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King Kong, by Christopher Golden
Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Published: 2005
Review Posted: 8/6/2007
Reviewer Rating:
Reader Rating: 6 out of 10

King Kong, by Christopher Golden

Book Review by C. Dennis Moore

Have you read this book?

It's 1930s, Depression-era New York City, and Ann Darrow is a struggling Vaudeville comedienne. Desperate for bigger and better things, she's spotted one afternoon by film director Carl Denham, standing across the street and looking at a strip club she's decided not to work in. It's a case of need at first sight; Denham needs a new leading lady for the movie he's making--someone who fits the costumes he already has--and Ann needs a new job as the show she'd been performing in has closed down. Ann is hesitant--things like this don't just happen, you know?--until Denham mentions the movie he's filming is being written by Jack Driscoll, a writer whose work Ann has always admired.

Ann accompanies Denham to the docks where she's introduced to the crew, both of the movie and the ship, and they set sail. The movie is being filmed aboard a cargo ship, and later, or so Denham tells them, in Shanghai. But his real destination is an undiscovered, by the general populace, island in the Pacific. Denham purchased a map to its location from a Norwegian sea captain who guaranteed him a wonderful adventure. And Carl Denham is all about adventure, especially if it means filming that adventure will add to his box office take.

The journey begins and everything is hunky dory at first. But when they finally reach their destination, Skull Island, things rush headlong down the drain. Ann is taken captive by the island natives who sacrifice her to their "god", a twenty-five foot gorilla, who takes Ann deep into the jungle, braving dinosaurs and giant bat-creatures. Meanwhile the crew of the Venture, led by writer Jack Driscoll, who's fallen in love with Ann, mount a search and rescue determined to bring her back where she belongs so they can get away from this place.

King Kong, the novelization of the Peter Jackson version of the classic film, is a great book. I knew it would be, the story is a classic pulp adventure tale and few things are as exciting as those old stories. Couple that constant action with writer Christopher Golden's prose and you've got a great read.

The thing I like most about these kinds of novelizations is how they're able to delve so much deeper into the characters, showing us things we can't get from watching the movie. For instance, I knew from the movie that Ann Darrow was a strong character, but I never knew the kind of pride and determination she carried inside her until I was shown her inner dialogue in the novel. I knew Jack Driscoll and Carl Denham had known each other previously from the movie, but I never understood the depth of their friendship until I read the novel.

Writer Golden has done a great job in this book of, not only following the script about as accurately as possible, but also really opening up the relationships and the characters more fully to us. Having read this novel, I believe I can now go back and watch the movie again, taking even more away from it this time. It's not just about giant gorillas climbing the Empire State Building, the characters here are fascinating people.

There were passages in here that made me shiver they were so well-written. For instance, Ann is broke and out of work, hoping something comes along soon, knowing she's only a few cents away from winding up in a cardboard box in Hooverville along with the rest of the Depression-homeless when Carl Denham approaches her about the movie role. Sensing it might be too good to be true and suspecting Denham wants more from her than he's saying, Ann almost turns him down, even though to do so will mean she's back where she started:

"And let me tell you, Ann, Jack Driscoll doesn't want just anyone starring in this picture. He said to me, 'Carl, somewhere out there is a woman born to play this role . . . '"

He hesitated just a second. At first Ann thought he had sensed her interest, realized that Driscoll's involvement had hooked her and was trying to reel her in, but now Denham looked almost wistful.

"And as soon as I saw you," he said, "I knew."

Ann didn't like where this was headed. She'd been hungry and directionless, sure, but this was too much, too fast.

"Knew what?" she asked, uneasy.

"You're the one, Ann," Denham said, as though it was some epiphany, as though he really believed it. "It was always going to be you."

And for just that single moment, she could believe it, too.

One moment was enough.

Why do I love this passage? Because knowing what's come before, having seen Denham's desperation to find a replacement actress on short notice, we know it wasn't always Ann, but I don't know if it's the moment or the way it's written or what it is exactly, but reading that bit, I almost believe it, too, I feel Ann's sense of hope and maybe even salvation in this rotten mess of a life she's surrounded by. And that's magic.

I loved this novelization. Some novels written from movies read like they were written from a movie, but King Kong has a different feel. Maybe because it does recall those action-adventure novels of the time period, who knows? But King Kong stands alone. You can read this book cold, never having heard the words "King Kong" before, and still come away touched. It's simply a great story with beautiful writing and characters we can truly feel for. Definitely recommended.
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