The Test of Time: King Kong (1976)

We all have movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? So…the point of this here column is whether of not a film stands the test of time. I’m not gonna question whether it’s still a good flick, but if the thing holds up for a modern audience.

Director: John Guillermin

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange

The one storyline that never seems to go out of style is the end of the world. It seems that we have and always love watching the world get all kinds of f*cked up. What’s better than watching an army or an alien or a massive monster destroy everything we love. I’m not exactly sure why, but maybe it makes us appreciate the things we have...or maybe we’re all really messed up and secretly can’t wait until this whole planet burn.

Soon, Godzilla will once again rise and destroy a chunk of the world, But Godzilla isn’t the first monster movie or is he the king. Nope, the monster crown still rests on the hairy head of the giant ape from Skull Island: King Kong. Now, I think we can all agree that the 1933 original still stands the Test of Time (it does), but it’s a little more interesting to see if uber-producer Dino De Laurentiis’s 1976 remake still can play today.

Under the examination: King Kong.

That's one sad lookin' Kong. Poor fella. 

THE STORY: Most film lovers know the story of Kong, but in this version, in place of a film crew scouting locations, we have an oil company out searching the high seas for...yep, more oil. The ship is lead by rich asshole and Petrox oilman Fred Wilson (Grodin). But when annoying paleontologist Jack Prescott (Bridges) hops aboard, he wants to throw Wilson’s plans off as he knows that the island where they are headed holds something...special.

The movie gives a nod to the original when they find castaway Dwan (Lange) floating out there, an actress who was with a director before their ship went down. Wilson makes Prescott the official photog for the adventure, and of course they all allow the beautiful Dwan onto the island with them. And then...well, surely the plot is obvious from here. Kong falls for Dwan and takes her while the boys end up bringing Kong back to good old USA, where bad things happen.

Nothing like Americans invading foreign places to take what isn't theirs. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: I really like the adventure element of this King Kong. The movie plays big with a classical soundtrack as sounds as epic as the film aspires to be. It has an excellent first half where we know nothing beyond that there’s a massive fog bank out there with something hidden behind it. I even enjoy the alterations to modernize the story. Greedy oil companies always make the perfect villains, and Charles Grodin ends up enjoyably hateable; the guy can play a greedy dirt bag with the best of them. The acting is all mostly top notch (when isn’t Bridges good?), and I especially enjoyed Odo (Rene Auberjonois) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as the scientist. Poor guy always seems to be a stiff, and at least he was able to loosen up for once.

While the effects (more on that below) aren’t always all that special, it’s great to see some old school movie magic at work. Sure, 1933’s work by Willis O’Brien blew away the minds of ALL moviegoers, but fast forward forty plus years and there was something still romantic about non-CGI work. Gone is the stop motion Kong, but now we have the Godzilla approach, with a dude in suit (whose chest is a bit too shiny at times). Rick Baker supposedly pulled his name from the film, but he doesn’t have too much to be ashamed of here (well, the snake fight is really bad).

Kong vs Snake equals lame. 

The best part of King Kong is the what was always the best about the original: the sympathy for monster. That still resonates well here, especially when he’s held captive in the belly of the ship. Shit still plays tragic, and it’s even worse at the end.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: Well, let’s start with the obvious. As much I just stated my enjoyment of the throwback style of Baker’s effects, they simply don’t hold up today. Since the movie isn’t played as camp, it’s just too damn dated in too many damn spots. Kong looks like a guy in an ape suit, and that’s tough to get over. The green screen is horrendous, especially in the world of HD. Even worse are the big ape hand sequences, when Kong swoops down to scoop up his beloved Dwan. Supposedly the mechanical hands never worked as they should have, and it shows. It’s too bad that the director didn’t find a way to make it work better ala Jaws.

Kong has hand in his relationship.

However, the worst part of King Kong comes from the forced romance between Bridges and Lange. It’s completely unnecessary and pathetically forced. The romance is between Kong and Dwan is more than enough, but the human romance seems shoehorned in there so we feel like something even more at stake. Hell, they even talk about getting married already by the end of the second act. I love the Dude as much as anybody, but this feels like a time in his career when he was still finding his own voice (though it is funny that he’s sporting the near-complete Dude look). Oh, and while Lange is quite hot, she’s just ok at best. It’s pretty obvious this is her first big feature.

Run, Dude, Run. 

THE VERDICT: It’s funny how the Kong remakes get longer and longer. 1976’s King Kong has a whole lot of unnecessary stuff that could have easily been trimmed for better flow because it’s too dull in too many places. Frankly, I would have been happier with a little more of Grodin, a little less romance, and maybe if Kong would have been more obscured. Some might question whether or not this King Kong should even get consideration as a classic movie, but it’s one of only two remakes outside of the original masterpiece, therefore, it will always fall under that category, whether we like it or not. I give Dino De Laurentiis a lot of credit for wanting to recreate the story in modern times, but it’ll never be a true classic depsite its classic name.


De Laurentiis wanting to be the big man (he was short).



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