King Kong (1976)
king kong | john guillermin | lorenzo semple jr. | jeff bridges | charles grodin | jessica lange | ed lauter | remake | giant monster | giant monsters | battle | adventure | fantasy | united states | john randolph | rene auberjonois | julius harris | jack o'halloran
Film: King Kong
Director: John Guillermin
Writer: Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange
This film I feel like I might have saw part of it when I was growing up, but I never actually watched this until I was an adult. I had seen the original 1933 version as well as the Peter Jackson remake in the theaters. This is really a story I didn’t fully appreciate until I was an adult though and could comprehend the idea it was trying to convey. The synopsis here is a petroleum exploration expedition comes to an isolated island and encounters a colossal giant gorilla.
We start off seeing a barge that’s preparing to leave. The head of this expedition is Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin). With him is a geologist named Bagley (Rene Auberjonois). The captain of the ship is Ross (John Randolph). We see a guard that is bribed by Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) and lets him through the gate. He sneaks onto the vessel before it leaves.
We then shift to a meeting room where the men are being filled in on their expedition. Fred shows slides of an area in the Pacific Ocean where he thinks there is a huge oil deposit. There were pictures taken a long time ago of a fog bank. Thirty years later, another picture in the same area and the mist is the same. It is then revealed that through some bribes, they figured out there’s an island there. Jack sneaks into this as well to reveal who he is, a student at Stanford as well as an anthologist. He provides stories of the island and from scared people about ape-like creature there.
Fred at first is thinks he’s spy until it checks out. He is made the photographer for the expedition. A distress signal is received and soon after they find a life raft in the ocean. On it is Dwan (Jessica Lange). It turns out that the yacht she was on has sunk. She was on her way with a director to star in a film in Hong Kong.
They make it to the mist. The forward team consists of Jack, Fred, Carnahan (Ed Lauter) and a few other men. Dwan is forbidden to come, but convinces them otherwise. Crossing through the fog, they find an island hidden inside. They go on to shore and find a giant wall. Fred believes it to be ancient, but Jack points out there has been places where it has been repaired. Fred believes the island to be uninhabited, but then they hear drums.
The group watches a ceremony where a young woman is to be married to a man in an ape costume. That is until the head priest finds the intruders. They want Dwan, but she is denied to them. They prepare to attack, but shots are fired which scare the natives away. The crew flees back to the ship. Fred wants to make another journey, but jack heard the word Kong and speculates what is behind the wall. Fred is more interested in the pools of black liquid that look like oil. The natives get what they want as they row out to the barge and kidnap Dwan. They give her a drink that sedates her. She is tied between two poles. A rescue mission is mounted and comes after her, but they’re too late as Kong takes her into the jungle. They have to do what they can to save her and Fred learns bad news about the substance found. He does come up with another plan to recoup his losses though.
I have to say that coming in I was worried about this being a shot-for-shot remake. What I liked about this version was that it was updated and did something different than the original. I like that their original plan to find the island is for oil. This is actually something really fitting even for today. If you know anything about me, I find humanity to be garbage and we destroy more than we do good. Fred literally doesn’t care about the island or its inhabitants. He is willing to destroy their island if there is oil here.
When his initial plans fail, decides to do the next best thing. Jack brings up a great point about what will happen to the natives if Kong is taken from the island, but of course, being the capitalist that Fred is, he doesn’t care. It is really sad actually how this all plays out in the end as well.
Now something I never really thought of until I watched the documentary, Horror Noire, I can now see the racism that is inherently in this film. We have Kong, who is a beast. He is the representation of the black man in that there are a lot of people, even today, that think of them as less than human. Dwan is offered up to him, which there’s a lot of conjuncture that they love white women. She is then taken against her will, while the rest of the white men go to save her. This does become a bit problematic though when Kong treats her good, aside from an odd rapey type scene. I do think that he means well, but being the animal he is, he truly doesn’t know any better.
I will say that the first time I saw this film, I found it to be boring. I don’t necessarily agree after this viewing though. I do think that this film is a bit long. I understand there’s a lot of story to tell and to go through, but I still feel like it can be trimmed down from what we get. I do like the social commentary we get and the updating of things like why they’re going to the island. That really hits today even more so. The ending is sad, but it is fitting that Kong in this climbs the World Trade Center for allegorical reasons I’m sure.
To shift this to the acting, I actually was quite impressed to be honest. I like the character that Bridges plays. I don’t find himself to be as active as he is, but I can respect his viewpoints on what is happening here. He is a solid actor and this is a good performance. Grodin is such a slime ball, but I have to say, he plays it so well. He just fits these types of role so well. I found it interesting this is the first film debut for Lange, who is absolutely beautiful. It makes her even more intriguing is that she uses her sexual to her advantage, but this does hurt her relationship with Jack though. I liked to see camoes by Randolph, Auberjonois and Lauter, them with the rest of the cast rounded out the film for what was needed.
Next would be the effects of the film, which I’m going to be honest they were pretty great. I had a hard time telling at times this wasn’t a guy in a suit. I actually gave this viewing as part of a horror movie challenge, so I needed to watch one from Carlo Rambaldi who did some of the effects. I think Kong looks really good and the little blood we get does as well. The issue I had is with the giant snake we get, but it doesn’t ruin anything. They were done practically and that’s probably why I enjoy them. The setting is very cool on the island and it is shot well overall.
Now with that said, I’m glad I gave this film another viewing, because it is better than I remember. It is a more modern retelling of the classic tale, which I liked. It has social commentary on capitalism as well as even taking a look at racism. The acting is really good here. The movie is a bit long though, but I will say that it still builds tension and the ending is sad. The effects are done practically which I like. Even though they all don’t look good, that is solid in general. The soundtrack really didn’t stand out, but it doesn’t hurt the film. I think this film is above average. Not better than the original for me, but still enjoyable.
My Rating: 7 out of 10