Film Review: King Kong (1976)

Release Date: December 17th, 1976
Directed by: John Guillermin
Written by: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Based on: King Kong by James Creelman, Ruth Rose, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Music by: John Barry
Cast: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, Peter Cullen, Julius Harris

Dino De Laurentiis Corporation, Paramount Pictures, 134 Minutes

king_kong_1976Review:

This was the King Kong film I grew up with. When I was a young kid in the early 1980s, this thing was on television almost daily. I also haven’t seen it since I was a young kid. But I have been watching through all the King Kong films in an effort to review them before the newest one, Kong: Skull Island comes out in March.

This was the first of a duo of films, kind of like the two previous King Kong series before it – the original 1930s RKO Radio Pictures films and the 1960s Toho kaiju movies. For the record, the Peter Jackson King Kong film that came out in 2005 was the first not to spawn a sequel.

1976’s King Kong is a better film than its bad reviews and low scores dictate. It stars a young Jeff Bridges, who looks like a twenty-something version of the Dude. He is likable and the highlight of the film, from an acting standpoint.

The film also stars Jessica Lange, who has always been beautiful but this is her at her stunningly best. She wasn’t a great actress here, although she would be in later projects. Lange was still passable, however. Her emotion, towards the end of the movie, once she grew to love Kong, was a much better version of the beauty and the beast tale than the original 1933 film.

Charles Grodin played the slimy stand-in for Denham of the 1933 version. Instead of being a showman and promoter, Grodin’s character was a sort of greedy oil baron. Like Denham, his desires for money, fame and power turn against him, as he is brutally stepped on by a rampaging King Kong when the film reaches its big climax.

King Kong also has René Auberjonois in it. He’s a guy that I have loved from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Benson to Where the Buffalo Roam to Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach to all his television and voice work.

This film, like the original, spends most of its time on the island. It only goes to New York City at the very end of the picture, to show Kong on display and then breaking free, only to rampage until his death at the hands of man.

The special effects of the movie are a mixed bag.

Kong looks great. The ape suit and the animatronics work really well and they have aged fairly nicely. Also, the miniatures, most notably, the elevated train scene, don’t look half bad for 1976. Some of the other effects aren’t great, however.

The green screen work looks too obvious and is distracting. One scene in particular, you can tell that something is about to happen with a window in the shot because it is highlighted and stands out like a wall about to break in an old cartoon. Also, any scene of a character falling to their death, whether humans or Kong himself, looks really bad.

The finale of the film is brutal. It takes place atop the World Trade Center and Kong meets his most violent death to date. This violence became a pattern over the two De Laurentiis Kong films. He is shot by three helicopters with miniguns. Bloody chunks literally fly off of Kong as he screams in horror. At least he takes out two of the helicopters in the process. Kong then falls off of the World Trade Center in dramatic fashion.

This is a better than decent film for its day. I find it to be more entertaining than the slew of disaster pictures from the 1970s. Also, I really liked the dynamic between Bridges, Lange and Kong. It isn’t as epic as the 1933 original and despite being more modern, feels much smaller and confined. Regardless, I did enjoy the film.

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