Even without the sorely missed presence of Mr. Mutual of Omaha himself, this new King Kong was a box office smash in 1976 and 1977. The rumor that this one flopped is about as true as a marriage vow in Hollywood. However, there's no question that reviews were, and are, mixed for our big, fat, hairy deal, and this isn't quite the classic that the original was. Intentional camp and overacted lines in 1976 easily trump the accidental camp and retrospectively silly delivery of the 1933 version. In fact, here Kong looks a lot less like a beast on the scale of the Loch Ness Monster, and more like the new holder of the title the Silliness Monster!
To be fair, it's not as bad as many might tell you it is, and it's true that even in 1976, many noteworthy critics gave it praise. This critic, on the other hand, was two years old, and still carried around my "Teddy Frog"... but probably only because no one bought me a giant ape toy.
Screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (who, to put this into perspective, also "brung" us 1966's Batman: The Movie and 1980's Flash Gordon) amps up the "sympathetic Kong" aspect of the original film, while planting the whole shebang firmly into the 1970's, still rife with gasoline shortages, Watergate and, most tragically, the official registering of an upstart company called Microsoft. Where allegory was subtle in the 1933 version, this one throws metaphor in your face like a Three Stooges Creme Pie! This time, instead of a thrill hungry movie producer, we're given an oil-ravenous Petroleum company, whose expedition leads (Charles Grodin's Fred Wilson and Rene Auberjonois' Roy Bagley) have found a permanent fog bank that just might be hiding the mother lode of all Black Gold deposits. It's Jeff Bridges' semi-hippie professor stowaway named Jack Prescott who thinks it just might be hiding something else. I'll give you a hint, it's bigger than Ron Jeremy, and almost as hairy.
Now, because they had to get a hot chick in Kong's hand somehow, a raft conveniently floats up to their big, fat hunk o' tanker containing the incredibly hot Dwan (Jessica Lange in her lusciously lip-licking debut). They ought to have a snapshot of that scene on the Webster's Dictionary definition of "contrived", especially because she seems so very unperturbed to be the sole survivor of an exploded yacht filled with several hundred of her closest friends. Hey, it's okay, because she's about to have a shoulder to cry on. A shoulder the size of a Chrysler Airflow with enough fur on it to clothe the Gabor Sisters!
The interesting and engrossing (if admittedly flawed) opening act is somehow spoiled by the appearance of the title character, this time represented as a dude in a hairy leather suit (accompanied by a couple of gloved cranes) who looks and acts a lot like Bigfoot, but without the mystery... or personal hygiene.
The same unflatteringly portrayed natives from the first flick are here in their dancing glory, just ready to offer unto their god a "golden woman." Meanwhile the Petrox Oil Comic Foils see green instead of black on the island, and decide to gank our leading man for one monster of a publicity campaign. Professor Bridges, whose character goes from protester to sell-out and back at the scribble of a pen, hangs around to offer a discouraging word or two before acquiescing like a Democrat in congress!
You pretty much know what's going to happen from this point on out (right up to the substitution of the World Trade Center's twin towers for the Empire State Building), but if you've made it this far, it's pretty cool to stay through to watch New York go Apeshit!
Director John Guillermin, qualified for having brought us both The Towering Inferno and Tarzan's Greatest Adventure, does have quite the eye for this kind of thing, both on the "Island of the Skull" and when our very silly simian becomes the biggest thing to hit Broadway since Guys and Dolls. Still, there is the feeling that he knows he's directing a campy film, and just doesn't want to fight it, even as the Academy Award-nominated cinematography by Richard H. Kline and the appropriately bold musical score by John Barry work toward legitimizing the whole thing.
What's really amazing is that even 43 years of special effects advancements don't excel this film past the complexities of the original. While the visual effects are pretty damned good by the standards of the time, at the end of the day, Kong still pretty much looks like a guy in a gorilla suit. Gifted Make-Up guru Rick Baker (who was also the man in the King Kong suit) does a hell of a job bringing the broad-browed puss of the Double K to life and adds the humanity of his own eyes to the performance, while a very OPTIMUS-tic Peter Cullen does a fine job of bringing Kong's voice to life. Somehow, though the rubbery jerkiness of the first Kong puppet is gone, this one doesn't quite convince, as it's a bit too easy to see just how they did it. It feels at least a little bit cheap, as, hell, the originals could have just used a dude in a gorilla suit!
And... well, once in a while, he just looks funny. He's got this one look where he grins like Alfred E. Neuman, but without the missing tooth. It sort of adds to the creepiness of the "jungle romance" he shares with Dwan. Not that I could blame him. Jessica Lange is so hot in this flick that each of her breasts could melt a glacier, but the image of a gigantic hand slowly feeling her up and picking clothes off of her like a Barbie, coupled with that Sultry Simian Smile made me want to yell "I know what you're thinking and it won't fit!"
The reviews are mixed because the bag is mixed here. It's both beautiful and unconvincing, pathos-rich and silly, well acted and over-the-top. And... yes, I'll admit it... I love it. From the loose interpretations to the exactly remade shots; from the references to other Kong flicks to the specifically ripped off Godzilla Tribute; from the best of the acting to that one time that Jeff Bridges sees Kong get shot by the military and yells "ASSHOLES!" King Kong's getting Three Stars out of Five, plus a five star mention to Jessica Lange and her solar-eclipsing hotness! Just have fun with it, goofy snake fight and all. It's not going to make your top 10 list, but it just might deserve a sweet spot on your DVD Rack. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go work out, then shower and shave. I've gotten so big and hairy lately that a group of foreign tourists started chanting my name and then offered unto me the sacrifice of a blonde actress. I was flattered, but too feminist to accept. Besides, my wife knew about it and told me to "just say 'see you in the next reel' and quit while you're behind!" Sound Advice.
Broadway's Biggest Star!
|What's New?||Alphabetical Listing of Reviews!||SearchThisSite:||Advertise With Us!||About...||Lynx Links:||F*A*Q|