King Kong (1976) – Film Review

king kong film review jessica lange

Director: John Guillermin
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
Certificate: 12

By Sarah Morgan

King Kong – he’s the big guy who just won’t go away.

He started his cinematic life in 1933 via Merian C Cooper’s brilliant adventure-fantasy movie, which some claim has never been bettered. It’s Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson’s favourite film, and he created his own version in 2005. Twelve years later, another take on the story, Kong: Skull Island, was made, this time by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

But better than both of those remakes is John Guillermin’s epic 1976 offering, which has been dusted down for a new ultra-HD Blu-ray release. And it looks pretty spectacular too.

king kong film review coverProduced by Dino De Laurentiis and boasting the kind of huge budget Cooper could only have dreamed about, it updates the story to the 1970s while making a few tweaks to the plot.

“Epic project”

Rather than featuring a film crew scouting locations, the expedition at the centre of the story is being masterminded by oil executive Fred Wilson, who believes he could make a name for himself – as well as a heap of cash for his company – by plundering the reserves he’s convinced lie beneath the surface of an unexplored island in the Indian Ocean.

Stowing away on the vessel transporting Wilson and his team is Jack Prescott, a primate expert who wants to know if legends involving a huge ape living on the isle are true. Joining the men on their voyage is Dwan, a wannabe actress who is the only survivor of an accident that killed everyone else aboard her own boat; she makes a miraculous recovery, both physically and mentally, after being picked up while floating around unconscious in a life raft.

On their arrival on the island, the visitors disturb a mysterious ritual being carried out by a local tribe. Its angry leaders want Dwan to participate; when her companions refuse, she is kidnapped and offered as a sacrifice to their god Kong, a massive gorilla who takes an instant shine to her.

Wilson, meanwhile, spots a lucrative opportunity – when it becomes clear there’s no oil to be found, he comes up with the idea of transporting Kong back to America for a potentially lucrative coast-to-coast tour. It turns out to be a very unwise move indeed…

London-born Guillermin was fresh from the success of making The Towering Inferno when he directed King Kong, so he knew a thing or two about handling a huge, epic project. Although writer Lorenzo Semple Jr’s dialogue is a little clunky in places, the director makes the most of the story, letting the spectacle speak for itself rather than relying on exposition – a wise move indeed.

Jeff Bridges plays Prescott, and it’s his natural charisma that helps gloss over some of the worst lines in the script.

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Unfortunately, Jessica Lange, in her first film, didn’t have the skills to overcome her often poor dialogue at the time – she spent the next three years having acting lessons before returning to the screen in All That Jazz. However, she isn’t as bad as some reviewers made out when the film was released, and is actually pretty good in her non-verbal, emotional reactions to Kong.

While Semple Jr’s language may be a bit iffy, his changes to the storyline work well. This time, rather than scaling the Empire State Building, Kong climbs up the South Tower of the World Trade Center, which was then a relatively new building. It’s also a little disturbing, considering what happened in 2001, to see a helicopter supposedly crash into the side of the structure after being swiped by the gorilla.

Special effects wizards Carlo Rimbaldi and Rick Baker deserve a special mention for their creation of Kong, which is actually quite impressive, while the sumptuous score comes from York-born composer John Barry.

The release contains not only the original 134-minute theatrical version, but also the extended TV version, which features an extra 45 minutes of footage.

Special Effects8
● Extended TV broadcast cut (unrestored)
● Audio commentary with film historian Ray Morton
● Audio commentary with actor and makeup artist Rick Baker
● Interview with Barry Nolan
● Interview with Bill Kronick
● Interview with Scott Thaler and Jeffrey Chernov
● Interview with David McGiffert and Brian E. Frankish
● Interview with Jack O'Halloran
● Interview with Steve Varner
● Deleted Scenes
● Original Trailer
King Kong is released on 4K UHD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital by STUDIOCANAL

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