.

images (44)

This Apatosaurus, although still based on Knight paintings, is a lot more chunkier than the one that appeared in The Lost World.

I appreciate that, However, this apatosaur, much like The Lost World version, is very aggressive. I remember the first time I saw the scene with him in it, I was completely surprised by the way it was acting. The beast rises up from a swamp (another classic dinosaur trope, however at least he seems pretty mobile on land), and chases the crew through the jungle in a way that a predator would. Then he chases a man up a tree (the last place you should hide from a sauropod!) and it proceeds to maul him!!!

Well, this has been an unusual day hasn't it?

Well, this has been an unusual day hasn’t it?

At first I thought I was witnessing an unusual portrayal of a carnivorous sauropod (and don’t get me wrong, that sounds absolutely awesome!), but after I thought about it for a moment, it made sense to me. Have you ever seen a rampaging elephant?

It’s not exactly pretty. Elephants aren’t gentle just because they’re plant eaters. If you’re in their territory, they’ll kill you. End of story. Why couldn’t that be the same with sauropods?

The next dinosaur scene is in the infamous moment where Kong battles the giant Tyrannosaurus.

In-Mortal-Kombat.-Shao-Kahn-would-be-proud.

Victorian Rex

It has been said that this creature is based on this particular painting.

A bit too frog faced if you ask me.

It does have a similar bulk to the painting, not to mention the fact that both depict T. rex as having three fingers. The trait that tyrannosaurs only had two fingers wasn’t discovered until later, although I’m pretty sure they knew of this during the time of this film. They probably did it for aesthetic reason (although now the trait is so accepted in the media, some movies put two fingers on dinosaurs that actually had three!).

Oh yeah, we’ll get to that.

One other thing is that the dinosaur is impossibly big, much to big to be an actual T. rex. The remake somewhat explains this, and we’ll get to that in a little bit. But really, I just see it as more of a movie monster, just like Kong is. That’s all it was meant to be, so I can’t fault it for that.

The next creature Kong battles in a plesiosaur that for some reason moves around like a snake.

images (45)

King-Kong-1933-Fay-Wray-plesiosaurus

Seriously, he just shows up with his head slithering toward Anne like a big python, which at first I thought it was. But then Kong grabs it and reveals the flippers. So, what exactly was this creature doing out of the water. They weren’t crocodiles, they couldn’t just come on to land whenever they pleased (despite what old plaeo-art might tell you). Really it’s about as random as a shark coming on to land to attack you. Not only that, but the plesiosaur proceeds to strangle Kong with its neck, just like a snake!! You paleo-nerds reading know that this would be a physical impossibility, as the neck bones were too stiff to bend like that. Basically, the plesiosaur functions as a snake, which begs the question: why not use a snake? That would still be cool. It would also make my head hurt less.

The last creature encountered in the movie is an over-sized Pteranodon, which proceeds to try to pick up Anne.

He fails.

I’ve already voice my frustration with the trope of pterodactyl carrying off damsels in distress like an eagle catches a fish. It has been pointed time and time again to be impossible, not to mention contradictory to the animals diet of fish. But many films just can’t resist the image of a prehistoric flying dragon carrying off its victims, so the trope remains persistent. Whether I should blame the film makers for this I’m not sure, as I don’t know if this idea was an accepted idea in science back then. If it was, I can’t say anything. If they knew better, than what the heck.

Sadly, those are the last prehistoric creatures to appear in the film. I’ve heard there were some deleted creatures like a Styracosaurus and an Arsinotherium, but I’m not sure how accurate these claims are, so I’ll leave them out for now. I guess that means we can now talk about the remake.

The 2005 remake of King Kong differentiates itself from the original in a number of ways, but probably its most interesting departure is its depiction of the dinosaurs. While the 1933 dinosaurs were somewhat generic, looking pretty similar to how they always looked in films and illustrations at the time, the dinosaurs in this movie are very different from anything else seen before. It set out to answer the question of how dinosaurs would look like if they survived to our time and lived in an isolated environment. Well, this movie has some interesting examples.

Let me just go on to tell you that everything in this movie is freaky. Seriously, all the creatures will forever haunt my nightmares. It’s like this Skull Island is a melting pot of every animal who decided they wanted to be a nightmarish freak when they grew up.

I mean, really? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?!!!

The weird thing is about the creatures (especially when taking into account the companion book World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island), is that there is a weird mix of ideas. Some prehistoric creatures have changed realistically, others really dramatically, others changed so little it seems implausible, and some creatures seem like they had no real reason to change except to make the place even scarier. Rule of cool, I guess. My other problem is that, especially in the companion book; there are too many predators and too many large species to be supported on one island. The book mentions something about island gigantism, the animals having to grow to extreme lengths to survive the amount of predators.

Um, no.

Really what would more likely happen would be that all the animals would become smaller to account for the limited space and resources. Still, there are a lot of interesting ideas put forth in the movie and it’s expanded material, so I’ll take a look at both.

The first dinosaur we see in the film (in the extended version) is a ceratopsian called Ferrecutus, in a scene mirroring the Stegosaurus attack in the first film.

It’s certainly a cool looking design, and looks like an dinosaur that could have actually existed. In fact, it bares many similarities with the recently discovered Diabloceratops…

..not to mention some obvious Pachyrhinosaurus inspirations. However, maybe it looks too much like a dinosaur would in the past. It looks like it was ripped straight from the late Cretaceous. Ceratopsians haven’t changed at all in 65 million years. Well, in all fairness, the Cretaceous period alone was longer than 65 million years, so I guess I can’t blame the dinosaurs for looking like dinosaurs. However, you’ll see later some more interesting ideas for modern dinosaurs.

In the theater version, the first dinosaurs the group officially meet are a herd of sauropods dubbed Brontosaurus.

The brontosaurs were deliberately designed to look like the classic image of sauropods, and in all honesty, they kind of look the the brontosaur from the original film in both bulk and feel. They aren’t aggressive like that one, though. These basically are the trope that large plant eating dinosaurs were big cows.

Sauropods changed remarkably little during their long existence in the Mesozoic, from the early Jurassic all the way to the very end of the Late Cretaceous, so it doesn’t surprise me they kept this body shape. However, you’ll later see some alternative modern sauropod ideas later.

The brontosaurs are then attacked by large raptor like theropods called Venatosaurus.

 

These carnivores herd the brontosaurs into small canyons so they can be captured more easily. They are pack hunters, and are very fast. They basically capture every JP style raptor trope you can think of. Now, if they are direct descendants of raptor dinosaurs, somewhere down the line they lost a whole lot of feathers. I really can’t fault the depiction though, because these aren’t the same raptors from the Mesozoic era, and I guess the look is possible.

Perhaps we're not raptors at all.

Perhaps we’re not raptors at all.

Philosoraptor! Haven’t seen you in a while.

I know. I think you've been trying to avoid me.

I know. I think you’ve been trying to avoid me.

What? No. It’s only a coincidence I’ve been reviewing works that contain no raptors.

Whatever.

Whatever.

So, you’ve come here for a reason. What did you want to say?

I've come to propose a theory. What if instead of Venatosaurus being a descendant of dromaeosaurs, it was in fact some advanced  form of abelisaur?

I’ve come to propose a theory. What if instead of Venatosaurus being a descendant of dromaeosaurs, it was in fact some advanced form of abelisaur?

Hmm, that’s an interesting theory. I actually kind of like that. you know what, stick around. I might need the help finishing this review.

Glad to see we're on the same page.

Glad to see we’re on the same page.

The only other major dinosaur we see in the film (trust me, there are other creatures in this movie too) is the giant Vastatosaurus, a modern tyrannosaur.

 

 

These tyrannosaurs are much bigger than their Mesozoic cousins, at 70 ft!!! This is possibly a reference to how big the carnivore was depicted in the original movie. These tyrannosaurs are also different in that they have three fingers (another possible reference) and a crocodile like hide. Now, if Tyrannosaurus really did look like big emus….

 

…I would find that restoration unlikely. But if tyrannosaurs only had a partial or very limited amount of feathers I can see it being possible. Growing so large and living in a humid environment could have made those feathers disappear, with armor added for defense. It’s certainly a creature I can see existing if dinosaurs never went extinct.

So, is that it?

So, is that it?

For the movie dinosaurs, yes. However, the film offers many more weird creatures including…

…freakish land crocodiles…

…giant serpentine piranhas… 

…flying naked mole rats…

…flesh ripping giant crickets…

…and demon spawn tapeworms.

Dang! What kind of place is this?

Dang! What kind of place is this?

That’s what I want to know. Just having dinosaurs is one thing, but why must all these freaky creatures be here too. What makes this place so special besides the fact that there are living dinosaurs? Why aren’t there giant bugs and flying rats in other parts of the world? The book says its because Skull island is cut off from the mainland that creatures are so weird, but I don’t know if that alone justifies it.

Speaking of the book The World of Kong, we get to see other dinosaurs native to the island. This books has some interesting ideas of what modern dinosaurs would look like.

This dinosaur, dubbed Sylvaceratops in the book, is very interesting. It’s what I would expect a ceratopsian living on an island in modern times would look like, or at least one possible avenue. It’s slimmer and more fleet footed, allowing it to easily traverse the jungle. It also has hooves, very ideal for mountainous terrain. Both habitats are very much present on the island. I think this is a very creative interpretation of a modern ceratopsian.

This odd looking creature is called Diablosaurus, and looks very much like a rhino or ceratopsian. However, it’s actually an advanced species of sauropod!!! This is another interesting idea, and a plausible one. Short necked sauropods aren’t unknown, and a look like this isn’t as strange as some creatures that actually exist.

While we get some great out of the box ideas like that, we also get some dinosaurs that look ripped right out of the Mesozoic. Hadrosaurs don’t seem to have changed much in 65 million years.

Neither do stegosaurs.

 

The funny thing about this guy is that he book even addresses the problem of a modern day stegosaur in universe. The scientists in the world are stumped by it’s existence, as it doesn’t coincide with the theories of how the dinosaurs got to the island in the first place. I do like the spiky tail however, a nice call back to the 1933 stegosaur.

We also get some interesting birds, like these marabou stork like birds…

..and even parrots that feed exclusively on carrion!

Now that’s creative!

It is also said that Permian animals came to the island a while back ,and they seem to have remained unchanged in that time span.

The book also shows an impossible amount of carnivores, many of which seem to fill the same niche as each other. Really, we couldn’t have this kind of overcrowding in a mainland ecosystem, much less an island one. We also get a huge number of creepy reptiles, arthropods, birds, and others that it seems like Skull Island was determined to become it’s own freak show.

You seem upset about something.

You seem upset about something.

Well, I have mixed feelings how this universe presents Skull Island. It just doesn’t seem possible for so many freaky creatures to appear in one spot. The ecosystem wouldn’t survive. And what made this place so special that giant bugs can appear alongside dinosaurs? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.

I mean, with the dinosaurs, I see a lot of great ideas. We see dinosaurs who have change drastically let realistically, and dinosaurs we have also seen look almost no different from their Mesozoic counterparts. But those Permian animals are also puzzling. How did they remain unchanged after 280 million years?

Yes, it is a mystery.

Yes, it is a mystery.

Wait, who are you?

Oh no, it can’t be.

The unchanged mammal like reptiles, the presence of a Stegosaur, the Mesozoic like dinosaurs. the futuristic dinosaurs, all these freaky creatures, all in the modern day. This kind of environment is impossible, you can call it anachronistic….

…unless you’re…

A Time Traveling Cynodont?

A Time Traveling Cynodont?

Oh crud.

Get him!!

Get him!!

Get him!!!

Get him!!!

Get him!!!

Get him!!!

Note to reader:

So it seems I have been kidnapped by some villainous characters. I just want to let you know that even though I have some problems with both King Kong worlds, I think that they both also express a great amount of creativity, and i have nothing really against either of them. Now, I don’t know where they are taking me, but they told me what I must do next. 

Review the art of Charles R. Knight. 

Oh no…

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