David Brin, editor,
King Kong is Back!
(BenBella, 2005)

Editor David Brin released an essay collection about One Humongous Ape (King Kong) immediately prior to the theatrical remake of this classic by director Peter Jackson. As a hardened skeptic, I viewed the book as a promotional stunt -- but I couldn't have been more mistaken. This is an academic and enjoyable collection of essays on topics ranging from personal experiences with the Kong films, the science and art of the Kong movies and the philosophy of King Kong.

The opening essays feature fond memories of the 1933 film version of King Kong from its 1976-to-1985 tenure as a Thanksgiving-day-staple on New York local television, and of reactions to the 1976 remake. Writers compare the thematic elements of the 1933 and 1976 versions, exploring the relationship audiences had with each release in the days before the VCR.

In his essay on "The Making of King Kong," artist Bob Eggleton takes the reader behind the scenes in animation technology throughout the last century, explaining why the 1933 animation feels so much better when compared to the 1976 version, and applauding Jackson's wisdom for making his 2005 film a period piece set back in the Depression. Psychobiologist Dario Maestripieri, on the other hand, teaches the audience about gorilla and primate biology, and explains the truth about gorilla mating, aggression and general behavior. The exploration of King Kong might be stretched a little far in Joseph D. Miller's argument that Skull Island can be mapped to the region on Sigmund Freud's Triune Brain, but it is a theory to entertain. Robert A. Metzger even argues that King Kong was real, and lists geographical and plot clues that Merian C. Cooper actually had a Kong-like experience on which the film is based.

The final essays probe the thematic and cultural implications of the Big Ape story, including the parallels between Kong and the experience of enslaved Africans brought to America. As a story that has been told three times in American history, King Kong, and his theatrical success at the time of each release, can be used as barometer for American social and political culture. While there are certainly highs and lows in this collection, overall, it is a landmark piece about all aspects of this American phenomenon. Detailed writer biographies follow each entry, so be prepared to be introduced to some new writing talent and other works to follow up with.

by Jessica Lux-Baumann
12 May 2007

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