Director: John Guillermin
Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, Rene Auberjonois, Julius Harris, Jack O’Halloran, Dennis Fimple, Ed Lauter, Jorge Moreno, Mario Gallo, John Lone, Garry Walberg, John Agar, Keny Long, Sid Conrad, George Whiteman, and Wayne Heffley
Composer: John Berry
Release Date: 12/17/1976
MPAA Rating: PG
Upon discovering a fog-shrouded island in the Indian Ocean, Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin)—executive of the Petrox Oil Company—and his crew embark on a journey to locate large quantities of petroleum. Joined by stowaway Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges)—a paleo-primatologist with a compelling interest in the island—and aspiring actress Dwan (Jessica Lange), the expedition members are confronted by a massive ape whom the natives refer to as Kong. Unable to profit from the island’s oil supply, Wilson orders his men to capture Kong and transport him to New York City for a publicity stunt—a decision that results in disaster when Kong, now deeply enamored of Dwan, kidnaps the object of his desire and climbs the World Trade Center Twin Towers to avoid human capture.
A subpar remake of an immortal classic, King Kong should be criticized for its campy dialogue, dated special effects, and unnecessary changes to the 1933 story. Viewers of a sensitive inclination may nevertheless enjoy this feature, which further expands upon the anthropomorphic traits of Kong—the embodiment of man’s primitive and uncivilized tendencies.
Quite unlike the mesmerizing, fantasy-themed nature of the original Skull Island, Kong’s location of origin in the 1976 version exemplifies many dark, mysterious, and nightmarish qualities that serve to accentuate the terrifying presence of the title monster. Among the most harrowing island sequences are Kong’s initial encounter with Dwan, the infamous log-shaking scene, and a vicious fight inside the den of a giant snake—all of which will surely intrigue fans of the horror/adventure crossover genre.
Also noteworthy is King Kong’s “romance” subplot, giving the eponymous creature an almost human capacity for love and emotion merely alluded to in the 1933 version. Specifically, Kong demonstrates a caring, protective, and occasionally gentle side to his character that, having been brought to surface by Dwan’s influence, should allow the audience to feel compassion for him in spite of his violent behavior—as opposed to Kong’s counterpart from the aforementioned 1933 version, whose curiosity of Ann Darrow never develops into a heartfelt connection with her.
For substituting likable, down-to-earth characters with cheap and one-dimensional caricatures, this offering would best be avoided by diehard enthusiasts of the original King Kong. Arguably the most offensive alterations to the source material concern the characterizations of Dwan, a foolish and self-centered interpretation of Ann Darrow; Jack Prescott, a pretentious hippie standing in for Jack Driscoll; and Fred Wilson, a man whose defining attributes (i.e. greed, arrogance, and shortsightedness) bear little resemblance to the noble, if terribly misguided, efforts of filmmaker Carl Denham.
Additionally problematic from a technical perspective, Kong (portrayed by make-up veteran Rick Baker in a gorilla suit) fails to exhibit the ponderous, inhibited movements that would realistically hamper an oversized hominid—undoubtedly a consequence of director John Guillermin’s insistence on filming Kong at normal speed.
Combining the tragic vision of Merian C. Cooper with the pathos of a complicated love story, King Kong offers a variety of thoughtful and emotionally provocative updates to the Beauty and the Beast legend—the inspiration for Kong’s “relationship” with Ann/Dwan. It should be noted, however, that despite its romantic undertones, this production is never marred by excessive or inappropriate sentimentality—much in contrast to Peter Jackson’s overlong take on the King Kong tale, which forgoes the subtlety of both versions that precede it.
King Kong is a poignant and disturbing, albeit somewhat goofy, reimagining of possibly the greatest and most iconic monster movie ever made. Exceptionally haunting are the depictions of Skull Island, which, though lacking the prehistoric marvels of the original film, should be commended for establishing a dark and moody atmosphere to complement the Eighth Wonder of the World.
Overall Quality: 6/10
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