One of the main criticisms levelled at the film is that it takes unnecessary liberties with the original plot. This is an entire re-imagining. Unlike Peter Jackson's faithful remake, Guillermin's Kong is set in the then modern day 1970s and features a plot about a greedy oil company rather than a film crew. The male star is now a stowaway Science Professor, while the female lead is a wannabe starlet found adrift in a life raft. Personally, I think the changes make the film. The hunger for oil regardless of the cost is thematically more relevant than ever and the film's surprisingly strong environmental message is refreshing.
As the leads, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange make a strikingly attractive pair. Jeff was at the height of his career and delivers a typically solid performance. This was Jessica's big break and I think she does a good job with a difficult role. Jessica looks every inch the movie star and brings her own unique sense of frailty to the role but her character is somewhat undermined by the writing. I'm sure Fay Wray and Naomi Watts would have struggled just as much with the seedier elements of the film.
The undisputed star of the film, however, is Kong. The thing I love most about this film is its reliance on animatronics (and a couple of monkey suits) instead of CGI. Carlo Rambaldi's life sized mechanical Kong is the thing of legend. The detail in Kong's giant hand alone is magnificent. The computer generated special effects, on the other hand, haven't aged well at all. The best thing about this version is the producers' willingness to make Kong a killer. I love the bloody battle with the giant rubber snake and Kong's memorable tantrum involving a giant log. My favourite part is when Kong tramples innocent bystanders in New York. It's 70s exploitation at its best as are the decidedly disturbing scenes where Kong washes and dried Dwan (Jessica Lange) and the infamous moment when he exposes her breasts. It's wonderfully tasteless and so of its time. Just like Dwan's story of being rescued by "Deep Throat"! Another interesting aspect of the film is using the World Trade Center instead of the Empire State Building for the finale. It is a bit disturbing to see the Twin Towers feature so prominently but it's also touching to see them in all their former majestic glory. Their use makes the film a true historical document. The finale itself is utterly brilliant. In fact, the entire New York sequence is tense and spectacular. Guillermin's "King Kong" has its flaws but it has the balls to be different and offers a whole new spin on the Kong legend. The film is definitely undervalued and under-appreciated. Watch it for Kong's horny eyes alone!