Analysis of The Music And Sound Direction In King Kong 1933

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When Max Steiner created the music score for King Kong (1933), film music was changed forever. For the first time in film history, sound film was put together by an original non-diegetic score that both supported and enhanced the narrative that have begun the principles that have governed film scores ever since. Steiner’s music for King Kong music out-did expectations during the 1930s with harmonies, jarring chords, multiple tone motifs, or sound devices as the music scale includes multiple pitches, all happening in sync.

The music he created for the film was new and exciting for people. For me personally, I was surprised and entertained by how well his overture and music for the rest of the film was conducted and applied especially for the technology available in the 30s. People in today’s time should appreciate this film and the music in it, as it led the way for Hollywood movie design over the decades until present time.

The sound design and motif for the opening scene in New York has a very jaunty, jazzy style, which represents the 1930s culture. This motif is tied to Ann when she tries to escape from Kong several times on the island, as with returning to New York. The opening has a motif that represents evolution that leads to the unknown jungle of Skull Island. The sound used throughout this opening sets up the rest of the film by showing real lives and actions in New York compared to the next scene before they reach the island which shows the undisclosed, mysterious island when the sound suddenly changes before the audience’s ears.

As the setting changes where the characters enter Skull Island, There are very obvious low and mysterious sounds where the motif is able to be heard in the opening cue. By using horns and stringed instruments, it signifies the island’s mythology and overall mystery. Once they reach the island it develops to signify many different emotions that creates a climax with the high strings and woodwinds. When Ann is kidnapped, she screams, creating intensity for the motif. While this is happening, the music ascends as he climbs up to get her which is terrifying for Ann and frightening for the audience.

As for the return to New York, the sound quickly changes into what sounds like a celebration of upbeat victory as the crew has captured Kong and returns to their homeland. The reveal of Kong in New York has an exciting sound, as in a parade. As the curtains rise and Kong is revealed, drums sound off but there is quickly a change of sound that makes it seem like something bad can shortly occur. Sound of trumpets and horns arise to show victory for the cast. As Kong growls in fury, the sound gets very dark and fear is created through music.

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Leading up to the finale, from the moment that Kong escapes, Steiner continually intensifies the Kong motif. This made a big sense of terror with an emphasis on his destruction of the city. Just like Ann is kidnapped by Kong for the first time at the Island, Steiner intensifies the motif as he takes a woman he mistakes to be Ann, the music engendering the same feelings of terror as in the earlier scene.

Steiner’s score is famous for having no music until the boat is getting very close to the island. The music appears to emerge from the fog which allows viewers to link the non-diegetic with the mysterious world of Kong. In the times of early films, some people were not used to hearing music without seeing some sort of it on the screen. Here, Steiner obviously blurs the contrast between the orchestra and the drumming. This part of the film is very important because the drums take the audience’s attention away from the non-diegetic harp and strings.

When each scene transitions into another, the sound slowly fades and disappears and then smoothly transitions into another type of sound whether it be spooky, up beat, or suspenseful. It is done in such a way that the audience is able to be prepared and want to find out what happens next as the film includes much action and drama.

I believe the sound track was designed in such a way to make the audience aware of what is happening through all the action, scene, and setting changes. This entire film is full of suspense and the music connects all pieces of the film together to create an incredible production.

Another important part of the sound design choices of the film is the portrayal of Kong and his relationship with Ann, most clearly in the sophistication of the animations. Steiner’s choice of score makes Kong come to life, while having the chance to scare and terrify both Ann and the audience. Steiner aids the audience in viewing Kong as a true character rather than an a special effect.

Steiner produced a score with the ultimate fear factor which in my opinion, was a big goal of the film. His music keeps the feeling of terror throughout the movie, making lots of chaos and action until the end of the film. When Kong reaches the top of the Empire State Building, the audience assumes this will be the end for Ann; the tension and fear through repetition of his motif points towards a tragic finale.

As Kong dies, Steiner uses a brief, strong amount of the love theme to bring relief from the continuous action. Suddenly, there is hope with the sense of relief to the end of Steiner’s score. The audience is left with a feeling of peace after much tragedy for the people of New York with this “beast” being put to an end.

In conclusion, this original version of King Kong from 1933 truly made a path for future film making in Hollywood and defined music scores as it still is seen today as one of the most monumental moments in film making history.

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