KING KONG (1976)

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Director:  John Guillermin
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  Theatrical Trailer
Length:  134 Minutes
Release Date:  November 22, 2005

Film **1/2

Okay, the 1976 remake of King Kong is no great movie, by any stretch of the imagination.  Still, I have to admit, it holds a very special place in my heart as a childhood memory.  I can remember when I was seven years old, being completely captivated, enthralled, and even a little terrified of the image on the movie poster (no longer on the box cover).  This gigantic, fearsome ape with one foot on each of the twin towers of the now departed World Trade Center, with a tiny woman in one hand and crushing some menacing machinery in the other.  But when you're that young, it doesn't take much at all to make you feel small, and this Kong was almost too much to comprehend.  I had no idea at the time that the movie was a remake of a legendary black and white classic from 43 years prior.

The original was considered a landmark of special effects, though the stop motion techniques look sordidly dated by today's standards.  It seemed appropriate to remake it, and take advantage of newer and better effects technology, and indeed, this version garnered an honorary Academy Award for its achievements in that area.  Of course, the newer effects didn't hold up well under aging any better than the original.  It's almost hard to watch the big gorilla of this film after having seen the Disney version of Mighty Joe Young.  It's no wonder Peter Jackson decided it was time for a King Kong remake of the remake.

But, back to the big fellow…the storyline got an update in this movie.  Instead of a film crew, Kong's island is discovered by oil explorers (drawing, no doubt, on the oil crisis of the 70s).  They find no oil, but they do find a tribe of natives, who live behind a giant wall in fear of this thing they call Kong.  Our first glimpses of the giant ape are awe inspiring, as he is slowly revealed a little at a time through shaking forest treetops.  He's a frightening vision, but seems to be tamed by the crew's lone female (Jessica Lange, in her screen debut).  And without the oil, the decision is made that the voyage will be made worthwhile by capturing and bringing back Kong to America.

Naturally, all hell breaks loose, and the last stretch of the film is the most fun, as Kong terrorizes New York, stomping some people, wrecking an elevated train, and eventually making his way to the top of the Trade Center to pose for the movie poster.  True, overall the film is a bit corny and campy, and doesn't inspire the same awe to adults as it might to children, but still…tell me the ending doesn't move you at least a little bit?  It still does me.  

And if this remake has one mark in its favor over the original, it's the removal of the goofy summary line for those who weren't paying attention, “'Twas beauty killed the beast”.

Audio ***

This transfer is mostly hit, but some miss.  All brightly lit scenes are perfect.  Images are sharp, colors are solid and well defined (and beautiful), and there's no hint of break up or grain of any kind.  These scenes are the equal or superior of any of the best DVD transfers of 70s films currently in existence.  Most of the darker scenes are equally good, with the same compliments.  However, a few of the darker scenes are not only poor, they border on unwatchable.  There are a few scenes that are muddy and grainy, so much so that it's difficult to tell what you're looking at, as images are poorly defined amongst the murkiness.  That's a shame, because if not for those few moments, this would have been a reference quality disc for image quality.

Audio **1/2

The soundtrack offers both 5.1 and 2.0 mixes, and is mostly clean, though a little dated sounding.  The subwoofer didn't add as much resonance to the big guy's howls as I would have liked, and overall, the audio is just a tad thin.  Perfectly good for an older film, just nothing to get excited about.  And no, your ears aren't playing tricks on you…Jessica Lange really did ask the beast what his sign was.

Features *

Only a trailer.  Sad...this new DVD is just a rehash of the old one.  I was hoping for some more special features this time around.


He came, he saw, he conquered, and he quickly disappeared again.  This one time box office hit is now mostly resigned to late, late movies on television where it inspires more laughs than scares.  But with Peter Jackson's new movie, at least the big guy wasn't gone for good.  In the meantime, treat yourself to at least a rental of this disc, for old time's sake.

FREE hit counter and Internet traffic statistics from freestats.com