Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Meanest Brontosaurus of Them All

Kong-blogging, essay 12 of 15 blog entries on
Skull Island in King Kong (1933)

Part One, Beware of Brontosaurus

A Brontosaurus encounter in the fog in King Kong (1933).

The Brontosaurus wreaking havoc.

The Brontosaurus on land, chasing the surviving sailors.

The Brontosaurus nears a tree in which he will trap a sailor.

Part Two, Reversal of Expectations

He's one mean Brontosaurus.

First, a note on the dinosaur’s name:  Throughout these essays, I’ve been attempting to restrict myself to the terms familiar to the makers of King Kong in 1932 and 1933.  Back in 1932, Merian C. Cooper, Willis O’Brien, Marcel Delgado, and the rest of the film crew would have called this beast a Brontosaurus.  The scientific switch-over to Apatosaurus (a name that pre-dated Brontosaurus but never caught on with the public) came several decades later.

Anyway, what’s in a name?  That which we call a Brontosaurus would by any other name look as big.

Now let’s take a look at this bad boy.  Kong has crossed the river.  The ship’s crew follows in a makeshift raft but midway across the river they are attacked by a Brontosaurus.

And this is one mean dinosaur.  Who would have ever expected a mean Brontosaurus?

Friendly-looking Brontosaurs in an 1897 painting by
Charles R. Knight.
Source: Wikimedia Commons
This is a Brontosaurus that brazenly breaks the stereotype, running full-tilt against popular sentiment.  From the late days of the 19th century when Brontosaurus first seized the public imagination, they have generally been regarded as among the most cuddly of dinosaurs.  As one famous example, the title character Brontosaurus in Winsor McCay’s Gertie the Dinosaur (1914) had a typically sweet and endearing personality, like an overgrown puppy who just happens to be the size of a house.

The Brontosaurus brought back by Professor Challenger’s expedition in The Lost World (1925) was a born victim (terrorized by a bully Allosaurus) and only dangerous in London because of his huge size and strength.  The Brontosaurus is quite happy to peacefully swim off towards South America at the movie’s close.

The Brontosaurus moves in
for the kill.
But the Brontosaurus in King Kong is nothing like its relatively harmless predecessors.  He sadistically tosses the men about in the water, chases them onto land, and maliciously toys with one of the crew members before savagely mauling him.

Basically, he behaves like a hippopotamus (one of the most dangerous man-killers in nature AND a committed herbivore).  And why shouldn’t a Brontosaurus be surly and vicious?  There’s nothing that says herbivores have to have nice dispositions.  The Brontosaurus doesn’t appear to go against his natural inclinations by eating the men—he simply kills them and moves on.  It’s actually a healthy reminder for all of us: be respectful to wild animals.  Regardless of how cuddly they may look, they can be dangerous.

And I love the way his lips curl into a snarl—like a 1930s gangster, James Cagney style—as he goes in for the kill.

Part Three, Classic Snarls

James Cagney snarls in
The Public Enemy (1931).

Boris Karloff snarls in Frankenstein (1931).

The Brontosaurus snarls in King Kong (1933).

Reference Sources
The Making of King Kong by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner
Living Dangerously: The Adventures of Merian C. Cooper by Mark Cotta Vaz
Willis O'Brien: Special Effects Genius by Steve Archer
Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume 1, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Dinosaurs Past and Present, Volume 2, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
Charles R. Knight: The Artist Who Saw Through Time by Richard Milner
All in the Bones: A Biography of Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins by Valerie Bramwell and Robert M. Peck
Special features on the two-disc special edition, King Kong (1933) by Warner Home Video Inc.
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

Watch King Kong...
Purchase a King Kong DVD or Blu-Ray set at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.
Rent King Kong at Netflix or other rental service.

© 2012 Lee Price

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