When some of us think of the original 1933 movie King Kong, we think of the gigantic gates that lead into the big ape's domain or the titanic struggle between the two giant dinosaurs or, heck, even Kong himself standing in chains on a Broadway stage. But I wonder how many of us remember the music, without which the whole affair would have been a mere shadow of itself.
Austrian-born composer Max Steiner (1888-1971) is generally credited with having invented film music. He always shrugged it off, saying it was an idea originated with Richard Wagner. Well, Wagner may have championed the idea of musical motifs, but in the early 1930's, film music was in its infancy. Sound had only just been added to movies a few years earlier, and filmmakers were anxious to find as much original music as they could. Steiner's score for Kong was among the first (often cited as THE first) full-length scores with musical cues to underline specific segments of the action.
Steiner would go on to write many more classic film scores for things like Gone With the Wind, Now Voyager, The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Fountainhead, The Big Sleep, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and The Searchers. But it all started with Kong.
Marco Polo gave us Steiner's complete film score for the movie in their 1996 recording, with the music reconstructed and restored by John Morgan, at which time I duly noted it in my review. Now, movie buffs, monster-movie fans, and fanciers of film scores in general should be pleased that Naxos is offering the same recording at an even more affordable price on the parent label. If the higher price of the Marco Polo disc put you off before, this 2005 Naxos reissue gives you a second chance to buy it.
The reconstructed musical score is a little over 72 minutes long. Considering that the entire film is only about 103 minutes, this means we are getting practically every note Steiner composed for the picture. Not that all of the music is exceptional, but it is thoroughly entertaining, whether or not one remembers the specific cues in the film. And it's one of those film scores that gets better as it goes along, with "Hey, Look Out! It's Kong. Kong's Coming" and the "King Kong March" among the better items near the end. Steiner does a terrific job evoking atmosphere and even imitating real-life sounds with his orchestra. "The Sea at Night," for instance, and "Cryptic Shadows" create wonderfully flavorful moods, and "Aeroplanes" sounds for all the world like real airplanes. OK, some of it also gets a bit repetitious and maybe even redundant, but that's film music for you.
As far as I could tell, the sonics are the same on the Naxos reissue as they were on the older disc, not entirely transparent but natural. The whole affair sounds like a genuine orchestra playing, not a multi-megabuck hi-fi system. I was especially impressed by the miking distance, which was just close enough for moderate detail yet not distant enough to sound muffled. Depth perception is also good, along with left-to-right orchestral balance. The sonics also have a nice, ambient bloom to them, a quality that will delight those who attend live music regularly and will annoy those who expect absolute audio purity. However, I have to admit I enjoy the sound of this same orchestra, the Moscow Symphony, recorded a tad closer, as they are on the Marco Polo disc of music from Steiner's Treasure of the Sierra Madre, one of the best film recordings ever. And the overall sound level on King Kong is slightly lower than it is on later recordings from this same source, so crank it up and enjoy.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click below: