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Story Notes for King Kong

sn-king-kongWeeknights during prime time on AMC, you can catch Story Notes — real time trivia and facts about your favorite movies! Below is the online version of the Story Notes for King Kong.

Anthology Notes
In the 1976 King Kong, the finale takes place on the top of the World Trade Center.

Automotive Notes
Most of the movie’s vintage cars were provided and driven by local owners. The steering wheels had to be switched, since New Zealanders drive on the left side of the road.

Adrien Brody did a lot of his own stunt driving, which is pretty unheard of for most actors. He spent a lot of time fixing up muscle cars and drag racing while growing up in New York.

Award Notes
Composer James Newton Howard’s score was nominated for a Golden Globe.

Kong was nominated for Choice Hissy Fit at the Teen Choice Awards.

Serkis generated some Oscar buzz for playing Kong, as he had with Gollum in Lord of the Rings. As of 2013, the Academy has yet to recognize an actor for a motion capture performance.

Peter Jackson was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director for this movie.

Watts won Best Actress at the Saturn Awards — which honor scifi, fantasy and horror movies — for King Kong.

King Kong won the Oscar for Visual Effects. It was also nominated for Art Direction.

King Kong won Oscars for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

“King Kong vs. The Planes” was nominated for an MTV Movie Award for Best Fight.

Backstory Notes
Jackson came up with a complete history of the island: it was a trading port until it was hit by earthquakes.

The fictional Skull Island is in the Indian Ocean, southwest of the Indonesian island Sumatra.

Every six months to a year the natives offer up a young woman to appease Kong.

Kong only kills sacrifices as a ritual.

Hayes served in WWI with one of the first all-black units in the U.S. Army.

Kong is the last of his kind – the rest have been killed by dinosaurs.

Beauty Notes
Both Naomi Watts and Jack Black wear wigs. It was easier than trying to do their hair every day.

Biographical Notes
Peter Jackson fell in love with the original King Kong (1933) when he was nine years old. He said seeing the movie “was the moment I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker.”

Jackson first tried to remake King Kong when he was 12. He used his mom’s fur stole to make a mini Kong.

Watts is known for dramas, but she is in the comedies I Heart Huckabees (2004) and Movie 43 (2013).

Adrien Brody and Thomas Krestchmann had worked together before on The Pianist (2002).

Jamie Bell has been dancing since he was six. He told Watts he’d make her “look like Billy Elliot.”

Naomi Watts demonstrated her screaming in this movie on a live TV show. She broke a window.

Andy Serkis started his career on the stage. He’s starred in a range of plays, from Cabaret to Othello.

Director Peter Jackson lost 70 lbs. while making this movie.

Peter Jackson owns one of the original miniatures used for King Kong in 1933. It’s an 18-inch-tall steel skeleton padded with foam rubber and covered with rabbit fur.

Casting Notes
Jackson first noticed Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive (2001), where she also plays an actress.

Director Peter Jackson had wanted to work with Jack Black since seeing him in High Fidelity (2000). Black took the role without reading the script: “I would’ve [done] ‘Turds on Ice’ if he was directing it.”

Colin Hanks (Preston) stars with Jack Black in Orange County (2002). He is Tom Hanks’s son.

Thomas Kretschmann (Captain Englehorn) also plays a boat captain in U-571 (2000).

Adrien Brody won a Best Actor Oscar a few years before this for The Pianist (2002).

Kyle Chandler began his Emmy-winning run on Friday Night Lights right after this.

Jamie Bell was previously on Billy Elliot (2000). His part was written specifically for him.

Evan Parke (Hayes) was later in Django Unchained (2012).

Andy Serkis (Lumpy) also plays King Kong and is Gollum in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings series.

The island natives are played by 100 actors from Sudan, Polynesia, Fiji, and many other areas.

The conductor is Howard Shore, composer on Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.

Julia Walshaw who plays one of the theater actors is also Naomi Watts’ stand-in for the movie.

Peter Jackson plays one of the gunners. Makeup artist Rick Baker, who plays Kong in 1976 movie, is his pilot. Frank Darabont, director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, also plays a pilot.

Fashion Notes
There was no size 4 in 1933. The smallest size available was a 12.

Finance Notes
King Kong cost $207 million, breaking the then-record for most expensive movie ever made. The studio was willing to take a risk on Jackson based on his success with the Lord of the Rings movies.

Peter Jackson was reportedly paid $20 million to write, produce and direct King Kong.

Health Note
Naomi Watts said her body was covered in bruises during shooting.

Historical Notes
In 1933, with movies becoming more and more popular, vaudeville was on its way out.

The real Palace Theater switched from vaudeville to movies in the 1930s, which led to vaudeville’s decline.

Mountain gorillas were first discovered in 1902 by Captain Robert von Beringe, a German explorer.

Until Wollman Rink was built in 1950, people ice skated on frozen lakes in Central Park.

The Empire State Building had just opened two years before this movie takes place, in 1931.

Location Notes
King Kong was shot in New Zealand, mostly on sound stages. Very few real locations were used.

The Civic Theatre is the largest theater in New Zealand. It was built in 1929.

Pop-Culture Notes
Like Denham (Jack Black), Orson Welles was also known for sneaking one over on producers. He once took money intended for a Treasure Island movie and used it to make Chimes at Midnight (1966).

Naomi Watts was named one of People‘s “50 Most Beautiful” in 2002.

King Kong was remade once before, in 1976, starring Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges. That version set the story in modern times, with the crew of the ship on a petroleum expedition.

The crocodile-like scales down the V. Rex’s back give it a different look than Jurassic Park‘s T. Rex.

King Kong faced off against Godzilla in the 1962 Japanese movie King Kong vs. Godzilla.

A video game based on the movie came out in 2005. All the major cast members reprised their roles. Gamers could play as both Jack Driscoll and King Kong.

The American Film Institute named King Kong one of the “Top Ten Movies of 2005.” The original 1933 version is No. 43 on AFI’s list of the “Greatest Movies of All Time.”

In honor of Kong, David Letterman listed the “Top Ten Signs Your Wife is in Love with a Giant Monkey. Number six was: “Complains you never pick her up and hold her in the palm of your hand.”

In 1981, video game gorilla Donkey Kong was partly inspired by King Kong.

Collectibles from the original King Kong can be extremely valuable. The skeleton from one of the miniatures used in the original Kong was bought in 2009 for $200,000.

A musical adaptation of the original King Kong premiered in Australia in 2013. In the musical, Kong is played by a 20-foot-tall puppet.

Andy Serkis compared Kong to Quasimodo, a.k.a. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Both of them are looking for sanctuary – Kong finds his at the top of the Empire State Building.

Other movies that feature the Empire State Building: Sleepless in Seattle, Elf, Independence Day.

In 1983, an 82-foot-tall Kong balloon was mounted on the Empire State Building.

Press Notes
Over 200 critics named King Kong one of the Top Ten Movies of 2005.

The Washington Post called King Kong “the best popular entertainment of the year” in 2005.

Entertainment Weekly named King Kong their “Favorite CG Character of All Time” in 2007. EW: “Never before has an animated character…expressed so much without saying a word.”

The New York Times compared Kong and Ann to Anthony Quinn and Giuletta Masina in La Strada (1954).

The New York Times compared Jack Driscoll to the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink.

Newsweek called King Kong “the cinema’s most venerable inter-species love story.”

CNN: “King Kong is spectacular, awesome, phenomenal, and breathtaking. If anyone ever tries to do another remake of King Kong, they should be put in a rubber room.”

Production Notes
This is the first movie Peter Jackson directed after the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy. He had originally planned to make Kong in 1996, but “monster movies” weren’t doing well at the time.

Director Peter Jackson and Naomi Watts met a 96-year-old Fay Wray at a dinner party in 2004. When Watts was introduced as the new Ann, Wray said: “You’re not Ann Darrow, I am!”

Watts consulted her Mulholland Drive director David Lynch before agreeing to play Ann. Lynch told her: “Anyone who sits in the paw of King Kong is a movie star for life.”

Jack Black used one of the Weinstein brothers, co-founders of Miramax Films, as inspiration for Carl.

Instead of using storyboards, Peter Jackson created computerized “pre-visualizations” of scenes. The actors watched animated versions of themselves act out the scenes, which helped with the staging.

The miniature model of the Venture was about 14 feet long, 1/12 the size of the full-scale ship.

The architecture on the island based on ancient Mayan, Cambodian, and Micronesian cultures.

Jackson wanted the natives to look like an unsettling photo he’d seen in National Geographic.

The actors playing the natives spent five days rehearsing with a dance choreographer.

They originally designed the raptors in 1996, when Jurassic Park was big on everyone’s mind. They wanted the raptors to look different, so they based them on a pit bull terrier.

Director Peter Jackson studied Gorillas in the Mist, the 1988 movie about Fossey starring Sigourney Weaver.

Andy Serkis was adamant that Kong was a vegetarian.

Andy Serkis studied gorillas in the London Zoo and in the wild in Rwanda to prepare to play Kong. He formed a special bond with one gorilla named Zaire, who got jealous when Serkis’ wife came to visit.

Kong is roughly 25 feet tall, about seven times the height of a real silverback gorilla.

More creatures were designed for King Kong than for all three Lord of the Rings movies combined. They all started out as scale models, each taking about 1,500 hours to complete. Those models, called maquettes, were then scanned and transformed into digital images.

Andy Serkis didn’t know what the pit slug eating his head was going to look like until the movie’s premiere.

They called the flying creatures Terapusmordax. Jackson wanted them to look like infected mole rats.

It was Colin Hanks’ idea for Preston to get wounded.

The Civic Theatre seats 2,350 people. The 400 extras had to be moved around to fill the seats.

King Kong‘s East Coast premiere was held in Times Square on December 5, 2005. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared that date “King Kong Day” in front of a giant Kong replica.

Director Jackson took his co-producers and Naomi Watts to the Empire State Building to watch the sunrise.

The biplanes are replicas of Curtis Helldivers. There were no Helldivers still around, so they had to build them using blueprints from the Smithsonian.

Peter Jackson decided not to show bullet wounds and blood on Kong. He thought it was too upsetting.

The original 1933 King Kong ends with the same line, “It was beauty killed the beast.” Jackson wanted Fay Wray to deliver the line, but she passed away before this scene was filmed.

Prop Notes
The script Ann holds in the movie is published by “Selkirk Press,” a nod to 2005 King Kong editor Jamie Selkirk.

Denham’s camera is a 1916 Bell & Howell, the same kind his character used in the original King Kong. Jack Black carries foam rubber replica of the camera because the real one was too heavy.

About 100 replica guns, made of the same material as skateboard wheels, were built for the movie.

Quotation Notes
Peter Jackson called the boat voyage “the single hardest thing about making the film.”

Brody: “Part of what attracted me to this is that I’m not the overtly muscular kind of hero character. [Jack is] more of a thinker and not necessarily a doer.”

Peter Jackson: “Something about Denham would have bristled at taking orders from a German.”

Director Peter Jackson: “The moment you step onto Skull Island, it is a horror show.”

Jackson: “I started to try to tell [Watts] what to do, but then I realized she’d been in The Ring (2002).”

Jackson: “I figured it was not dinosaurs as they were 50 million years ago… these were dinosaurs as they evolved to 1933 on Skull Island.”

Jackson: “It’s like sharks that sniff blood in the ocean and travel 20 miles. Every bug on the island has crawled out of his hole… because they know [there are] victims.”

Naomi Watts: “So many things about that big, dumb ape [are] just completely the same as any man. They get jealous, they get full of rage, they get protective… and then they are caring and humorous.”

Serkis (Kong): “We’re not aiming to humanize him. You don’t really know what a gorilla is thinking.”

Jack Black said if he could play any other part in the movie, he’d want to be King Kong.

Jackson: “We never saw Denham as… a villainous character, [he just] loses his moral compass.”

Jackson: “It’s important in a… high-octane kind of movie… to have these quiet patches.”

Watts on Jack vs. Kong: “[Jack]’s got all the words and then Kong has all the soul. And all the power.”

Peter Jackson: “We [worried we had] so few sailors left that they wouldn’t be able to steam up the ship.”

Colin Hanks called King Kong “the most amazing experience of all time” and “the hardest I’ve worked.”

Peter Jackson joked that he was planning a sequel to King Kong set during WWII. He said Kong’s son would help the U.S. Army defeat Hitler and mutated creatures built by the Nazis.

Andy Serkis: “When he breaks out of the theater, he’s not an out-of-control beast [trying to] cause terror. He’s like a rabbit caught in the headlights.”

Andy Serkis said his knuckles were “trashed” from running around on all fours playing Kong.

Serkis: “[Kong] has connected with [Ann] in a way that he’s not done since he was cradled by his mum.”

Jackson, on seeing the 1933 Kong as a kid: “I was sobbing by the time Kong died at the end. It swept me away. I was transported into this amazing world and this adventure.”

Script Notes
The movie is set in 1933, the same year the original King Kong was released.

The script for King Kong was about 125 pages.

Jack Driscoll is loosely based on Eugene O’Neill, the playwright who wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Peter Jackson co-wrote the script with long-time collaborators Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. Jackson has been in a relationship with Walsh since the mid-’80s.

They called the pit slugs Carnictis Sordicus, or “vile meat-weasel.”

The title of the play, Cry Havoc! comes from Early Havoc, a memoir of the 1930s written by actress June Havoc. Director Peter Jackson used that book to research vaudeville for the movie.

Set Notes
The S.S. Venture set was built on top of the Manuia, a real fishing boat.

The camel dung is made of cocoa powder, gelatin, cereal, mustard, and salt.

King Kong‘s sound crew had to deal with a lot of background noise from planes at a nearby airport.

The actors practiced “sea walking” to make it seem like the boat was rocking back and forth. Director Peter Jackson compared it to the method they used on the original Star Trek TV series.

There are about 5,000 individual shots in the movie, including all the shots with miniatures.

They dismantled the entire ship set and moved it to an indoor stage where they could pump in fog.

The boat they were shooting on sprung a leak during filming, but it was quickly fixed.

The entrance to Skull Island was shot on a 60-yard-wide “wet set,” filled with 3 feet of water.

A giant sprinkler system created the rain. The actors wore wet suits under their costumes to stay warm.

Dump tanks holding about 1500 liters of water each were used for the storm.

The sacrifice contraption was built with real steel on the inside to safely hold Naomi Watts.

The miniature Skull Island set contained 104,000 pieces of artificial foliage: 4,600 vines, 25,000 live plants, and 220 miniature-scale trees.

Naomi Watts acted her scenes opposite Andy Serkis, who was dressed in a gorilla-like suit. To give Serkis the right scale to work with, he filmed his motion-capture scenes with a Barbie doll.

Jack Black shot a couple of mini-movies with the camera to test it out. One was called “The Chase.”

Naomi Watts fell backwards into a 6-foot-deep hole while filming. Once she realized she wasn’t paralyzed, her biggest concern was that everyone could see her underwear.

Adrien Brody had to have his feet bandaged every day to avoid twisting his ankles.

The Times Square set was designed using photos from 1933 – it’s an almost exact replica.

Four cameras were mounted to the outside of the car to get the interior shots of Brody driving.

The set used for Times Square was converted into Herald Square (home of Macy’s) over a weekend.

Andy Serkis would yell out his actions (like “I’m beating my chest!”) while he was playing Kong.

Source Notes
Jackson added shout-outs to the original throughout this movie. This also follows the same basic plot of the original, down to the character names.

In the 1933 King Kong, Carl Denham was based on producer-director Cecil B. DeMille. Jackson and Black saw this Denham as more of an unsuccessful Orson Welles.

In the original movie, Jack Driscoll is the first mate of the ship, an overly macho “man’s man.”

In the original King Kong, the Venture arrives at Skull Island with no hiccups. The guys is this version aren’t so lucky.

In the original movie, Denham knows about Kong and goes after him from the beginning.

Bruce Baxter is a homage to Bruce Cabot, the actor who played Jack Driscoll in the original Kong.

Much of the fight choreography is borrowed from the 1933 Kong.

In the 1933 version, they attack Kong with gas bombs instead of chloroform.

The dancers’ costumes are based on the Skull Island natives in the original Kong.

One of the biggest differences between this and the original King Kong is Ann and Kong’s relationship. In the 1933 version, Ann spent the whole time scared of Kong.

Symbolism Notes
Jackson felt that the character of Marlow in Heart of Darkness echoed Denham and his recklessness. Heart of Darkness is an 1899 novel about a man who travels down the Congo into the depths of the jungle.

Tech Notes
All of the buildings on the New York set are only about 20 feet high. The rest was added digitally.

Many shots of the ship used a miniature Venture with the ocean digitally added in. Almost every shot in the movie is a combination of live-action sets, miniatures, and computer effects.

There are about 400 digital water shots in the movie. Real water is much harder to control.

For the scenes in Kong’s hand, Naomi Watts sat in a mechanical green chair that shook her around in front of a green screen. Kong and everything else were added in digitally.

Andy Serkis (who also plays Lumpy, the cook) wore a motion capture suit to play Kong. His performance was converted into computer images via motion-tracking sensors in the suit.

To make the wind-blown miniature foliage look more realistic on the island set, Jackson sped up the film in the camera.

They used software they called the Kongalizer to transform Andy Serkis’ voice into Kong’s.

None of the skies in the movie are real, though the digital skies are based on pictures of real ones.

The animated Kong has five million individual hairs.

Trivia Notes
Burlesque acts were popular in the U.S. from the 1860s to 1940s and recently had a minor resurgence.

It would take about six weeks to travel from New York to the South Seas by steamship.

Fathoms measure depth. One fathom equals six feet.

Wide-angle lenses allow more of a scene to be captured – perfect for shooting giant gorillas.

The “Abominable Snowman,” also called the Yeti, is a giant ape-like creature that “lives” in the Himalayas.

A lot more is known about gorillas now than in 1933, thanks largely to zoologist Dian Fossey.

According to a 2009 study, apes evolved to laugh roughly 10 million years ago.

Real gorillas do beat their chests, but they can’t stay upright very long. They also move from side-to-side.

The cricket-like bugs are plus-sized versions of weta, an insect native to New Zealand. Peter Jackson named his visual effects houses Weta Workshop and Weta Digital after the insect.

Gorillas can learn sign language. One gorilla, Koko, has been taught over 1,000 signs.

Ann experiences Stockholm Syndrome – she develops sympathy for her captor.

Only one of the original Seven Wonders of the World is still intact – the Great Pyramid at Giza.

Wardrobe Notes
About 1500 costumes were made for the movie by a team of nearly 100 people.

Twenty-eight slips were made for Naomi Watts, each one in a different state of disrepair

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