Movie Review: King Kong (1933) Colorized

One of Ted Turner's more controversial moves, colorizing movies was an idea that was created before the technology was ready. That didn't stop him from purchasing entire movie libraries with full plans to "update" them from black and white. With King Kong, about the only thing it does is make the special effects stand out unnaturally while ignoring everything else.

Part of the problems is the limitation of the process. With only a few colors to work with (around six per scene usually), the jungle sequences are a mass of green and brown. Skin tones blend perfectly with backdrops, and clothing is hard to distinguish.

It also creates other problems. Notably, Kong stays a deep black color, and that's fine. It makes perfect sense for him, though not so much for the Stegosaurus. The bright pink Tyrannosaur is laughable. The environment for that epic showdown between Kong and the latter beast is also marred by the ugliness of the fluorescent green tree Ann is placed upon.

Skin tones change from scene to scene, and while usually garish, it's absolutely intolerable during the swamp escape from the Brontosaurus. The fog was obviously tough to work with, but there's no excuse for everyone's skin to turn bright purple for the entire sequence. It ruins all the hard work that went into the otherwise exciting film moment.

To be fair, there are those spots where the process does work. The daylight sequences where the Skull island natives make their first appearance is notable. The headdress of the chief (played by Noble Johnson) is brilliantly colored. It makes this seem natural, even with the lack of available color choices.

However, it's hard to dismiss the flaws with the process. In heavily populated scenes, the entire shot is painted in a single tint, and even then, people randomly change colors as they move. The train destruction sequence that takes place not long after Kong's classic escape is ruined. In black and white, fleeing New Yorkers fit right in at Kong's feet. In color, they fade away transparently like ghosts and then re-appear just a few seconds later. The same goes for most of the jungle sequences where nearly all of the depth is lost since every plant is magically the same color green.

If it becomes anything, this obscure (laserdisc and VHS only) version of the American classic is a unique watch for fans. The few shots where the process works are beautiful and show there was some potential in the concept. The problem was there's no need for it. King Kong is the way to prove that, and given the choice, it's hard to find many reasons to stick up for this Turner mess.

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