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King Kong


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The King of all Kongs - Special Triple Soundtrack Review

The Soundtracks

KING KONG (2005 Soundtrack) by James Newton Howard

KING KONG (1977 Soundtrack) by JOHN BARRY

KING KONG (1933 Soundtrack) by MAX STEINER

KING KONG (2005)
Composed by James Newton Howard
Decca Records

KING KONG (1976)
Composed by JOHN BARRY
Film Score Monthly

KING KONG (1933)
Composed by MAX STEINER
Rhino/ WEA


Buy KING KONG Original Soundtrack by James Newton Howard  from

Buy KING KONG Original Soundtrack by JOHN BARRY from


Buy KING KONG Original Soundtrack by JOHN BARRY from



Soundtrack Review

“Plenty is due to the composers who have provided the musical atmosphere which surrounds and preserves Kong both on screen and in our memories.”

A Skull Island Retrospective
Written by Steve Townsley

Without a doubt, KING KONG is one of the most iconic figures in film history. The evolutionary anomaly created by Meriam Cooper and Edgar Wallace has inspired hundreds of re-creations in various media, not the least of which are the high-profile, big budget films that attempt to capture the spirit and the wonder of the original. True, that any recreation must be made with some acknowledgement of RKO Pictures’ 1933 film, though throughout the years, the attempt is made to improve the product, often with varying degrees of success. For many viewers there is no true improvement upon what many consider to be the premiere adventure/fantasy/monster movie, however, that has not kept pioneering filmmakers from taking the opportunity to depict Kong for a new generation. In each version to grace the silver screen, a unique and original score was provided to enhance the filmmakers’ individual interpretations of Kong’s majesty.


Composer Max SteinerIn 1933, the legendary MAX STEINER wrote a score that was epic, romantic and terrifying, setting the standard for the key elements that audiences have come to associate with Kong. Steiner’s grand score celebrates the golden age of adventure, but also retains a kind of playful naiveté with the music. For today’s audience, the “Jungle Dance” cue does sound like a very contrived idea of what “exotic” music might sound like (an idea that would be hinted at later in Peter Jackson’s 2005 adaptation.) But for delving ears first into the strange and adventurous elements of a authentic-to-the decade “Kong”, Steiner’s work is unmatched, and therein lies the fascination with the score. In 1933, Kong was modern-day adventure. In later years, Kong would be something of an anachronism--Or even more so, considering his Skull Island seclusion. Steiner’s opening theme for “Kong” squeezes in to just two minutes the grandeur, terror, romance and tragedy of Kong, all before taking us directly to those moments through the music.

The tale of KING KONG is a terribly ironic tale, in which Kong, a master of his domain, is stolen from his kingdom, put on display, and given the title “King” in a land not his own. Steiner’s “KING KONG March” plays into that irony, shattering the atmosphere from Skull Island to Manhattan Island with a straight-laced modern fanfare and joyful march. This masquerade will be a short one, however, as Kong will break free, and so Steiner does, once again reintroducing the rampaging themes of terror that the listening audience experienced in the Skull Island portion of the score, while still blending with the “modernisms” of the New York portion. In “Elevated Train Sequence”, we’re treated to a standard train “chug-a-chug” motif, before Kong’s ominous horns dominate once more.
Kong, sadly, does not go out with a musical bang, but with a tragic-but-melodious whimper as Steiner’s strings softly lay the King to rest, but provides a grand Opera-like flourish the end, as if to cue the curtains on this wonderous tale. Steiner’s recording has seen a few various releases, on the Marco Polo and Rhino labels, most prominently. The Rhino release features dialogue excepts, as well as non-dialogue score cues. The Marco Polo release is simply straightforward music.

1933 certainly did not signal the last of Kong from the cinema world, and many sequels and spin-offs were a short matter of work for the Hollywood machine. Though not until some 40 years later was a full-blown box office attempt made to reintroduce Kong to the modern audience. Already familiar with Kong’s depression-era antics, the filmmaking crew behind 1976’s “King Kong” sought to update the eighth wonder of the world by, literally, updating him, introducing Kong into the flashy era of 70’s. Kong purists already knew this was a misstep, and audiences were not far behind in agreeing with them. However, the effort was determined to see through, and the result was a interesting, if decidedly un-canonical, re-imagining of the story. Composer JOHN BARRY, who had already definitively sealed his place in film history with the James Bond franchise, was chosen to score this adaptation of Kong.


Composer John BarryJOHN BARRY has always been masterful at eliciting a ponderous and wistful theme, even if his thematic structure is somewhat predictable. Barry choses to open the score (conveniently titled “The Opening”) with a similar ominous quality to Steiner’s theme, but curious here is his choice of organ music to accent the supernatural element of Kong’s presence--the effect is chilling. Barry does not leave us in the foreboding mood, however, immediately cutting to a happier, lighter theme—which is all well and good, until we’re reminded in the last 5 seconds that this is a Kong film, after all, so pay attention.

Barry’s Sacrifice “Tribal” music leans in a similar direction as the Steiner-influence beats, but with less orchestral flourishes, and instead drawn into a kind of terror with a single pulsing chord. The choir chants “Kong! Kong!” as the tension builds and the recording then breaks into a curiously appropriate sound clip from the movie featuring Kong’s gorilla roar and chest thumping, as well as an accentuating scream from Jessica Lange’s damsel-in-distress. Silence for a moment, and then the chants begin again, “Kong…Kong…”

Reminding us that we’re yes, still in the 70’s, “Kong Hits the Big Apple” is almost comic in its inappropriateness, though thankfully, Barry chooses to merge with the score, rather than letting remain a source cue. The tension from the end of this cue builds until the end of the album, when Barry unleashes his most effective cue in the entire film. “The End”, as featured on the album is, initially, an almost inaudible piece of music, playing very softly, until we hear a beat that sounds loud and indistinct, like artillery firing in the distance..until the listener realize it is a double-rhythm…like a giant heart. A heart that is slowing…until there is only one beat. And then Barry’s terrifying and tragic music immediately strikes up, signifying the death of Kong.

The 1976 film, “KING KONG”, might have been seen as a rather King-sized error, and was ultimately rendered obsolete with what was to follow in 2006. Barry’s time-piece score remains, however, and is wonderfully preserved and presented on Film Score Monthly’s Silver Age Classics edition.


Composer James Newton HowardKong’s cinematic legacy now some 73 years old, was the world really in need of yet another interpretation of the King of All Movie Beasts? Smash success filmmaker Peter Jackson, eager for the opportunity to pay homage to the King after his success with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, thought so. Jackson and his already assembled family of capable filmmakers combined talents to put forth a vision of Kong that sought to pay due homage to the original film and source novel, as well as flesh out the story for a newer and ideally more sophisticated audience. Many music fans were likewise as eager to hear the results of yet another potentially thrilling collaboration between the director and award-winning composer HOWARD SHORE. The closer the new film got to its release date, however, the more this collaboration was not to be. With little excuse or explanation, the masterful HOWARD SHORE was replaced with equally talented composer James Newton Howard to provide the score for Kong’s return to the screen. This choice disappointed many score fans who looked forward to Shore’s music, and still hope that Shore’s existing music might make it to a commercial release one day. This aside, James Newton Howard rose to the occasion, and his score masterfully fit into place.

Jackson’s vision of “Kong” took pains (and a few criticisms) providing lengthy exposition at setting up the story of KING KONG as the journey of Ann Darrow from depression-era waif to a greater destiny. The music is well crafted around this set-up, and builds beautiful themes for Ann, as well as the scheming, wheeling-dealing filmmaker Carl Denham and the venture upon which they set forth (figuratively, and literally.)

The score Newton Howard builds is epic and tragic, like its 1933 counterpart, though also subtle in its emotional pull, with interchangeable themes of romance and wonder like Barry’s 1976 score. The film appropriately has plenty of room for this, as Jackson’s film is much longer than either predecessor, and therefore requires more character development and thus, more musical development. Though all films must end on a sad note, Newton Howard’s score feature a 15 minute “Beauty Killed the Beast” suite to draw a close to Jackson’s film.

Whether we will see another KING KONG film in our lifetimes, it is secure to say that KING KONG has created an indelible footprint in the memories of moviegoers around the world, both young and old. Plenty is due to the composers who have provided the musical atmosphere which surrounds and preserves Kong both on screen and in our memories. Whether you are a collector of film music, or looking to become a collector, the legacy of KING KONG is well represented in these scores.


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