The success of the current release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong begs asking not why this film is successful—the blockbuster has already brought it in over $200 million at the box, but why it is successful at all.
The answer of course lies in the primal code. The primal code is seven assets (creation story, creed, icons, ritual, sacred words, nonbelievers and leader) that, when used together, create a belief system that attracts a community of people who share those beliefs. That community can be two people in a room, or two hundred inside a move theater. The primal code is useful for anyone who desires to create public appeal.
The creation story of King Kong lies both in its film history and in its plot line. Let’s concentrate on its plot, as that contains the original appeal. And why the movie has been produced at least three times.
The creation story, for anyone who has not seen any version of the movie, has its roots in the original Treasure Island stories. The tale of an unknown island in the remote seas as appealed since before Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. And has been the basis of many adventure tales.
The creed is all about the mission, which is getting to Skull Island. They are even willing to go into uncharted waters off the sea lanes to succeed in their mission, despite the fact that no one returns alive.
The icons are many. The tramp steamer, Jack Black’s character stamp, Skull Island. Of course, Kong atop the Empire State building with a fistful of Fay Wray is one of the most iconic scenes in film. And Naomi Watts gives the film new flesh for the beast to fling.
The rituals in an adventure film are always the same, which is why they are rituals. The quest into the unknown. The chase and rescue scenes. Then there’s the obligatory thriller “rollercoaster ride” that’s in every kid flick--disguised in this film as hair-raising slides down the mountain.
There are some great lines that identify the movie. The seminal sacred word being Beauty. But there is also the cowardly hero Bruce Baxter (played by Kyle Chandler) who flees faster than anyone, screaming, “Coming through!” The doozy is the very last line of the film, delivered by Jack Black, “It was beauty that killed the beast.”
The nonbelievers in this film are those who aren’t flocking to the theater. But written into the screenplay is modern society—the thousands of terrified citizenry who don’t understand what Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) understands. That the beast is beautiful.
The leader, of course, is Carl Denham the adventurer, played by Jack Black.
To astound. To thrill. To terrify. King Kong has the formula of a classic. Go see it. Or wait another 20 years for the repeat performance.