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"King Kong" was one of my all-time favorite movies when I was a
teenager. It was the big 'event' movie of 1976 and showed on two
screens in most multiplexes. It might have been the first movie to get
that treatment. With a production cost of $24 million it was the most
expensive movie ever made at that time.
Promotional material offered for sale dwarfed anything that had been done in that area before. A fast-food joint offered King Kong collectible glasses (I still have a set). And you could find posters, T-shirts and a 'Making Of King Kong' book.
I very much enjoyed 'King Kong' as a 17-year-old high school senior, but not so much later as an adult. The romance between Dwan and Jack seemed contrived once I got older. Other aspects of the film struck me as just dumb. Like the ship's radar being able to pick up Kong when he was walking around the island. Or the SUNNY aerial shot of the people walking on the allegedly fog-shrouded island. Or Jack's theory that the fog was produced not by a huge supply of crude oil near the surface, but by 'animal respiration.' As if King Kong's breathing caused the fog bank. Give me a break!
Yet there's something about movies one enjoyed as a youth that makes them special for the rest of one's life, no matter how bad they really are.
But 'King Kong' had it's good points, too. First of all, it was funny. Charles Grodin's portrayal of the greedy, desperate oil company executive is scenery-chewing at its best. For years after, I watched in vain for Grodin to play a similar character, but everything else he has done is nothing like his work in 'King Kong.' (Nothing as good either, I might add.)
Speaking of singular performances, you won't recognize René Auberjonois if your frame of reference is his work on 'Benson' and 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.' The voice he uses in 'King Kong' is nothing like the gravely voice we're used to hearing.
Jeff Bridges is perfect in the role of Jack Prescott. His long hair is a nice touch, although it probably turned off some of the older people in the theater. Jeff has a way with a sarcastic line that few actors can equal.
Jessica Lange comes off worse than any other actor in the film. Not because of her performance, which is fine, but because her character is an airhead who is only there to be protected (and rescued when that doesn't work) from Kong. The fact that her costumes were chosen for their ability to showcase her body and that her breasts are briefly visible when Kong undresses her has got to make the actress cringe nowadays when she thinks about this movie.
I'll close by noting that John Barry's score of 'King Kong' was terrific. Twenty-six years after the movie debuted and I can still remember the title tune.
People seem to jump on the old' bandwagon when bashing Kong '76. It's not that bad!!! For '76 I'd say it was quite an achievement. Lange is great in it (and quite stunningly beautiful) and Bridges always rules. Can't go wrong with this version... don't believe the negative hype. I, for one, appreciate it when someone does a remake and actually interprets the story differently. Carpenter did it with The Thing and Cronenberg did it with the fly and both were amazing. I think this movies gets more negative comments because they are comparing it to the original, which back in its day was the first movie of its kind (Mighty Joe Young is still better!). For movie purists, the thought of remaking a landmark film is always touchy territory. Thus, they rip the remake. The core story is still basically the same, the writers just updated key elements that were pivotal 'classic' moments from the original (empire state building for one). Again the purists cry foul. Bottomline, see it and give it a chance... ignore the pompous so called "experts".
I hate to admit this having read many of the reviews but I can't help but
enjoy "King Kong". Yes I realize it is silly and yest I realize the special
effects aren't.... well, special. But I was 11 years old when this came out
at Christmas in 1976. The hype was huge. The posters screamed that it was
"The Motion Picutre Event of Our Time". I was caught up in it all and the
film has a lot of fond memories for me.
On the positive side I think John Barry's score is one of his best. The lack of an Oscar nomination was a crime. Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin (playing a bad guy for a change) are acceptable in their roles. Jessica Lange didn't exactly hint there was a two time Oscar winner present but she looked awfully good. And the supporting cast featuring character actors (Ed Lauter, John Randolph, etc) we've seen over and over again.
It's no classic. It may not even be that good. But every time it's on I watch it and enjoy it despite its flaws. I guess that's what a guilty pleasure is all about. And this may be my guiltiest pleasure.
Okay, I'll admit that I was a kid when I first saw this so this review is
done wearing rose-colored glasses. But having seen this '76 remake of "King
Kong", my opinion hasn't changed much: it's still great! Maybe not the
equal of the original, but how could it be? It does well enough in its own
The music grabs you right off: John Barry did aces with his pounding, dramatic score. And you couldn't ask for a better cast; Lange does okay for a first role, Bridges makes linear-thought acting look easy and Grodin is about as slimy a baddie as you could ask for. The bit parts are also filled with familiar faces (Bernsen, Piscopo, Auberjoinois, Lauter, Randolph and Lone) who acquit themselves quite well.
A lot of people blast the monkey suit. But I think Rick Baker did a good job with it. Of COURSE it's a guy in a monkey suit, but it's a guy in a WELL-DONE monkey suit. It still gets me when Kong blew-dry Dwan (Lange after her waterfall shower); those puffed-out cheeks, especially in 1976, were high tech enough for me (remember, this was before "Star Wars" came out).
But we all know how the story works; any of us who have a rudimentary knowledge of the original, that is. The new twist was having the emotional connection between Lange and ape. More enlightened than having her scream endlessly. The Twin Towers scene near the end was not only exciting but quietly moving, as it showed just how much the beast cared for his beauty.
There's plenty of corn in this one, no argument, but it's corn for a good cause. I loved "King Kong" and if I had a chance, I'd buy a copy! Anyone have John Guillermin's phone number?
Seven stars for "Kong"; long live the "King"!
Another poster called this Kong a guilty pleasure. I agree. It's flawed and the special effects are not very special by today's standards and there's a lot of silly stuff. I won't argue about any of that. It's all true. And so what? I LOVE THIS MOVIE! I love the flaws and the not-so-special effects and all of the silly stuff. I enjoyed Dwan's comment about telling Prescott's sign by his ears and all of her silly lines to Kong. Jessica Lange is beautiful, lovely, and wonderful. Jeff Bridges is excellent too and how can ya not hate Charles Grodin in this? He's the character I most love to hate! Great work! King Kong himself is always entertaining in this even if he is incredibly goofy at times depending on which special effect they used. The giant robot Kong just kills me! LOL! I loved it! When they use an actor in a costume it works better and dammit this Kong has got the most soulful eyes! My heart strings were tugged by this sweet and silly movie. POOR KONG! HE'S JUST LOOKIN' FOR LOVE! WHY CAN'T THEY JUST LEAVE HIM ALONE?! I guess if they did there'd be no movie. No this isn't a perfect movie but I agree with the poster who said this movie is an old friend. All of the flaws are part of it's charm and I've had a wonderful time with this Kong.
I always feel this movie did not get the credit it deserved. O.K. it was not as good as the original but has any monster movie ever matched it? The effects and story are very entertaining and Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges are well cast. My favourite touch was the selection of the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building for the finale. Shame you could not see it well in the dark however. The film is great fun for any movie or monster movie fan. Watch, enjoy and await the UK DVD release. Superb entertainment!
In an era when many hollywood blockbusters are criticised for an
over-reliance on sophisticated special effects to the detriment of
everything else, this poorly remembered remake stands as a cautionary
example of what can happen when a basically decent film gets let down by
low-tech back up.
Producer Dino De Laurentis both cheated and deceived his audience here; selling the film on the hype of a state of the art full-size hydraulic ape that would re-define the effects landscape. Instead, what we got was the tired old fallback of the man in a monkey suit waddling bow-legged around some highly unconvincing sets.
Its such a shame because this film actually has a lot going for it. The screenplay is sprightly, good-humoured and faithful to the original while updating it with some then topical issues like fuel crises, feminism and even pornography. The makers also have a whale of a time with endless phallic imagery and self-referential quips more common to movies of the 90s than 70s.
The characters are far more quirky and idiosynchratic than you normally get in this sort of fare; a hippie academic, a star-struck, dipsy blonde and a buttoned-up corporate shark. Lange has gone on to become one of the most honoured and respected actresses of her generation, yet her career almost died right here. She was actually so good at playing the shallow, D-list airhead that critics and public alike thought it a reflection of her real self and dismissed her out of hand. Yet looking at her performance in hindsight she just oozes skill and star quality.
The film hardly puts a foot wrong until Kong appears. The production is smooth, the photography impressive, the locations superb and the story and characters engaging. But a fantasy adventure stands and falls by the suspension of disbelief achieved at the crucial moment. The first act of the 1933 Kong drags interminably until the King himself appears - then it soars. The reverse happens here; Rick Baker turns up in his ape suit, knocking down plastic trees and fighting a big rubber snake and the spell is shattered - in fact it was never even cast. The problem is also compounded by the screenplay's only serious error; making Kong sympathetic and pitiable far too early. The original Kong was always awesome and scary, even when he began to become sympathetic. Here he is just a bit too likeable, to quickly.
That the film remains just about watchable after this point is a testament to the performers and the strength of the story, but ultimately this effort has to go down as a missed opportunity to make a quality remake of a legendary film. Lets hope Peter Jackson doesn't make the same mistake next time round. You can't imagine him getting the film visually wrong, but it would be ironic indeed if he fell into the modern malaise of neglecting other key elements like story and character. Indeed, he could do worse than give the first hour of this movie a peek before he puts pen to paper.
When this film was released at Christmas of 1976 it was billed as "the
motion picture event of our time." Now it seems a bit extreme but as an
eager 11 year old I was sucked in. Looking at it today I admit it's
certainly far from being a motion picture event. But the film has its
virtues none more so then the fine performances by Jeff Bridges and
Grodin (in an unusual villianous role). And let's not forget the beautiful
musical score by John Barry.
The special effects are pretty cheap in many scenes so don't be looking for top notch in that category. I don't know....on the whole it's really not that great but I must confess that every time it is on television I watch it. This is a true guilty pleasure.
King Kong (1976) King Kong was a huge hit back in the seventies--I know
because I was there, I saw the frenzy, I remember the crowded theaters.
Now, admittedly, it also had a huge pr campaign, which undoubtedly
helped it garner a lot of that dough, but there was a lot more to the
flick than just the hype. And it could have probably been an even
bigger hit if the filmmakers had played it safe and hadn't gone out of
their way to make a film so stubbornly odd. I mean this thing stomps
over a gigantic swath of styles: panoramic spectacle, high adventure,
pathos, romance, social commentary, absurdist comedy, thrills, and
occasionally outright goofiness--all comprised in a slyly satiric
package designed to tweak the noses of Kong purists. Lorenzo Semple
Jr.'s ("Papillon ") screenplay is all over the place when it comes to
style and tone, borrowing from whatever and whenever, almost as though
it had been patched together from several different treatments--yet it
still remains incredibly tight in terms of interesting, well-drawn,
consistent characters, witty dialog, exploration of theme, and the
forward momentum of the plot. King Kong 76 is a great example of
anarchic postmodernism being perfectly wed to the staunch formalism of
good storytelling. A contemporary example of this approach would be
Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill films.
The direction by veteran John Guillermin was absolutely fearless, pushing each of Semple's concepts to its limit, even at the risk of seeming silly. And he had a great cast to work with, especially young Jessica Lange in her first film role. Unfortunately, Jessica played the role of the vivacious, childlike, kinda dimwitted bubblehead blonde Dwan so incredibly well that most people wrote her off, assuming she was just a dumb blonde playing herself. But in actuality it is a bravura performance, one of the best in her career, and certainly a more individual, more fully-realized character performance than we get in most movies these days.
As big a hit as the disco era Kong was, however, there were a lot of people who were put off because they weren't expecting anything as freewheeling and insane as what they were given. They weren't expecting weirdness and satire. They weren't expecting to see Kong blowing a hot, wet blonde dry after a dip in a lake (metaphors anyone?), a scene simultaneously erotic and ridiculous. They weren't expecting to see the captured Kong turned in to a corporate shill--is there any scene in mainstream 70s cinema more surrealistically satiric than that of Kong being presented to the masses encased in a thirty story replica of a gasoline pump? They also were not expecting to see a big budget adventure film with a downer ending--the romantic leads ending up emotionally separated by their experiences instead of united. And they didn't expect to feel bad when the monster died.
So I put it to you all that not only was the 1976 Kong a financial success, it was also an artistic success. But you can't watch it as a remake of a classic film. It is no more a remake of the 1933 King Kong than Quentin's Kill Bill is a remake of Sonny Chiba's Streetfighter's Revenge. Watch the film for what it is, not what you think it should have been, or what you wanted it to be, and you will be better able to appreciate its cracked brilliance.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The 1976 "King Kong" was a major deal when it came out. A huge
marketing blitz was mounted, with iconic Kong imagery on everything
from drinking glasses to t-shirts and jigsaw puzzles. Considering that
it was so heavily promoted, and a big-budget picture, it's surprising
to watch this movie now and see how silly the special effects ended up
looking. I say that with reservations, because not all of it is bad.
But there are some ideas that are "overly ambitious", such as an
unconvincing snake attack and the Godzilla-like silliness of seeing a
man in an ape suit stomping around miniature sets.
But we must be careful when levelling criticism like this. Yes, the blue-screen effects are obvious...but then again so were many of the CGI effects in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake (such as a stampede of dinosaurs that looked more like a video game than a movie). The 1976 Kong works on a fantasy level that the other films don't approach. The sequence set on Skull Island doesn't really contain many intense action scenes, although it does possess a weird atmosphere all its own. The fakey shots of Kong looming above the trees are all set against weird red and blue backdrops that are obviously screens instead of sky, but the artificial quality of it is very weird. There are parts of the island that are realistic, but the jarringly dark scenes with Kong give it a nightmarish quality.
The doomy 70s themes are what makes this version of "King Kong" special to me. The performances are mostly good here, too. Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges are both appealing leads, with Lange's characterization surprisingly complex. Dwan comes off as a Marilyn Monroe type who plays the dumb blonde game, but she's ambitious and conniving as well, eager for her big break and looking for whoever (or whatever) will make her a star. When romance develops between Lange and Bridges, it seems as tragic as her non-relationship with Kong. A scene where she lures Bridges into a deserted bar while on the run from Kong might be a little unrealistic, but it's an effectively bizarre moment that gives them a chance to have a heartbreaking realization: their idea of getting married can never really happen because of everything that has occurred. The excitement that brought them together has also made it unrealistic for them to be married. The life Bridges leads would not be satisfying for the ambitious Dwan, despite their attraction. Still, we get the impression that if they could just save Kong, they may still have a chance. They naively attempt to bargain with the authorities and get Kong back to his native habitat, but of course this is not possible. Kong's destruction at the end of the picture only seals their own doom. Dwan is swarmed with photographers who want to take her picture, and even though she screams for Jack, they are separated by a sea of people. It's a surprisingly powerful moment.
The 1933 original and the 2005 remake are both straightforward adventures, and while the 2005 version does emphasize the tragic relationship between Kong and his girl, only the 1976 film turns it into an existential statement. There is no happy ending for anybody in this movie. They have all sold out at some level, with disastrous results. Only Kong is truly innocent and simply a victim of circumstance.
Everything else around this core of the film is a gamble. There are some howlingly awful moments, such as when Kong is first displayed in New York and it's a giant, unconvincing animatronic model. Sorry, but there is no way you can make a 40-foot robot look real. The aforementioned snake is very badly realized. However, this 1976 version has the best "sacrifice" scene out of all three films, with a very engaging sequence as a seemingly drugged Dwan is prepared to meet her "groom". Kong does look like a guy in a monkey suit most of the time, although his face is amazingly realized and convincing.
Due to the mixed bag that's in this movie, you may think to yourself "that was AWFUL." But it catches up to you later. Out of the silliness, you feel as if you've said goodbye to three very real characters; Dwan, Jack, and Kong.
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