Kong count #3 – King Kong (1976)

Given the rushed nature of the production (to beat Universal to the punch), I can forgive a lot of problematic aspects of the 1976 King Kong remake. Sure, there are no dinosaurs, and that cuts down the spectacle staggeringly, which is objectively the movie’s greatest sin. The modernizing twist of the expedition being a fossil-fuel survey, while interesting in theory, gets very confused (the CO2 isn’t from oil, it’s from animal respiration! Also, there is oil on the island after all. But we can’t use it so we’ll capture a gorilla using all of the tools an oil tanker has handy?). Dwan is a rube, and there’s no getting around that, even if her more sympathetic view of Kong informed later versions of Ann. Still, all of those things could be overlooked, but there’s one small thing in this movie that breaks it for me.

There’s a lot of stupid humor, including one throwaway line of comic relief that slaps the fourth wall, where Jack says something along the lines of “Who the hell do you think went through there, some guy in an ape suit?” This line could be forgiven in context of the movie, since we do see the natives dressed as gorillas earlier… but he doesn’t say “costume” or “mask”, he says “suit”, and that’s a direct dig at the film’s own suitmation, one of the few aspects (along with the music) that it *doesn’t* have to be ashamed of. This is particularly harsh considering the way the production went down.

Rick Baker’s Kong suit isn’t his best work, but it’s still pretty nice, and the best Kong had ever looked on screen at the time of production. Despite that, Dino De Laurentiis had little interest in giving Baker credit or opportunity, while granting all sorts of leeway to Carlo Rambaldi’s misguided attempt to build a giant mechanical Kong. The resulting robot looked like crap and only made it into the film for a few seconds (before eventually being left on a beach in Argentina), yet, to justify its exorbitant cost, De Laurentiis went around promoting it as though all of the effects were achieved through the robot. That year, it was Rambaldi who got the Academy Award for all of Baker’s work, in case you were looking for yet another reason to disrespect the Oscars in general.

So, that’s my personal Rubicon for the film. It’s my least favorite of the Kong films generally, flawed as it is, despite some nice effects, because they can’t quite make up for the fact that it’s simply less exciting, and has lots of cringe humor, including a joke that belittles those very special effects. What I can’t fault the movie for, though, is the enormous pop-culture footprint that it had…how many times has it been obliquely referenced in this series of blog posts as something was cashing in on its production? It honestly created a mini giant-monster boom at a time when the Japanese studios had lost interest, and there was even a nod to it in the US marketing for one of the most famous Godzilla flicks stateside:

At least that poster doesn’t have the awkward sameface that Paramount doctored into their actual King Kong publicity materials.

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2 Responses to Kong count #3 – King Kong (1976)

  1. John Summers says:

    Thank you for another entry in this series. Yeah, I’m not really fond of this remake either. The stupid humor in it is a really odd choice and can sometimes feel more mean spirited than anything. Also, why was this version of Skull Island so barren of animal life. Outside of King Kong and a giant snake, I don’t think there was anything else in the movie.

    By the way, something very strange I noticed about the King Kong franchise in general, is that all of the officially licensed movies will have something else to pair it with, whether it be a sequel, another movie made by the same company, or an alternate cut of the movie.

    King Kong (1933) and Son of Kong
    King Kong vs Godzilla and King Kong Escapes
    King Kong (1976) and King Kong Lives
    Peter Jackson’s King Kong: the theatrical cut and extended version
    Kong: King of Atlantis and Kong Return to the Jungle
    Kong Skull Island and Godzilla vs Kong (It will take a couple of years, but will get here eventually)

    How do you think this franchise keeps lucking out in that all these movies have something else to pair it with?

    • kevnder says:

      Yeah, I noticed that, too. Possibly the effect of having a successful first film and not being able to recapture it with the sequel?

      Then there’s:
      King Kong Encounter and Kongfrontation
      Japanese King Kong and King Kong Appears in Edo
      Mighty Joe Young ’49 and Mighty Joe Young ’98

      That doubling makes for good review formats, though, as The Kaiju Transmissions podcast has been doing with their own countdown to the new film.

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