Film Reviews

King Kong (1976) – Blu-ray Review

Kong is eternal. Since his debut in 1933, there have been dozens of sequels, rip-offs, and islands’ worth of ancillary merchandise. And, of course, multiple remakes, with the first coming in 1976. That King Kong has been relatively difficult to get in the UK recently, but now Studiocanal has reissued the film from a new 4K scan.

Unlike the subsequent Peter Jackson remake and Kong: Skull Island, King Kong was a contemporary remake, and while it kept the archetypal characters, it changed the names and their natures. Out went nature photographer Carl Denham, replaced by oil executive Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), and first mate Driscoll became hippie professor Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges). Ann, Kong’s object of affection, became actress Dwan (Jessica Lange), rescued at sea after her yacht exploded because the crew was too busy watching pornography.

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Wilson and his crew are looking for new sources of oil and think Skull Island is the perfect place, but they change their tune when they find Kong, which eventually goes the same way as it does in the other films. They bring him back to New York, and he goes amuck, which means they have to murder him. Humanity 1, Giant Gorilla 0.

King Kong is a decent attempt to remake the original legend, and when it works, it works. It’s well cast, it looks beautiful, and Rick Baker’s Kong costume and animatronics bring a real sense of life to the creature. It drags on a bit occasionally, and the dialogue sometimes gets either really sanctimonious or annoyingly snappy, such as Dwan asking Kong what his star sign is.

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A brilliant score by John Barry greatly helps the film, giving it a needed deal of gravitas. Unfortunately, while the original movie had a bunch of dinosaurs, this version has one giant snake, and it’s not especially convincing. The big robotic Kong also looks pretty poor, and when it’s cut together with shots of Rick Baker in his ape suit, it looks hopelessly stiff.

Studiocanal has put together a decent set for King Kong, starting with the new transfer itself. The film has never looked better and probably never will, and it looks fabulous, showing off Richard H. Kline’s outstanding cinematography. It sounds great, too, with Barry’s score and Kong’s roars, performed by Peter Cullen, aka Optimus Prime, fighting for audio real estate.

The disc also includes several deleted scenes. (Unfortunately, if you want the original TV version of the film with the scenes cut in, you have to buy the 4K UHD.) The deleted scenes run about sixteen minutes, and it’s relatively minor material, although there are extended moments of the snake fight and a bit where Kong picks up a car and throws it into a building, where it explodes.

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There are also two audio commentaries, one by author Ray Morton and the other by Rick Baker. Morton’s commentary is fascinating if dry, but Baker’s is exceptional, with him not holding back and telling many stories about the production. It goes into how everyone thought he was just a dumb kid and that Carlo Rambaldi, who built the giant robot, was a genius when it turned out Baker, and his suit saved the film. There are also several interviews with crew members and actor Jack O’Halloran, most famously known as the mute brute Non in Superman and Superman II.

King Kong is a good film, and while it fails in places, it’s much better than its reputation indicates. Studiocanal’s disc is pretty good, with fantastic image and audio, although it would have been nice to see the TV version on the Blu-ray. But, like the film, Rick Baker saves it.

King Kong is out now on Blu-ray and 4K UHD from Studiocanal

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