In the mid to late 70’s, the giant monster movie craze of the 50’s and 60’s was dying out. Audiences were no longer flocking to see the movies as different aspects of the science fiction and horror genres would start to become the moneymakers. Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis decided to give a shot at making a giant monster movie by remaking the biggest monster movie of all time. So 20 years after it was last shown in theaters, and 43 years since it first debuted, the most famous giant ape in movie history would return to the silver screen. There was a lot of anticipation for King Kong (1976), but would it live up to the expectations?
The plot: In Indonesia, Fred Wilson, an executive for Petrox Oil Company, is leading an expedition to a supposed new source for oil. During a briefing, where Fred tells them they are heading to an undiscovered island that has been hidden by a mysterious fog bank, the meeting is interrupted by Jack Prescott, a primate paleontologist that had snuck on board the ship. Jack tries to explain why he is there to Fred and the captain but Fred believes Jack is a spy from a rival oil company and orders him to be locked away. As they are heading to the brig, Jack spots a life raft on the ocean and they crew rescue a young woman from the raft. After proof of Jack’s identity gets back to him, Fred releases Jack and makes him the expedition’s photographer and, since he has some medical training, asks Jack to help treat the woman. Using smelling salts, Jack wakes the woman, who tells them her name is Dwan and that she had been on a yacht with a filmmaker named Harry when the yacht exploded. After several more days of travel, they reach the fog bank and, seeing the island outlined with radar, Fred organizes a scouting party to explore the island, with Jack and Dwan accompanying them. After making their way through the fog bank and landing on the beach, they begin to explore the island, with Fred’s team wanting to map the island for the best place to possibly drill for oil. Eventually, they come across a giant wall and hearing drums, they head over to investigate. They find a tribe of natives performing some sort of a ceremony to their god, Kong, when the tribal chief notices them and believes the ceremony to be tainted. Seeing Dwan, the chief offers to trade some of his women for her but when Jack and Fred refuse, he tries to take her by force but the ships crew fire their weapons into the air and run back to the ship. That night, a group of natives paddle out to the ship and kidnap Dwan from the ship and, after drugging her to make her more complacent, dress her and prepare her for the ceremony. Meanwhile, Jack discovers a native necklace where he had last seen Dwan and, realizing what happened, leads a rescue team to the village. At the village, Dwan is placed on an altar outside of the wall and screams as a giant gorilla appears and, after roaring at the natives, grabs her and heads back into the jungle. When Jack and the others arrive they use flares to distract and scare off the natives then, after opening the gate, Jack leads a group after Kong. The next morning, Dwan awakens to find herself being watched by Kong and after several attempts to escape, she eventually realizes that, though he is not letting her go, Kong isn’t trying to hurt her, a fact proven when Kong holds her under a waterfall so she can wash off the mud she fell in while trying to escape. Back on the beach, Fred learns that the oil that has been tested wouldn’t be usable for another 10,000 years but as he despairs about the news, he decides the trip isn’t a total loss and plans to bring Kong back to New York. In the jungle, Jack and the others continue tracking Kong, eventually coming to a log bridge over a ravine. Jack crosses the bridge first to test how stable it is but when the others try to cross, Kong suddenly appears and, grabbing the log, begins shaking the men off the log before dropping it into the ravine, leaving Jack to go on ahead while the only surviving crew member, Boan, heads back to the wall. At the gate, Fred uses the drilling equipment to begin digging a trap to use against Kong when Boan arrives, telling him the others are dead. At Kong’s lair, a giant snake attempts to attack Dwan but while Kong battles the snake, Jack shows up and rescues Dwan. Kong sees the two and after killing the snake, chases after them but they jump off a cliff and into the water below. Jack and Dwan make it inside the gate just as Kong arrives and, after repeatedly bashing at it, Kong destroys the gate but ends up falling into a pit filled with chloroform. Fred uses an empty oil tanker to transport Kong and plans on using him as a promotional tool, with Dwan and Jack to help, but Jack and Dwan are reluctant to take part. When Kong grows angry and begins to beat on the walls of the tank, Dwan goes to calm him down and ends up falling into the tank, but Kong saves her from getting hurt and safely lowers her to the floor, where she climbs a ladder back out of the tank. In New York, In New York, Jack quits the show and tries to get Dwan to leave with him but Dwan reluctantly chooses to stay as she hopes it will help her become a star. That night, a caged Kong, wearing a giant crown, is unveiled to a large audience but when the reporters mob Dwan to get an interview, an angered Kong breaks free from his cage, causing the crowd to panic and attempt to flee. Fred ends up squashed underneath Kong’s feet but Jack manages to get Dwan out of there and onto a nearby subway. Picking up Dwan’s scent, Kong attacks the subway train but Jack manages to get Dwan out of there and the two manage escape to a nearby police roadblock and hide in an underground bar. Seeing that the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers look like part of Kong’s lair on the island, Jack calls the authorities and tell them that he is heading there, but asks them to capture him unharmed. Meanwhile, Kong has tracked down Dwan and grabs her from the bar before heading to the Twin Towers. Kong climbs the South Tower but when the military sends men with flamethrowers to attack him, he leaps to the North Tower and begins throwing things at the men, eventually killign them in an explosion when he throws a fuel tank at them. When some helicopters arrive, Kong sets Dwan down, despite her protest as she knows they won’t shoot if he holds her, he faces off against them. Even though he manages to destroy one of them, the multiple hits from their guns prove too much for him and he collapses onto the roof before falling to the street below. Dwan heads down to the street and watches as Kong dies and afterwards Jack tries to reach her but seeing her surrounded by reporters, he chooses to stop, in spite of her calling out to him.
King Kong (1976) met with mixed to positive reviews from the critics, though it currently holds a 46% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Most of the mixed reviews seemed to be focused on how the took away some of the mythic qualities of the original and given it a more “campy approach.” King Kong (1976) launched the career of Jessica Lange, who won the Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut for her performance in the movie. The movie was a box office success, earning over $90 million worldwide, and when NBC bought the rights to air it, Laurentiis was payed $19.5 million for the rights to two showings over five years, it was the highest any network paid for a movie at that time.
In regards to this movie, there were parts that I liked, parts that I didn’t like, and one part that I downright hated. The acting was pretty good, particularly Jeff Bridges (Jack) and Jessica Lange (Dwan) although Charles Grodin (Fred) was also good. However, the romantic element between Bridges and Lange just seemed forced and awkward at times. The story itself was good and I did like the idea of the oil company searching for oil discovering Kong. The special effects were not as good as I expected since Kong was merely a man in a gorilla suit and some of the rear screen projection looked pretty weak. But my biggest problem I had with this movie was that there were no dinosaurs on the island. No battle between Kong and a T-Rex, no dinosaurs attacking the rescue party, nothing. All we get is a giant snake. How lame was that. That upset me more than anything the first time I saw this as a kid. So while it is a decent movie in itself, considering when the two films were made, this just can’t compete with the original.
Rating: 3 out of 5