King Kong (1976)

DVD Cover (Warner Brother)
Genres / Traits: Adventure, Creature Film, Kaiju, Primates
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John Guillermin John Guillermin
Jeff Bridges Jeff Bridges
Charles Grodin Charles Grodin
Jessica Lange Jessica Lange
John Randolph John Randolph
Rene Auberjonois Rene Auberjonois
Movie Connections:
King Kong
> King Kong (1933)
> The Son Of Kong (1933)
> King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)
> King Kong Escapes (1967)
> King Kong (1976)
> King Kong Lives (1986)
> King Kong (2005)
> Kinky Kong (2006)
> Kong: Skull Island (2017)

5.9 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by Crispy
Added: March 02, 2017
So, in a few days we will be gifted with a brand new treatment of 1933's legendary King Kong. The new movie is shaping up to tell a very different story, but in 1976, he got a much more faithful re-imagining.

Petrox Oil executive Fred Wilson has come across the tip of the century. After bribing a member of Congress to slip him some satellite photos from NASA, he believes he's found an island absolutely rich in untapped crude oil, a pure source just for Petrox. As they're en route, the voyage is joined by two unexpected guests. The first of which is Jack Prescott, a paleontologist who had heard of the island through various reports over the years. He's stowed away on the ship because those reports have convinced him that there is a new species of primate on the island, larger than anything seen before. Obviously, Fred is none too happy about this, but as Jack is being escorted to a holding cell, he spots an emergency raft on the sea. Enter Dwan (that's not a typo), an aspiring actress and lone survivor of a pleasure yacht destroyed in the previous night's storm. Still, Fred wasn't going to cancel his trip due to these additions and they carry on to the island. Once there, they find a tribe of natives that worship Kong, a massive ape they routinely sacrifice their women to. Enamored with the fair Dwan, they're determined to offer her to the gorilla and not taking no for an answer, they kidnap the woman. Jack and the crew immediately set out to rescue her; meanwhile, ever the business man, Fred realizes what kind of cash could be made on an advertising campaign based on the creature.

So, once you get past the new story bringing our cast to the island in the first place, King Kong '76 plays out very closely to its predecessor. From the first meting to the natives to the famous climax at the top of the NY skyline, the story is unchanged. So what is there that truly differentiates the two releases? The answer is forty-three years of special effects development. While I've said many times I have a soft spot for stop animation, there's no denying how groundbreaking this particular ape was. Man-in-suit monsters have long had a reputation for unrealistic cheese, with lifeless mask heads and visible zippers and strings. Here, special effects artists Carlo Rombaldi and Rick Baker didn't break the mold, they made a brand new one from scratch. The King Kong costume here is built in layers, with a suit of muscular definition overlaid with fur. The head was given the same treatment and used one of several different masks, depending on what emotion they needed to convey. The ape looked amazing, but there's no denying that this technique came with some limitations. While the destruction scenes in the city looked pretty good, the buildings were undeniably models. Even on the island, the scenes of Kong fighting off the various animals had to be completely nixed. The only thing we got was an extremely short, boring fight against a rubber snake.

Unfortunately, these improved effects are really the only nice thing I can say about the movie. The new cast simply can't hold the candle to the original and by and large that applies both to the characters and the actresses portraying them. Sure, the original characters may not have been the deepest, but they fit the 30s zeitgeist. The 70s versions are just flat out uninteresting, unlikable characters. Jeff Bridge's Jack is the only one I liked more than their '33 counterpart, or in the movie at all for that matter. He brought some character to the role that raised Jack to more than a mere archetype. The same can not be said for Fred Wilson, this generation's Carl Denham. Charles Grodin played the sleazy, money-hungry executive to the letter. On the other hand, they tried to do something interesting with Jessica Lange's character Dwan, but dropped the ball hard. Dwan is naive, vapid and unbearably stupid. Certainly not a heroine worth rooting for.

As a result of these bland characters and such a closely mirrored plot, this remake doesn't have nearly as much heart as the other one. This is a clinical recreation of the classic movie, despite the effort put in by Bridges and the new effects of Kong. There just wasn't enough new content brought to the table to give this remake its own feet to stand on, however, there was one major addition that might have done the trick. You see, unlike Ann, Dwan recognizes the danger Kong puts himself through to defend her and quickly begins to feel affection for the apes. It's a great idea, but it had too much baggage to really get off the ground. For starters, Dwan is far too childish to hold up her end of the bargain; you get the feeling she just appreciates the attention more than anything else. Also, for as much as I raved about how well done Kong's expressions are, the face they made for him when he gazing lovingly at her is extremely creepy. It's a look full of lust and infatuation. It's hard to invest in a relationship when one half is an attention whore and the other looks like a rapist.

If this was an original movie, maybe I'd rate it a little higher, but with soon to be three other options available, there are films that will let you enjoy the high lights without having to deal with the lows. 5.5/10.
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