King Kong (1976)
King Kong (1976)

Genre: Adventure and Horror Running Time: 2 hr. 14 min.

Release Date: December 17th, 1976 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: John Guillermin Actors: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, Rene Auberjonois, Julius Harris, Jack O’Halloran, Dennis Fimple, Ed Lauter

 


 

I

n Surabaya, Indonesia, the Petrox Explorer finishes loading up, just as scheming stowaway Professor Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) bribes his way aboard. The crew is in a hurry to reach their destination ahead of the likes of Shell or Exxon, as the island on their radar has a suspected wealth of oil. A mayday call momentarily sidetracks Captain Ross (John Randolph) and the seasick New York desk guy Fred S. Wilson (Charles Grodin), who comes along since he paid for valuable information – images that a NASA spy satellite accidentally photographed of the mysterious landmass. And Wilson is certain that it is the tip of a huge underground oil tank.

Though scientist Roy Bagley (Rene Auberjonois) backs up Fred’s notions, Jack crashes their meeting to insist that the island could be inhabited by some dangerous thing. Of course, with his nervy interruption, they’re quick to dismiss Prescott’s claims that he’s from Princeton’s department of primate paleontology and that he’s not a competitor infiltrating their operation. When a raft from the previous distress call happens to float past the American merchant vessel, a lone woman, Dwan (Jessica Lange), is pulled aboard. Thanks to his medical training, Jack is brought out of the brig to keep an eye on the new passenger. He’s also assigned to be the official cameraman for the expedition (he’s photographed a few monkeys in his time), to work off his stay on the ship.

In a hopelessly bizarre choice of editing and storytelling, a romantic montage plays out as Dwan and Jack flirt, all to the James Bond-like tunes of composer John Barry. Lange takes on a Monroe ditziness and skimpy attire to match, assuming the role of an actress who, it’s revealed, survived her ordeal because she refused to watch the film “Deep Throat,” which ensured she was on deck when the yacht she was aboard exploded. If there was one thing this remake didn’t need, it was a specifically air-headed heroine, who musters no sympathy for the eventual harrowing interactions with the titular beast. To make matters worse, Prescott becomes ludicrously overenthusiastic about his photographing assignment, snapping shots of Dwan on the beach and Fred gallantly disembarking from the recon boat as if in a rollicking comedy.

Though based on the original 1933 film by Merian C. Cooper, this Dino De Laurentiis production dispenses with the moviemaking storyline (for the most part) to get straight to the journey on the high seas itself (even though the plot remains virtually the same). But then the picture shifts gears into a lighthearted romance, with two unnaturally whimsical characters doing everything in their power to be insincere. At the same time, Grodin overacts as if trying to be a full-blown caricature; Dwan seems too dimwitted to function; the natives and their ceremonies are entirely goofy; and Jack is somehow intelligent and versatile enough to serve as a translator, an artist, a doctor, a scientist, a mountain climber, an adventurer, a soldier, and a shirtless stud. Plus, the dialogue is absolutely pitiful (with some of the funniest lines – unintentional, to be sure – ever committed to celluloid), especially as the sexual notes are ramped up a notch, with Kong being called a rapist more than once. Some quips are so outrageously unreal it’s as if the entire film is a purposeful parody.

This revisitation presented the opportunity for grander spectacle and greater excitement, yet the direction turned instead toward calculated campiness and outright comedy. The decades could have also allowed for mind-blowing special effects and genuine thrills, but the focus seems to be on absurd coquetry rather than awe (and this is before the “turned-on” monster bathes and fondles his captured beauty). Even the sets and sound effects carry a phoniness to them. And when Kong finally makes an appearance, his man-in-a-suit fabrication is strangely less impressive than the stop-motion visuals from 34 years earlier. “Who the hell do you think went through there? Some guy in an ape suit?” yells Jack, with what is possibly the most ill-conceived quote ever devised for a movie that does indeed include the shoddy designs that could mistake King Kong for a mere costume. Hysterically, moments later, Dwan just might outdo him when she doltishly coos, “Nice ape. Nice, nice, sweet, sweet monkey.”

– Mike Massie

  • 1/10