A just-passable pulpy novel based on Meriam C. Cooper’s tale King Kong, immortalized in a 1933 film, from DeVito and Strickland (Kong: King of Skull Island, 2004).
“Have you ever heard of . . . Kong?” one character asks another of the iconic gorilla. Oh, yes. And with Peter Jackson’s December ’05 film remake, the world will hear quite a lot more. The authors’ aim is to reintroduce swashbuckling filmmaker Cooper’s original novel and film. Authorized by the Cooper estate, it features a top-secret excursion to mythical Skull Island in search of the storied Kong and a cast of characters cemented in the popular imagination by the film: an old sea salt with a monkey for a pet, a danger-seeking moviemaker, a dashing leading man and a pretty waif (lured, starving, off the streets of New York). The prose here is simultaneously workmanlike and sensationally extravagant (“High above, the nimble airplanes renewed their dance of death as they dove toward Kong in another grotesquely beautiful ballet”). Newcomers will appreciate the sense of mystery that builds during the voyage and pre-Kong encounters with Skull Island natives. As with the film, the third act can seem a long time coming. A more contemporary and adult approach might have invited book-club explorations of colonialism, racism and humankind’s exploitation of the natural world, but the idea is to keep the cornerstone of the franchise as pure as possible. This they do, though the best piece of writing here is James V. D’Arc’s foreword. The curator of Cooper’s papers at Brigham Young University, D’Arc writes movingly of Cooper, truly a larger-than-life figure—although not as large as his famous primate.
In terms of pushing the story along and getting Kong atop the Empire State Building, DeVito and Strickland get the job done. But whether today’s readers will appreciate their faithful effort is another question.