THE MISSING SPIDER PIT SCENE!
A HISTORY OF THE LONG LOST SCENE FROM KING KONG
AND PETER JACKSON'S ATTEMPT TO RECREATE IT

The original King Kong is one of America's greatest movies.  Though the versions that have existed through the years have gone through dramatic edits.  In 1938, 5 years after its original release, there was wholesale chopping of over 4 minutes of footage deemed too shocking and violent for the audiences.  We detailed much of this in an article on The Censored Scenes of Kong a couple years back.  Luckily dedicated film preservationists were able to track down those scenes, but there's long been a sequence that was cut after an initial screening by the film's director himself, Merian C. Cooper, that's never been found.  Known as the "Spider Pit Scene", a thrilling segment in which men are eaten alive by various creepy crawly creatures after Kong shakes them from the log into the ravine, had been spoken of by folks who read the script, with only scant evidence of its existence.

Among the numerous lush pre-production sketches exists this one which shows a giant crab attacking and an offscreen tentacled beast going to town on the hapless souls trapped in the ravine of doom.  Clearly there were plans to create the scene, but there was no actual hard evidence that it was filmed...

...until this photo surfaced in Forrest Ackerman's magazine, "Famous Monsters of Filmland", which showed a spider, and some sort of lizard/gator hybrid in the background.

The two photos were the only "real world" trace of the footage which still hadn't been found even decades after the original cut was made.

Popular legend says that Cooper cut the footage because it was "too shocking" when shown to a test audience, but as the screen capture of one of Cooper's notes from one of the special features in the new Kong DVD shows, "...so don't know about the spider sequences.  After all I invented them, and personally cut them out of the rough studio print of "King Kong"  They stopped the story". It was cut merely to tighten up the pacing and keep the focus of the terror on Kong.

But still, even though it was the director's choice to remove the scene, fans of King Kong have long been clamoring for it to surface.  With the likelihood of the Spider-Pit Scene showing up more than 70 years after it was removed almost non-existent, Peter Jackson (director of the 2005 Kong remake), decided to pay tribute to the scene and film a new one as a special feature for the Warner Brothers DVD release.  A documentary about the effort on the disc shows Jackson brought together his brightest FX guys from his WETA studios, along with creature creator legend Rick Baker and screenwriter Frank Darabont to brainstorm exactly how it would be put together.

One thing they discovered while pondering how to recreate the missing  scene, is that there's actually another cut scene as well.  Many folks wonder why the men simply don't run back to the other side once Kong starts shaking the log bridge, but this photos shows that there's a dinosaur on the other side who's equally hellbent on causing them trouble. 

Peter Jackson, being the super King Kong fan with Lord of the Rings money to burn, actually owns the model from the 1933 film, pictured above.  The brilliant stop-motion animation artifact is in such a horrible shape, that it could never be used in a modern film.  The animators wanted to get a good look at the metal skeleton structure underneath so they could make an exact replica of the model, but agreed that tearing off the rubber skin and exterior of such an important piece of film history would be criminal.

So they had the inspired idea to bring the model to a hospital and have it x-rayed.  The results allowed them to not only duplicate the complex mechanics without destroying the model, but revealed an amazing set of bellows that were used to simulate the creature's breathing.  They never even considered such a thing existed inside of it.  The WETA team went to work and built a perfect modern replica of the dino.  Further research revealed that the original dino model was actually used for a bit in the goofy sequel Son of Kong, so they were able to see how the original animator Marcel Delgado intended his movements to look like.

The animators went on to painstakingly recreate the crabs and other creatures that waited in the valley below.  If you look on the wall over his right shoulder, you can see what the metal skeleton of the original King Kong puppet looked like.

Not only were stop motion puppets made of the monsters, but in the true sprit of 1930s special effects, they were created for the people/dinner as well. 

Once the sets were duplicated and filming was ready to begin, in true fan film form, the victims were cast with animators who actually created the creatures.  The pictures that follow are screen captures from the recreated scene which can only be seen as an extra on the collector's edition DVD of King Kong (which has a November 22nd release date).

It's a charming bit of fun with effects that is delightfully faithful to the technology of the time.  Jackson states, "I don't intend it to be a piece of serious film archaeology", but stresses their work is just a fun simulation of what might have been. 

If you're a fan of great cinema, the King Kong DVD set is well worth ever penny.  In addition to fun extra features of this sort, you get a brilliant restoration of the entire film, with all the hair, scratches, and dust removed.  The restoration  is not "George Lucasified" with reshot scenes and upgrades, but looks just like it did when it was first shown back in 1933.

Thanks to Peter Jackson for showing the well deserved love for this film and making this for us all to enjoy.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com

 

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