Before creating their grand fantasy King Kong
, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack took their cameras to Siam to put genuine wild jungle creatures on the screen in their part-adventure, part-documentary spectacle Chang
. It was a smash hit upon its 1927 release and is still considered a classic of the genre, filled with sights that retain their power 70 years later. A loose story is constructed around the lives of a family living at the edge of the jungle in a hut raised high up on stilts. The father tracks the leopards killing his livestock while the children play with a veritable petting zoo of furry little pups and cubs. The filmmakers are at times condescending toward their tribal heroes ("We be mighty hunters, Kru," comments one warrior in an intertitle, as if their own language is but some pidgin dialect) and fill the film with goofy comic relief. Just forget the story and enjoy the sights: hunters building deadfalls and spring traps, a leopard charging through the woods, and the climactic elephant stampede. The images of the awesome beasts fording a river like a rampaging army while the villagers struggle to split the herd and save their village is astounding. The silent film is set to an original score by Bangkok composer Bruce Gaston and performed by the traditional Thailand orchestra Fong Naam.
The beautifully mastered DVD also features commentary by historian Rudy Behlmer, a color test for the film, a production essay, and a reproduction of the original press kit. --Sean Axmaker
The lost masterpiece by the makers of "King Kong," Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's "Chang" is available for the first time in over 45 years. Shot entirely in Siam, the film tells the story of a farmer and his family who have settled a small patch of land on the edge of the jungle. Their existence is a constant struggle against the many wild animals around them--bears, tigers, leopards, and even...changs! The climactic elephant stampede is still one of the most exciting scenes in cinema history.