Friday, December 17, 2021

#2,678. King Kong (1976) - Godzilla / Kong Mini-Marathon


In October of 1976 - right around the time of my 6th birthday – I bought my very first comic book. It was an issue of The Fantastic Four, though I can no longer remember which issue.

What I do remember, though, is what was on the back cover: the poster for 1976’s King Kong, announcing its upcoming release.

By that point, I hadn’t even seen the 1933 version, so this would have been the first time I ever set eyes on the Eighth Wonder of the World, and it blew me away! In fact, I spent more time looking at that poster than I did reading the comic book.

It would be another 40 years or so before I’d actually watch this Dino DeLaurentiis-produced remake, and while I wouldn’t rank it nearly as high as the classic original, it’s still plenty of fun.

Oil executive Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) leads an expedition to the South Pacific, where he believes there’s an uncharted island teeming with enough black gold to put his company years ahead of the competition.

Paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), who stowed away on Wilson’s tanker, is convinced there’s more than oil on the tiny island. Having studied the area, Prescott contends it might also be home to a legendary creature, one of enormous size.

Along the way, the ship encounters a life raft carrying an aspiring actress named Dwan (Jessica Lange), who found herself stranded at sea when the yacht she was traveling on exploded.

When this ragtag crew finally reaches the island, they are shocked to discover it is inhabited by a primitive tribe, which has erected a large wall around its village. It isn’t long before Wilson, Prescott and the others find out why the wall is so big, and exactly what it is the natives are trying to keep out.

From there, you can pretty much guess what happens next: the natives kidnap Dwan and offer her to their “God”, the enormous ape they call Kong. Prescott, who has fallen in love with Dwan, sets out to rescue her, and when the island’s potential for becoming an oil reserve doesn’t pan out, Wilson decides to save face by capturing Kong and transporting him back to New York, where he’ll use the giant beast as an advertising gimmick.

That was not a good idea!

The cast of King Kong does an admirable job. Bridges and Lange (in her first screen role) are likable as the romantic leads, and Grodin is as funny as he is detestable (there are times when you kinda like Wilson, despite his obvious shortcomings).

As for the title character, this version of King Kong has taken a lot of flak for using a guy in a suit - as opposed to special effects - to bring the legendary creature to life. But that “guy” was make-up artist extraordinaire Rick Baker (the man behind the amazing transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London), and the suit was designed by Baker and special effects wizard Carlo Rambaldi (who had lent his talents to Barbarella and, in later years would make a name for himself with Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and E.T.).

Yes, the green screen technology that allowed this Kong to interact with the rest of the cast doesn’t hold up as well as Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion work in 1933’s King Kong, and a few of the later scenes in New York are downright laughable (though Kong’s run-in with a subway car is pretty epic). But Baker nonetheless does an admirable job as Kong, especially during the close-ups, when we see his eyes behind the mask. In these scenes, and a few others, Kong feels more “human” than some of the film’s other characters.

Throw in amazing set pieces (the walled village is especially impressive) and an epic battle between Kong and a giant snake, and you have a King Kong that, while not the definitive version, definitely has its charms.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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