Thursday, March 23, 2017

King Kong Lives (1986)

It's weird how the first Godzilla movie I ever saw was Godzilla vs. Megalon, one of the most unpopular entries in that franchise's long history, and then, we have a similar situation here, as this very despised film was the very first King Kong movie I ever saw. I was somewhere in the six or seven-year old range (I couldn't have been any younger than five for sure) and certainly knew of King Kong when one day, out of the blue, I decided to rent this movie from our town's local video store. Along with my desire to see one of these movies, the VHS box's cover, with Kong's snarling, angry face, really caught my eye, as did the photos on the back that showed people cowering and Kong's big hand coming at a guy in a tank from out of what looked like clouds right above him (I now know it was meant to be smoke), all of which should've scared me given how easily frightened I was back then but, instead, they intrigued me. So, I had my dad rent it for me, I took it home, watched it, and was thoroughly mesmerized by what I was seeing. It was one of the first truly adult movies, and by "adult," I mean PG-13, with a fair amount of violence and cursing, that I ever saw and, while I didn't understand everything that was going on, I really enjoyed seeing Kong strutting around and smashing things like a boss. I rented the movie a couple of more times but, not too long after that first rental, I saw the 1976 movie and that became the King Kong movie I was most familiar with during my childhood. That's why this isn't an entry in "Stuff I Grew Up With" because, despite what I've just said, I didn't see it as much on video or on TV as King Kong '76; for a while, the only concrete impression that I had of King Kong Lives was simply that it was the first Kong movie I ever saw but I still had good memories of it. As I got older, I gradually learned that other people's impressions of it weren't as kind, especially when I got the internet. I read a number of scathing reviews and opinions on it (it's the lowest-rated Kong movie on IMDB, even more so than the two Toho films) and I thought, "I always liked that movie. Is it really this bad?" Having learned by that point how your childhood impressions of something can change when you grow older, I knew it was a distinct possibility, and when I read the chapter on it in Ray Morton's book, King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, which reminded me of a lot of things I'd forgotten in the many years that had passed since I last saw it, I thought, "That is pretty corny." I saw the movie again a year after I bought that book, when I got the DVD while on a trip to Orlando in the spring of 2007, and my anticipation for watching it again was a mixture of wanting to relive nostalgic memories as well as to see if it really was a bad movie.

When I watched it the night we got back, my reaction was, "Yeah, this is definitely not good," and since then, I've had major mixed feelings about it. It will always have a special place in my heart and, every time I watch it, I can remember what I thought about certain things I loved when I saw it as a kid, but I'd be lying if I came out and proclaimed it to be awesome and didn't understand why everyone hated it. Believe me, I get why people say this is one of Kong's lowest points in his long history and I can't call it a good movie by any means. Going back to Godzilla vs. Megalon, I can say I'd much rather watch that over this because that's so unabashedly cheesy and juvenile that it's much more entertaining, whereas this is rather uneven (plus, I'm a bigger fan of Godzilla and I have more nostalgia for that movie since I watched it countless times as a kid). I do enjoy King Kong Lives whenever I watch it but I can't overlook its very major flaws and when I watched it again to do this review, I had the exact same reaction. I've ultimately decided that I wouldn't say it's a full-on "bad" movie but instead is one that's just kind of there, which is why this is neither an entry of "Movies That Suck" nor one of "B to Z Movies." I put it on a list I did of the Top 30 Worst or Most Disappointing Sequels and I still think it deserves to be on there, because it's nothing compared to King Kong '76, but it was pretty low on there, which I think perfectly sums up my feelings on it (the next movie after it on that list was Godzilla Raids Again; yeah, I just admitted to liking King Kong Lives more than a Godzilla movie!)

Ten years after he was gunned down by military helicopters and fell from the World Trade Center, the giant ape King Kong has been in a comatose state in a research lab at the Atlantic Institute in Georgia. To ensure his survival, his damaged heart must be released with a massive artificial one the institute has spent $7 million developing, but there's a problem: he's lost so much blood that he needs a transfusion to survive the surgery and there's no known creature whose blood is suitable. Elsewhere, in Borneo, adventurer and diamond prospector Hank "Mitch" Mitchell is tracking through the jungle when he comes across an enormous, female giant ape that is knocked out by the sedative-tipped blow-darts of some local natives. Mitch claims the ape and plans to sell her to the highest bidder. Seeing a prime opportunity for the needed blood transfusion, Atlantic Institute head Dr. Ingersoll and Dr. Benson Hughes, the head of primate research there, agree to Mitch's terms to take the ape herself rather than just her blood, despite protests from Amy Franklin, the head of the project to save Kong, who feels that any excitement or arousal he gets from the female's presence may endanger his recovery. The female ape, who's dubbed "Lady Kong," is flown to Georgia and Kong is given the transfusion to make him strong enough for the surgery. While Lady Kong is kept in a nearby warehouse until a permanent holding area for can be constructed, Amy and her colleagues conduct the surgery and, despite some setbacks, are successful in transplanting the artificial heart. Kong soon regains consciousness but, when he senses Lady Kong's presence, he tries to get to her, an act that puts a strain on his heart and forces Amy to sedate him. Amy then asks that Lady Kong be moved to her permanent enclosure as soon as possible so as not further endanger Kong's health but, two days later, when the attempt to move her is made, they're too rough in doing so. Frightened, she cries out and Kong, who's awakened back at the institute, hears her, her, breaks his restraints, and smashes his way out. He makes it to the warehouse, tears into it, and frees Lady Kong; he two of them have a literal case of love at first sight before escaping into the wilderness. The apes soon become targets of the gun-ho and unhinged Colonel R.G. Nevitt, who's assigned to capture them. His battalion tracks them down to a spot in the mountains and are successful in capturing Lady Kong; Kong himself proves to be more of a challenge and, despite Amy and Mitch's attempts to save him, he's forced to leap from a mountain into a river below, after which he disappears and is presumed dead. Many months later, Nevitt is keeping Lady Kong isolated at a missile silo, refusing to let anyone see her, and when Mitch manages to secure land in Borneo to act as a preserve for her, he and Amy are determined to help her. However, they soon learn that Kong is very much alive, and when he's spotted, he causes a panic in the area and prompts Nevitt to continue to ignore orders in an attempt to kill him, while Amy and Mitch do whatever it takes to save the two amazing gorillas.

Dino De Laurentiis had planned to do another King Kong movie only a coupled of years after King Kong '76, an idea he'd discussed with Lorenzo Semple Jr., but for whatever reason, it never came to pass. A major roadblock may have been Universal having veto power over any such sequel, which was one of the terms from the settlement between him and the studio; in other words, he'd have needed Universal's permission to do another movie, something the studio likely wasn't going to allow, especially after another dust-up between them when they accused him of ripping off Jaws with Orca: The Killer Whale. For the next decade, De Laurentiis continued producing numerous movies, bought a warehouse complex in Wilmington, North Carolina, where he'd filmed Firestarter, turning it into a big production facility, and, most significantly, he purchased Embassy Pictures and made it his own studio: the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, or DEG. It was around this time, during pre-production on Total Recall (which was ultimately produced by someone else), that De Laurentiis approached writer Ronald Shusett about a sequel to King Kong '76. This came right out of the blue and exactly why he decided to do it wasn't clear (in his book, Ray Morton doesn't go into how he was able to do it, given the issue with Universal, either, but he proposes that the studio probably wouldn't have tried to stop him since a new movie would have been good publicity for the King Kong attractions it was building at its amusement parks) but, regardless, the Eighth Wonder was about to be resurrected again. It's interesting to note how history repeated itself during production of the film: like Merian C. Cooper on The Son of Kong, De Laurentiis wasn't able to be as actively involved in it as he was before due to running a studio but he did manage to have quite a bit of input into it. Given his affection for Kong, he also intended to do a third film centering around the son who's born at the end of this one, but its positively dismal performance at the box-office killed that idea immediately, and also led contributed to the downfall of his floundering studio. As for De Laurentiis himself, his output slowed down considerably after King Kong Lives and he didn't find major success again until the 2000's, when he produced U-571, Hannibal, and Red Dragon. His last film was 2007's Virgin Territory and he died in 2010 at the age of 91, having been involved in over 500 movies in his lifetime.

When King Kong Lives began development in late 1985, one thing the people who knew Dino De Laurentiis were probably sure of was, whoever would direct it, it sure as hell wasn't going to be John Guillermin, not after the strained relationship the two of them had had on King Kong '76 led De Laurentiis to vow never to work with him again. So, imagine their shock when De Laurentiis did just that! Following Kong '76, Guillermin had another success with 1978's Death on the Nile, with Peter Ustinov and a supporting cast made up of number of notable actors, like Bette Davis, Mia Farrow, David Niven, Angela Lansbury, and George Kennedy. Following that, though, Guillermin had two big flops in a row with Mr. Patman, starring James Coburn, and the notorious Sheena, starring Tanya Roberts. His personal life was also dealt a major blow when his son, Michael-John, was killed in a car accident during filming on Sheena, and he was still reeling from it when he began developing an adaptation of the novel, Tai Pan, which ended up at DEG. Shortly after that, De Laurentiis decided not to make the movie (he would a few years later with a different director) and offered Guillermin the job of directing King Kong Lives instead, which was similar to how he got the job of directing Kong '76. This led to the third instance in an interesting trend of "twos" when it comes to King Kong: you had the original and The Son of Kong, both of which were produced by RKO and involved Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack; King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes, both from Toho, produced by Tomoyuki Tanaka and directed by Ishiro Honda; and now, you have two from De Laurentiis that were directed by Guillermin (kind of makes me wish Peter Jackson had done a sequel to his King Kong in order to keep with the trend). In any case, De Laurentiis said that he hired Guillermin again because he felt that his son's death had mellowed him out and that he deserved a second chance. Plus, De Laurentiis also had sympathy and understanding for his situation since his own son, Federico, who'd been an executive producer on Kong '76, was killed in a plane crash in 1981.

This observation by De Laurentiis, however, proved to be very wrong once filming began, as Guillermin was once again very ill-tempered and volatile. By all accounts, he wasn't explosive with the actors, although actor Brian Kerwin described him as a "very sour person," but when it came to other members of the production team, like Ronald Shusett and the crew, it was a different story. Guillermin didn't appreciate Shusett's input and suggestions and, according to Ray Morton, the crew members all got rubber dolls of him that they would hold behind their backs and twist during his loud rants. He also didn't come back to the set after lunch a couple of times, as well as disappeared completely for several days after a very heated argument with the production staff or sometimes left halfway through a day's shooting to indulge his passion for sailing. As had been the case on Kong '76 and the pressure he was under, most understood that Guillermin was going through a rough patch because of his son's death and were willing to overlook his behavior for the most part. His relationship with De Laurentiis, however, became strained again and this would indeed mark the last time they ever worked together (after his behavior here, I doubt very much he would have been offered to direct the proposed third film if it had been made). King Kong Lives would prove to be Guillermin's last theatrical movie. After directing The Tracker, an HBO movie starring Kris Kristofferson, he retired from filmmaking and pretty much dropped off the face of the Earth, purportedly spending the rest of his life building boats and sailing them (he does have a "special thanks" credit on the 2000 movie, The Opportunists, starring Christopher Walken). He died of a heart attack in 2015 at the age of 89, something I didn't even know until I looked him up when I began writing my review for Kong '76.

They managed to get together some really good actors to play the roles but, that said, they didn't have much to really do, since the characters aren't exactly complex and are second fiddle to the real stars of the movie, the apes. Regardless, I really like Brian Kerwin as Hank Mitchell, or as everyone calls him, "Mitch," the man who comes across Lady Kong in Borneo. Like Jack Prescott in Kong '76, he's likable from the start and has a great charisma to him, with how he's tromping through the hot jungles with a bunch of stubborn mules, complaining about them, and when he decides to stop for a rest, he announces that anything in his way better get lost, adding, "And that includes you," right before he picks up a snake and puts it aside, saying, "Find your own bed." When he claims ownership of Lady Kong after she's tranquilized by the natives, he's very much intent on making money off of her, telling Dr. Ingersoll in his negotiations with him that he's only willing to sell the entire animal rather than just her blood and will gladly take her somewhere else if that's not good enough for them, and when the deal is made, he loudly cheers, "My monkey's gonna make me rich!" But, at the same time, he doesn't look at her as just an object but rather, shows genuine concern and affection for her, calming her down when she's frightened by the big crowd of reporters at the airport when they arrive in Georgia, saying, "I guess you and me better get used to being famous," and telling them when they frighten her again, particularly three TV reporters who start climbing on her feet, "You are dealing with a lady!" He's also concerned for her after they pump a large amount of blood out of her for Kong's transfusion and protests about the warehouse they put her in afterward, demanding they pay more attention to her than just concentrating on Kong, but this attitude towards the main ape changes after the operation. Even though he revels in the attention and wealth he acquires from the situation, and makes jokes about Lady Kong's presence giving Kong something to look forward to while he's recovering, he finally takes Amy Franklin's concerns seriously and implores them to get Lady Kong's permanent quarters ready as soon as they can. When they get too rough with her while trying to transport, Mitch goes from trying to talk them into being more gentle to having to be restrained when he tries to help her himself. And when Kong escapes the institute and breaks into the warehouse, Mitch becomes a full-on action hero, stopping the men from attacking him and allowing both of the apes to escape, angrily telling Ingersoll when he says they could've stopped him, "You would've killed him!" From then on, he's firmly on the sides of both apes and helps Amy, whom he develops a relationship with, in trying to protect the Kongs from Col. Nevitt, suggests and ultimately buys land for a preserve for them in Borneo, and attempts to get Lady Kong out of the silo she's being kept in. When she gives birth at the end of the movie, Mitch gets Lady Kong to show their son to Kong himself, leading into the ending where he wraps his hand around him protectively before dying.

Linda Hamilton's experience on the film doesn't seem to have been a good one, as Kerwin said that when things began to unravel during the latter part of the shoot, she made it clear she didn't want to be there (she must have been thinking, "Where's Arnold and Jim when you need them?"). That's a shame, too, because I think she does a pretty good job, for the most part (there are times, though, where you can that she's miserable). Her performance as Dr. Amy Franklin is a little bit bland and emotionless at times, coming across as the typical determined person who's focused on only one thing for the most part, but she makes it work, showing genuine concern and affection for Kong from the start. Despite the prime opportunity for the transfusion needed to make Kong strong enough to survive the operation, she doesn't want a female ape brought in for fear of what her presence might have on his condition while he's recovering, and when Kong almost fatally endangers himself when he senses upon regain consciousness afterward, she implores Dr. Ingersoll and Dr. Hughes to movie Lady Kong further away. She's initially not too fond of Mitch, seeing him as an opportunist who took the chance to make a quick buck, describing him offscreen as "Indiana Jones," but their relationship begins to change when he compliments her on her performance in the operation on Kong and she sees his commitment to helping the apes when he ensures that they escape from the warehouse. The two of them join up afterward to keep track of the Kongs when Col. Nevitt and his men are on their tails (more like, she forces him off the road to join her, commenting, "How far do you think you're gonna get... in your 'rent-a-wreck?'"), bringing along a portable device that can monitor Kong's artificial heart and fix any problems that arise. She and Mitch soon become lovers and try to help Kong when he's cornered by Col. Nevitt after Lady Kong's been gassed and flown away, although they fear him dead when he jumps down into a large, raging river and disappears underwater after slamming his head against a rock. Months later, Amy becomes concerned for Lady Kong when she's only allowed to see her at the silo she's being held at once, after which Nevitt locks it down and keeps her isolated. She and Mitch try to help both her and Kong when he emerges from the swamp, but things take a turn for the worse when Kong unintentionally steps on Amy's heart device before she can fix a problem arising with it; Amy then says that his heart won't last another day. (This scene has always seemed so contrived for me: why didn't she take the device and get out of the way when Kong was shuffling towards her and Mitch down the path? Plus, Hamilton's saying that his heart won't last another day is pretty flat, especially given her reaction when he does die.) She and Mitch get into the silo and try to help Lady Kong, whom they discover is pregnant, escape, but it's ultimately Kong himself who saves his mate. When Kong's heart starts to give out after his final battle with Nevitt and Lady Kong gives birth to their son, Amy implores him to reach for his son, which he does right before he dies, devastating Amy, as well as Baby Kong.

The character who definitely could've been written better is the movie's villain, Col. R.G. Nevitt (John Ashton). Instead of being complex or anything like that, he's just a two-dimensional bad guy, one who develops an agenda against the Kongs that doesn't make sense. At first, when he's assigned to capture the apes after they've escaped into the wilderness, he seems overly gun-ho, having told Amy offscreen that he'd shoot the first civilian who crosses the military roadblock and going from capturing Kong to trying to kill him when he proves to be too much of a problem. But after the time-skip to many months later, Nevitt has now suddenly developed this hatred for the Kongs and is intent on keeping Lady Kong isolated in the missile silo, refusing to let anyone see her until he's forced to and even then, he doesn't allow Amy and Dr. Hughes to examine her when they see the sorry shape she's in. He complains that Lady Kong is the reason why a number of his men were almost killed before (his one redeeming feature, I might add) and why he's been stuck at the silo, which he calls a "shithole," since the previous summer. So, why are you intent on keeping her there? When I was watching the movie again, I seriously wondered what this guy's problem is, and why, when Kong shows up alive and well, he's willing to disobey orders and kill him rather than capture him alive, as his superiors want him to. I guess the point is that he's unbalanced and psychotic but his motivations and hatred for the apes make no sense. If he also hates Kong himself because he almost killed a bunch of his men, all I can say is, "You're soldiers! The potential for death comes with the territory!" They must've just wanted Nevitt to be so loathsome that you'd cheer when Kong kills him at the end and, if so, they certainly succeeded there.

Dr. Hughes and Dr. Ingersoll are the two respective men on
the left.
Aside from those three characters and the Kongs, there are only two other people in the cast worth any mention. One is Dr. Ingersoll (Peter Michael Goetz), the head of the Atlantic Institute, who goes through a similar malevolent turn as Nevitt, although not as extreme. He starts out as kind of uptight, with his first line angrily remind Amy that the artificial heart for Kong cost the institute $7 million when she hints that it's useless now, and a bit money-hungry when he ignores Amy's concerns and makes the deal with Mitch to bring Lady Kong over when he's reminded that she'll be the only one left if Kong doesn't survive the operation, but reasonable when he agrees to get Lady Kong to her permanent quarters as soon as possible when it becomes apparent that her presence will put a strain on Kong's recovery. But then, when they're attempting to move her and are being too rough, Ingersoll suddenly becomes insensitive and downright sinister, rebuffing Mitch's concerns with, "Leave it to us, Mr. Mitchell. We know what we're doing," and, when it's suggested that they stop it when things start to get out of hand, he says, "No, let's get it over with now," an unnecessarily menacing tone. It's such an unexpected and out of the blue turn in his personality that it makes you wonder what happened in-between scenes, especially when you last see him yelling at Mitch for his interference, saying, "Ignorant bastard! We could've stopped him!" The other noteworthy character is the much more reasonable Dr. Hughes (Frank Maraden), the head of the primatology department at the institute. While he does play down Amy's concerns about Lady Kong's presence having an effect on Kong's recovery in order to ensure that they have the only giant ape if he doesn't survive, his role in the film is as a sympathetic, helpful colleague to her, getting Ingersoll off her back when he yells at her at the beginning of the movie, suggesting that they could get Lady Kong out of the warehouse in two days if they work around the clock, and aids her in seeing Lady Kong when she's being kept at the silo. However, he is skeptical of Kong's survival after his disappearance, feeling that he wouldn't be able to find enough protein to sustain himself, which proves to be very wrong.

It's a shame that nobody from King Kong '76 returns here. While I know for sure that Jessica Lange wouldn't have come anywhere near this film after that movie stunted her career for a few years, it would've been nice to see Jeff Bridges return as Jack Prescott, since he's the one would have been most likely to do so given how much he was on Kong's side (Dwan might've been too traumatized to get involved with Kong again). Maybe they could've had him in place of Mitch and be the one to discover Lady Kong, not changing a thing in the script other than having him more concerned about Kong's well-being than about money early on. You actually almost expect Jack and Dwan to be in the movie, given how it starts with an edited version of the ending of Kong '76 and shows their horrified reactions to him getting shot up, ending on that last moment between Dwan and Kong before the actual story begins. As a result, it's weird when nothing more is said about them and makes me think they should've completely edited them out of this prologue.

According to Ray Morton, there were two major problems that hurt the film considerably, one of which was budgetary. The budget was originally slated at $22 million, a reasonable amount for a big, special effects movie such as this but, before production began, DEG ran into financial problems and to scale back the budgets on all of the movies it currently had on its production slate. The filmmakers had to film the movie entirely within the United States and couldn't shoot some stuff in Jamaica and Brazil as they'd originally intended and also had to either trim or drop some major effects and action sequences, a trend that continued throughout filming as the studio lost more and more money due to box-office failures. Money problems were a big reason why the film bombed as horribly as it did when it opened in December of 1986, as DEG was so cash-strapped by that point from most of its releases flopping that it couldn't afford much of any kind of advertising campaign. What's more, when the film tested very poorly, they decided not to waste money promoting a bad movie, which was why it made less than $5 million (that's no exaggeration). The studio itself continued to flounder afterward and it fell apart by the end of the 80's.


A more creative problem for the cast and crew was the script: not necessarily the story, mind you (although there are inherent problems with it, as we'll get into later) but rather the tone. When Ronald Shusett and another writer named Steven Pressfield wrote the screenplay together, they tried to take an approach similar to the one Lorenzo Semple Jr. had with King Kong '76: acknowledge the absurdity of the story without making it an out-and-out spoof. Shusett said his inspiration was Raiders of the Lost Ark, which he described as a sendup of action movies and adventure serials while being one itself, but also noted that's really hard to pin down, which caused a considerable difference of opinion between different members of the production team. Despite their attempts to write it as semi-satirical, Brian Kerwin said that nobody was trying to make a joke out of it during filming, and when she was interviewed by Cinefantastique during filming, producer Martha Schumacher described the movie as very serious and not a joke. This led to the actors being confused about how to play the roles, as well as the final movie coming across as a little odd tonally. For the most part, the film is played completely straight, particularly the heart transplant early on, and you can also say the same about the two lead characters, Mitch and Amy, even though the former is a really funny guy. But then, you have John Ashton chewing the scenery as Col. Nevitt and being a cardboard villain, silly stuff like Kong carrying Lady Kong off bridal style after rescuing her and the situations Kong finds himself in near the end (stepping on a teenager's new car and getting hit in the face by a golf-ball), things that are meant to be gags like the Honeymoon Ridge sign in the establishing shot before you see the first big scene between the apes, and all the overly mushy interactions they have. One line that sums up this film's uneven tone is when Dr. Ingersoll, whose sudden shift in personality can probably be blamed primarily on the script, is informed of Kong's escape from the institute by being told, "The other monkey's gone... ape-shit." It's delivered in such a confused, half-hearted way that it makes you wonder whether or not it was meant to be a joke, which is how this whole movie feels, in spite of the good intentions behind it. Say what you will about Kong '76, at least that movie's tone was consistent and knew what it was.



What keeps me from calling this an out-and-out bad movie, be it one that's entertaining or unwatchable, is that it's competently-made on a technical level. John Guillermin was very proficient in shooting movies and making sets look good and this one is no different. In spite of the dwindling budget that he and everyone else had to deal with, the film, while certainly not as big as its predecessor, doesn't look like a small movie. The enormous operating theater where Kong is kept for the first quarter of the movie is proof of that, as it filled every inch of the largest stage DEG had available at its Wilmington studio and is shown off in one long, continuous shot at the beginning that is very impressive. That's to say nothing of the big surgical tools they use to operate on him, which are very well-designed, despite being ludicrous in how big they are, and the full-scale props of Kong's real heart and his artificial one that are used in the sequence. The same can also be said of the big warehouse where Lady Kong is kept before Kong bursts her out and the missile silo that Col. Nevitt keeps her in. Those are the only two actual major sets in the movie, whereas everything else is either ordinary-looking rooms and offices, shot on location in the wilderness and countryside (a stipulation Dino De Laurentiis made to Ronald Shusett), or are miniature sets built for the suit performers, but they also look pretty good, especially the real locations, even if some find them to be uninspired. If I have one complaint about the film's look, it's that I wish the film was as pleasant to the eyes as King Kong '76. It has a murky, brownish quality to it, especially in the nighttime scenes, that I don't care for and I think could've been done better. Otherwise, I think it can hardly be called a badly made movie in that regard.



It sucks that this is easily most despised King Kong movie when it takes place in the setting that I can relate to the most: the American south. In fact, while the movie is set in Georgia, which I don't live that far from, parts of it were actually filmed here in Tennessee, at Fall Creek Falls and Pigeon Forge, both of which I've been to (the latter of which I've visited many times since I was a kid). When I watch the movie, I find it surreal to see Kong stomping around territory that looks like my own backyard and to see him interacting with the types of people I see every day. When giving his own personal analysis of the movie, which is not positive, Ray Morton refers to the rednecks as very clichéd, a charge that I beg to differ with. I know a lot of people who look and act like the hunters who pay a grisly price for trapping and torturing Kong, right down to the one guy who says that he wants his head on the hood of his pickup (my dad is an avid hunter and wears gear similar to the ones you see these people wearing; however, he's not at all reprehensible like them), and I can say the same for the old men at the barn dance the Kongs show up at near the end. Some may say that the old guy with the beard and overalls who says, "I ain't seen you in a hundred years, boy!", is an over-the-top caricature but I can safely say that I've met my fair share of people around here who look and say stuff like that. I've never been to an actual barn dance like that but I have been to numerous family gatherings akin to it, so it feels true-to-life for me. While it may be stupid and clichéd to a lot of people, I've always enjoyed seeing King Kong in my neck of the woods. Now, they just need to make a Godzilla movie where's trampling the south!

If there is something negative that I can say about the film's setting, is that it makes the movie feel very repetitive and doesn't give it the sense of scope and grandeur that a King Kong movie should have. In all the previous movies, you got to see Kong reigning supreme in his natural habitat and rampaging through major cities like New York or Tokyo; here, once he and Lady Kong escape into the Georgia wilderness, that and some rural towns are the only environments you see him. While I still find it cool to see him somewhere I can relate to, I can agree that it makes this feel more like a generic monster movie than one that stars one of the greatest movie monsters, and characters, ever. And yeah, the feeling of larger-than-life fantasy and spectacle from the original King Kong and the 1976 film are nowhere to be found here, as this movie is even more down-to-Earth than the latter. It would've been nice to see some more action in the lush jungles of Borneo but, sadly, we don't have that.

If there's a character in this movie whom you can really root for, besides Mitch and Amy, it's King Kong (Peter Elliot) himself. After being comatose for a decade following his nearly being shot to death and falling off the World Trade Center, he's not only saved by the transplant of a large artificial heart but also meets and falls in love with a female who he can actually have a life with. When he and Lady Kong escape into the wilderness, they just want to be left in peace and, after all he's been through, it's nice to see Kong finally get a tranquil moment, which is why it's sad when Lady Kong is taken away from him, in spite of his attempts to save her. He gets cornered and is forced to jump down into a raging river and bash his head on a big rock, which causes him to bleed profusely and sink into the water, making everyone think he's dead. Instead, he hides out in the swamp for many months, getting the necessary protein by eating freaking alligators(!), and only ventures out when he hears Lady Kong's cries. All throughout the movie, Kong is depicted as brutish but not malevolent, as he only attacks those who get in his way, threaten him and Lady Kong, or out-and-out hurt him, which leads to him brutally killing the hunters who trap and torment him at one point. Other than that, he acknowledges the existence of the humans around him but is either so focused on getting to Lady Kong that he disregards them, like when he ignores the institute security guard when he's bursting out, or is curious about them, such as when he wanders into that small town by the lake and watches them panic. One thing's for sure, though: during the movie's second half, nothing is going to stop him from finding and rescuing Lady Kong, not getting half-buried and tormented, the fortified military base she's kept in, or Col. Nevitt's hunting him down and attacking him with everything he and his men have. The final battle, where completely decimates Nevitt's entire battalion, despite getting shot up and bloodied, and finally kills Nevitt personally is very satisfying, which is why it's then disappointing when you remember that he accidentally destroyed the monitoring device for his heart, which begins to give out. (As others have said, it's odd that he dies, despite the movie being called King Kong Lives.) His sacrifice, though, ensured the safe birth of his son, whom he gets to tough and bond with before he passes away.

As good as it is to see Kong recover from the horrible ass-kicking he got at the end of King Kong '76, the very plot of this movie causes several fundamental problems. It's expecting you to believe that he survived getting shot up by Gatling gun-toting helicopters and falling off the World Trade Center, something that's very hard to swallow. It's made even worse when you watch Kong '76 again and see that he is very clearly dead once the credits start to roll, something that they edit out during the opening prologue to this film (which makes it hard to buy this as a sequel). But, most importantly, it diminishes the power of the idea that he sacrificed himself to protect Dwan, and it's doubly bad when you have him not even trying to find her when he regains consciousness after the surgery, instead having him focus entirely on Lady Kong when he smells her right off the bat. It makes me wish that they'd done more of a concrete sequel, such as maybe having the entire film be about him trying to find Dwan, only for it to not work out for whatever reason and have someone, be it Jack Prescott or another woman, come along to try to make him understand that he must move on. Ultimately, though, like Ray Morton wrote, if King Kong Lives proves anything, it's that doing a sequel to the traditional Kong story in any way that brings the Eighth Wonder back to life isn't the best idea, unless you can come up with a story that really pays off dramatically.





As much as I like the characterization, I've never been a big fan of Kong's design in this film. Carlo Rambaldi returned to do the suit and creature designs, now working completely on his own and it shows. While Kong certainly looks better here than he did in the Toho films, it's far from the ideal look. He looks shorter and stockier than he did in Kong '76, which detracts from the majestic feel I always thought he had there, and his physique is more akin to that of a bodybuilder than a gorilla, which I don't care for (he doesn't have a single mark on his chest, even though he's had a heart transplant). When he walks on his hind legs, it's in a weird, back-and-forth rocking motion, and while it's cool to see him occasionally get down on all fours like a real gorilla, something he hasn't done since the original King Kong, the design of the suit that makes feel stiff and awkward (he always looks like he's doing at an angle rather than in a straight line). But, far and away, my least favorite part of his look is the head and face. They wanted to make him look as much as like the 1976 Kong as close as they could, and they even used the same molds as that one, but as you can see, he looks completely different. There is a reason for that: Rambaldi was able to create a single head that could go through all of the emotions and expressions required, whereas he and Rick Baker had used several different masks with varying expressions before. To accommodate the mechanisms in the head, though, they had to use thicker foam rubber, making the face look completely different. Ironically, in spite of the advanced mechanics, the thick foam rubber resulted in his face being more lifeless than they were before, and the contact lenses that Peter Elliot had to wear underneath the mask gave him even more of a blank, doll-like expression. Even as a kid, I noticed that he looked more like a living, emotive creature in Kong '76 than he does here. Plus, he's ugly as sin in this movie. Whenever he's snarling or angry, you don't want to look at him because he's so hideous, and there's a different between that and making him look ferocious like before. And when he smiles, he just looks dopey. As for his vocalizations, they created a new guttural, growly roar from a combination of Elliot's voice and real animal sounds. While it sounds okay and does make him feel more like a real animal, when you combine it with his significantly different appearance, it makes it all the more difficult for me to buy this as the same ape I saw before (plus, I always preferred that great roar in Kong '76).


Lady Kong (George Yiasoumi), or "Queen Kong" as I always called her when I was a kid, is little more than an oversized damsel in distress for Kong to save and protect time and again. She's much more timid and sensitive than he is, only showing ferocity when she chases after Mitch when he first comes across her in Borneo (her seemingly random presence there is explained in a very simplified way with a throwaway line from Mitch later on when he says that they believe Borneo and Kong's island were once part of the same landmass), spending most of her time moaning in depression or screaming in panic when spooked. That's what major problem is with her: she can't do anything for herself and has to rely on either Kong or Mitch and Amy to help her, instead of fighting back against Col. Nevitt's battalion or trying to escape from the missile silo. In any case, it's love at first sight when she and Kong meet and she becomes a very devoted mate, as well as playful, although not without her limits (as seen when she doesn't appreciate Kong pretending to be in pain so he can cop a feel), and, above all else, loving. That's the other major problem with Lady Kong: her scenes with Kong are supposed to be sweet and emotional but instead, they're disgustingly sappy, with how their making goo-goo eyes and fawning over each other. I don't have a problem with her and Kong being humanized, as he was humanized long before this film, but, as nice as it is to see Kong get some happiness in his life, this is too much (it's made even weirder when you know that they're both played by men). She becomes depressed when she's imprisoned in the silo, refusing to eat, but also knows that Kong's alive, which proves to be right when he eventually shows up and rescues her. At the end of the movie, she gives birth to their son, which is a happy moment between her and Kong, but it's broken when he dies, which Lady Kong, despite being saddened, appears to accept. The movie ends with her and her son living in the preserve in Borneo that Mitch acquired for them and while she misses Kong, she does smile when their son acts and sounds just like him. There was originally supposed to be a subplot with Lady Kong becoming infatuated with Mitch, which would make Kong jealous, and while that was mostly dropped, you can tell she does have some affection for him when they arrive in Georgia on the cargo plane, which isn't lost on another guy in there. Plus, when she becomes distraught when Mitch and Amy's attempt to get her out of the silo is thwarted, she picks him up and hugs him for comfort.



As for Lady Kong's design, it's fine, for the most part. She doesn't look or move much more like an actual gorilla than Kong does but they at least made the effort to get across that she's a female by softening her face, giving her more of a brown color in her fur, and making her a bit smaller than him. Although, I could do without those shriveled, flat breasts of hers. I know female gorillas have breasts like human women do but, God, could they have made those things more unseemly?! When she's pregnant at the end of the movie, they had to give her a big baby pump and much fuller breasts, which I was happy to see, of course (and if you can't tell I'm being sarcastic with that statement, get the hell out of here right now!) Her vocalizations are also made to reinforce that she's a female, with a much softer, timid texture to her roars, growling, and bellows.


Like they did in King Kong '76, they used some full-scale props for scenes where Kong and Lady Kong physically interact with the actors. Most notably, there was no big robot this time around but rather, a big, inflatable body with separate, detachable heads for shots where one Kong or the other is lying down. It sounds cheap, but it's quite effective in big wide, long shots, especially when Kong is comatose at the institute and you see his eyelids fluttering and slight breathing. But, because they only built one body, if you look closely during the sequence where Lady Kong is knocked out and captured by Col. Nevitt, you'll notice that she's missing her breasts! They also used the heads separately for some over-the-shoulder shots, which look good but in some shots, especially for when Kong is buried up to his neck in boulders by those hunters, there's no movement whatsoever and it's lifeless. The big hand also made a comeback, and while it's not used nearly as much as it was in Kong '76, I think it looks better and doesn't come across as mechanical as it did before. In addition, they created a pair of big feet and legs, which are used in scenes like when Lady Kong is frightened by the overzealous reporters at the airport and when Baby Kong is placed on her leg after he's born.



Finally, you have Baby Kong (Benjamin Kechley), who was originally supposed to be completely mechanized before being made into another person in a suit, although you can still see that mechanical effect when Lady Kong lifts him up after he's first been born. There's not much to say about him other than he comes across as a curious newborn, is initially frightened of his father but quickly feels safe and comforted when he puts his hand around him, is distraught and confused when his father dies, and is later shown to be on his way to becoming like his father during the ending scene. I can't exactly call Baby Kong cute, either when he's a newborn or when he's older in the ending (where he's played by Peter Elliot), mainly because they made him look more like his father who, as we've discussed, isn't exactly a looker here, and he looks more like a hairy, little man than he does a gorilla (he's also not as big as he should be, given the size of his parents). His tiny, squeaky vocalizations, though, are kind of precious.



The miniature sets are another area where this film is inferior to King Kong '76. While not horribly-designed or constructed, the thing is you can tell that they are miniatures. They look artificial, aren't lit well enough to hide it, and they're very limited in size when compared to what was done before. The reason for this is 98% of the miniature sets are meant to simulate woods, swamps, and canyons rather than cities, and natural environments are very difficult to simulate convincingly out of plaster and plastic. It also didn't help that much of the crew production designer Peter Murton had to work with were Wilmington, North Carolina locals who'd never worked on a movie before. While I still enjoy the wilderness settings, it is a shame that we don't get to see any urban destruction or fake buildings and such getting ripped apart, save for the operating theater, the warehouse where Lady Kong is housed, and the missile silo where she's kept after she's captured by Col. Nevitt. Those sets look really good and are even better when they get smashed, making you wish there was more of it. At least you get to see Kong destroying a bunch of tanks and jeeps at the end, though, as well as some nice jungle miniature sets at the beginning and end of the movie.




This is by far the goriest King Kong movie ever. While it's hardly a splatterfest (it is PG-13), there's a fair amount of fluid to be seen here, especially during the operation scene. You see blood splattering against Amy's surgery gown when she uses a large circular saw to open up Kong's chest, a wide shot of his open chest as they're cutting and suturing it, and a full-on, gloriously detailed shot of his heart being hoisted away on a crane to make way for the artificial one. Later on, you see blood bubble to the surface of a rive after he whacks his head on a big rock, him munching on alligators, to the point where he's built up a big pile of their bones, and when he gets back at the hunters who bury him up to his head and torment him, he breaks one in half and eats another! And the final battle against Col. Nevitt and his men is just as violent and bloody as the one atop the World Trade Center in the previous film, as Kong is ripped into by their weapons and is almost totally covered in blood by the time it's all over, and the same goes for Nevitt, who sustains some pretty nasty injuries himself. In addition to the violence, you also get a very quick glimpse of Linda Hamilton's lovely breasts when she gets out of the sleeping bag she and Mitch shared when he tells her that Lady Kong is down there by herself, making this also the only real Kong movie where you see nudity, unless you count the very brief glimpse at Jessica Lange when Kong pulled her top down in the previous movie. (If you want to get a longer, more detailed look at Ms. Hamilton, though, you'd best watch the love scene between her and Michael Biehn in The Terminator. I'm coming across like such a pig here.)



In addition to Carlo Rambaldi, another effects artist who returned for King Kong Lives was Barry Nolan, who'd been a photographic effects assistant to Frank Van Der Veer and had now taken over as the head of the latter's optical effects company after he'd died in 1982. A lot of the technicians had also worked on Kong '76, so they knew what to expect, and they really rose to the challenge, as the blue screen, matting, and split-screen effects in this film are much superior. A lot of that could be due to simple advances in technology and techniques or the fact that there aren't as many shots of the Kongs interacting with the real actors but, whatever the case, they're much improved and some are even quite startling in how effective they look, such as the wide-shot of Mitch and the natives standing over to the side when Lady Kong topples over after being sedated or when you see them in the shot with her in the warehouse. Not all of the optical effects are great, with some of the weakest being a behind shot of Lady Kong watching the army vehicles approach her (her movements are slowed down and she looks kind of strange as well), Kong being matted onto the cliff behind said vehicles, and when he eats the one hunter, whom he's holding in his hand, but for the most part, the more obvious ones don't look as horribly dated as many in the previous film do.

When I've broken down the major scenes in the past Kong movies, I've got into detail about all of the scenes involving Kong and any other creatures, even if they weren't action scenes. Well, here, I'm going to have to take a different approach and just mention certain scenes in passing so this review won't be longer than it needs to be, because both he and Lady Kong have a lot of screentime and are truly the stars here (they're listed before the actual actors in the ending credits). Fortunately, a lot of the incidental scenes and shots featuring them are very short and superfluous, so you won't be missing much. So, with that out of the way, let's begin.

Following the prologue and the first shots of the comatose Kong at the Atlantic Institute, the film's first major scene takes place in Borneo, where Mitch is introduced leading a couple of stubborn mules through a river and into a patch of jungle. Deciding to take a break, he walks into the bush and lays back on a big mass of palm leaves... only for it to suddenly move up and force him to get off. It's revealed that he was laying on an enormous ape hand that swings over his head, as we get our first look at Lady Kong. Mitch, needless to say, is dumbstruck at this sight, as Lady Kong stands up and lets out an angry roar at having been disturbed. When he fails to calm her down, Mitch runs off into the jungle, Lady Kong hot on his heels, trying to grab him with her big hand as she chases him through the thick foliage. Mitch soon comes into a clearing and collapses at the feet of some natives, who shoot blow-darts at Lady Kong just as she's about to grab him. They hit her across the chest and torso, staving her off as Mitch gets to his feet and tells the natives not to kill her. As it turns out, the darts were merely tipped with a natural tranquilizer that very quickly makes her groggy and causes her to come crashing down to the ground, unconscious.




Following the scene at the airport where Mitch has to calm Lady Kong when she's twice spooked by the crowd of people who've gathered there, particularly some reporters who start climbing at her feet to get some good shots, and the transfusion that she provides Kong so he can withstand the surgery, we next get the operation. Once Amy and her fellow doctors are ready, they walk onto a platform right above Kong's chest and watch as the artificial heart is moved into the room, followed by their very large surgical instruments. They take what they need and Amy is given a large, circular saw that she uses to cut open Kong's chest, blood splattering on her operating gown. After they've opened him up, they work for a while, removing the heart while keeping Kong alive through continuous blood pumps and suction. When they're ready, a crane with a large claw at the end of it is swung over and lowered into Kong's chest. A couple of more cuts and his enormous heart is raised up and out of his chest (Brian Kerwin contemplated taking that massive prop home and making it into a coffee table), making way for the artificial one, which is lowered down towards his chest. However, the surgery hits a snag as one of the heart's supports breaks and it nearly falls. As they try to support it, Kong's vital signs become crippled, forcing them to work fast and finish up what they need to. Once they're finished, the heart is lowered down into Kong's open chest, a shot that is actually photographed from inside it.



After a short shot of Lady Kong sitting in the warehouse with her wrists and feet chained, we get a scene that takes place the same night as a celebratory dinner. While Mitch, Dr. Hughes, and Dr. Ingersoll party, Amy is staying by Kong's side, monitoring his progress. She's fallen asleep in the observation booth and the doctor in there with her is watching Kong's vital signs, when he slowly begins to regain consciousness. Noticing this on the machine, he wakes Amy up and when she looks out the booth's window, she sees Kong turn his head to look at her. Looking up through the skylight in the ceiling, he begins to raise up, pulling the oxygen tubes out of his nose and taking some deep breaths. They realize that even at this great distance, he can smell Lady Kong's scent. As he raises his hand up towards the skylight, Lady Kong senses him as well in her warehouse, stands up, and calls to him. Hearing this, Kong sits up, pulling more wires and tubes out of him, and gets to his feet. Wanting to go to her, he jumps up for the skylight, but the chains on his wrists keep him from reaching it. This action puts a strain on his heart, and when he tries it again, he clutches at his chest, growling in pain. To keep him from going into cardiac arrest, they quickly sedate him using the tranquilizer line that's still attached to him, causing him to collapse to the floor hard enough to shake the booth.

Two days later, they're attempting to move Lady Kong out to her newly completed area, but all of the activity and moving vehicles make her very uncomfortable, as she's cowering while letting out some frightened growls and moans. Mitch tries to warn Dr. Ingersoll that they're scaring her but his concerns are rebuffed, as Lady Kong's yells become more frantic. Back at the institute, a night watchman in Kong's holding area finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time, when he sees the giant ape raise his right arm (this was a pretty creative shot that was done moving the big arm and hand up right next to the full-sized body). He then reaches over and pulls a tube out of his left arm, before sitting up, breaking loose the cuff on his left wrist, and slamming it on the floor. He smashes the one attached to his right wrist against the floor as well, breaking it loose. Meanwhile, at the warehouse, Lady Kong is fenced in by some bulldozers, frightening her even more. Amy tells them to wait for the sedative that was put into her food to kick in before trying this but the man says that it doesn't work if she doesn't eat it all, which she hasn't. She begins to swing her chained hands back and forth, growing more and more hysterical as she tries to get loose, and when the nets are lowered onto her, she completely looses it and begins pulling at them while screaming. At that point, Kong has now gotten to his feet, and the helpless guard tries to call in for assistance as he unchains his feet. He jumps up to the ceiling, grabs onto some piping, and lifts himself up to look out the skylight, allowing him to hear Lady Kong's screams. At the warehouse, Mitch is distraught over seeing his ape in this state, while Amy suggests that they stop the operation, but Ingersoll insists they go ahead and finish it. They're then told what's going on with Kong, as he's then shown jumping back up to the ceiling and smashing straight through the skylight. Mitch then tries loosen the nets on Lady Kong, only to be restrained by some guards.




Kong stomps angrily towards the warehouse and then, to everyone's horror, rips through the wall on the opposite side of the building like it's nothing, sending them all fleeing in a panic. Once he's ripped it completely open, he and Lady Kong see each other for the first time and they become instantly love-struck. He stomps his way through the warehouse, with everyone panicking trying to run or drive out of his way, with a car slamming into a bulldozer, a guy falling off his perch in a panic, and a truck hitting a ramp and doing a flip that leaves it lying on its side. Kong steps on the front of another truck as he reaches Lady Kong and rips her loose of the nets and pushes back the crane one of them is attached to, causing it to knock over a car behind it, which promptly explodes. Once he's completely gotten her loose, they look at each other in a very lovey-dovey manner, not seeing the bulldozers driving right for them. Mitch manages to stop one of them by climbing onto it and kicking the driver in the back of the head, but one hits the side of Kong's left leg with its plow. He roars in pain and anger and then grabs it by the plow, pulls it towards him, and shoves it over to the side, where it tips over and explodes. Some armed men in another vehicle prepare to open fire on the apes but Mitch jumps into a jeep and barrels it right at them just as they do, knocking them to the ground and damaging the vehicle. Seeing his chance, Kong rips Lady Kong loose of her chains, picks her up, and carries her bridal-style back through the warehouse and out the torn open wall, stepping on an electric grid as he carries her off into the wilderness.



Following that, we get our first our sweet interaction scene between Kong and Lady Kong at a place in the mountains called Honeymoon Ridge. Kong's offering his mate some shrubbery and she looks like she's going to take it, when she fakes him out and grabs a big clump of it by his feet. She then laughs at him, while he stands up and groans in annoyance, throwing away the shrub he was holding. He walks towards some nearby rocks, reaches in upon seeing something, and pulls out a snake (apparently a very big snake, considering how large it looks in his hand). Thinking this will impress her, he takes it over to Lady Kong who, as expected, freaks out and runs off. Kong follows her with it into another part of the clearing until she swings her arm and lets out a short yell that sounds like, "No!" Taking the hint, he drops the snake as she sits down and looks away, while he then notices the ugly injury the bulldozer left on his leg. Touching at it, he then lets out an overdramatic groan of pain, which catches her attention. Acting hurt, he sits down, holding his knee, and lets out another groan, prompting her to walk over to him. He shows her the injury and she walks over to inspect it. When she touches it, he again acts like it really hurts and she then scoops some water out of a nearby puddle. She drips it onto the wound and he makes a face of relief, putting his arm around her shoulders... before sliding his hand down and copping a feel. Lady Kong is not amused by this and lets out an irritated growl at him while shaking her hand, prompting to put his arms around his knees with a smug, satisfied smile on his face. But, as she continues tending to him, he puts his arm back around her shoulders, without doing anything perverted this time, and they give each other some loving glances.

Meanwhile, Mitch and Amy, who are trying to catch up with the apes before Col. Nevitt does, run into some excitement of their own when they come across an army roadblock in the woods. Amy quickly barrels her truck down another road, going right through a barrier, and down a dirt road. A mass of soldiers appear in the road ahead of them and Amy veers the truck off the road and down through the woods, getting shot at as they go. Mitch comments, "Could've used you in Borneo... if I wanted an early death," before they come across a fallen tree by a creek, preventing them from going any farther in the truck. Getting out and getting their stuff, they hike up along the creek and come across a rickety, wooden bridge over some rapids. When they reach a spot where some boards are missing, Mitch goes first to make sure it's safe and then takes Amy's hand to help her across. Once they're over that spot, they continue on, when Amy falls through one of the boards and is just able to grab onto a rope there to keep herself from being swept away. As Mitch pulls her up with it, Amy is more worried about the portable heart monitor, which he was carrying, than she is about herself, telling her to save it and prompting Mitch to ask if she's nuts. He manages to pull her back up onto the bridge and, after she sees that the monitor is safe, they make it completely across the bridge, hiding from a helicopter that passes over. Amy bandages up a big cut in Mitch's arm that he didn't even realize he had and then changes out of her wet clothes, when he hears Kong off in the distance, realizing that they're not too far away.

In the next scene, which is at nighttime, Kong is preparing a bed of shrubs for Lady Kong, as Mitch and Amy slowly sneak up to watch them from nearby. Amy takes out the heart monitor, watching as Kong pads down the shrubs, and comments that, in spite of all the exertion it's been through lately, his heart has gotten stronger. They then watch as he pats down the side of the bed, inviting Lady Kong over, and she obliges. Amy tells Mitch that it looks like he's losing his "girlfriend" as Lady Kong grooms the back of Kong's left shoulder and nibbles at it a little bit. Mitch comes up with the idea that they could survive in a preserve somewhere and that it would only take the necessary money to make it happen. The two apes then bed down for the night and Mitch and Amy decide to do the same in a spot nearby. This leads to a similar romantic moment between the two of them later on that night, when Amy spots Mitch trying desperately to keep warm with only his coat as a cover while she's all snug in a sleeping bag. She offers it to him, commenting that they're primates too, and they proceed to "snuggle" in there after exchanging a kiss.



Mitch wakes up the next morning to see Lady Kong down in the clearing by herself and wakes up Amy by telling her this. In the next cut, Kong is seen gathering some more shrubs by a cliff, when the sound of a helicopter catches his attention. He stands up, looking around, and then turns to see the helicopter pass over the ridge behind him. He lets out an angry yell and a cut shows the helicopter spreading a layer of knockout gas, with a platoon of tanks and troops following behind. Kong begins climbing his way back to the spot, as Mitch and Amy watch the vehicles approach Lady Kong. She stands up to face them, as the helicopters pass over her and douse her with the knockout gas. She roars and yells in fear, grabbing at her throat as the gas begins to take effect, and then keels over onto the ground. As Kong climbs up the side of the cliff, Col. Nevitt arrives on the scene and calls in a helicopter carrying a large net. The troops gather around her with smaller nets, Nevitt telling them to make sure she's secure, as the helicopter lowers its net onto her. Kong appears on a ridge behind them and when he stands up and realizes what's happening, he lets out a loud roar, alerting everyone to his presence. Nevitt orders the helicopters to hit him with the gas, which they do, but he's not as easily affected and jumps down the ridge, making his way towards them. Nevitt tells his men to keep him back until Lady Kong is away and they begin shooting grenades at the ground in front of him to do so. The helicopter with the unconscious Lady Kong lifts off of the ground, while Kong is forced back up the ridge a little ways, and watches with a mix of anger and sadness as his mate is carried off, recoiling from the grenades.

One of the soldiers then uses a flamethrower against him, driving him into along the right side of the ridge, with Nevitt and his forces in hot pursuit. Mitch and Amy leave too, in order to keep him in sight, as he climbs further up along the ridge and a rocky mountain to escape his pursuers. As a strong wind begins to build up, Nevitt and his men reach a nearby vantage point and the colonel sees through his binoculars that Kong has trapped himself on the cliff. He orders his men to try to cut him off, while Mitch and Amy manage to commandeer an empty jeep without being noticed. Nevitt is confident that Kong is theirs, as the ape sees that he's been cut off on the ridge on the other side of his peak. A flash of lightning signals that a bad storm is kicking up and Nevitt orders the choppers grounded, when Kong picks up a boulder and uses it to smash one of the vehicles that've cut him off. This prompts Nevitt to order Kong to be killed rather than captured. Mitch and Amy, meanwhile, drive up as far as they can go in their jeep but are apprehended by soldiers before they can go further on foot and are taken to Nevitt. Trapped on the mountaintop in the blowing rain, it looks as if Kong is done for, even though he roars in defiance at the forces on the ridge across from him, when he spots the raging river down below. He turns around and sees that he's surrounded, as other troops have cut off that path as well, and lets out a mournful roar. Mitch and Amy are brought to Nevitt and Mitch tells the colonel that he doesn't have to finish Kong off, to which he says, "He's not your problem anymore, pal. He's mine!" Nevitt gives the order but, before any of them can do anything, Kong leaps off the cliff and plunges down into the river below. They watch as even he's not strong enough to fight the current, which carries him down the gorge, and Amy takes out the monitor to correct the stress this will have on his heart. Kong continues to unsuccessfully fight the current and is swept further down until his head smashes against a large rock and he sinks beneath the rapids. Nevitt comments, "Not even your Kong can survive that," and he seems to be right, as the spot where he went under fills with blood and his vitals on the monitor flat-line.






After we got a look at Lady Kong's sorry state-of-mind and physical condition due to her being kept contained in the missile silo for months, with a bit of her ignoring the food they dump in for her and another where Amy and Dr. Hughes visit her and the former theorizes that, rather mourning for Kong, she can sense that he's still alive, we see that the big guy is indeed still alive, despite Hughes' skepticism. In a swamp, he picks up an alligator, holds it up (the switch between the baby alligator that Peter Elliot is holding and a close-up of a full-grown alligator is pretty obvious), and, as a frog watches from nearby, kills it with a snap to the neck and gobbles it down. He lets out a belch and picks up four that he's already gathered, holding them by their tails with his mouth, and, after killing a fifth by smashing its head against a rock, he wades through the swamp with them. A fade shows that he's eaten enough by this point to create a huge pile of bones and we see him finish munching on the last of the ones he gathered, leaving only its tail. He then prepares to bed down for the night, when he hears Lady Kong howling off in the distance. Standing up and looking around, he peers over the ridge behind and, looking at the full moon in the sky, returns a second call that he hears her let out. A brief shot of Lady Kong sitting in the silo shows her letting out more mournful howls. Following that, we get a brief scene where Mitch, upon returning from Borneo to buy land for a preserve for Lady Kong, only to learn of her isolation, tries to rush inside the base to see her but is painfully subdued by the guards there. When he and Amy prepare to leave, he hears her let out another mournful howl, and as she continues doing so, she wakes up Kong in the swamp. Getting up and walking to the edge of the water, he listens for her again and, when he doesn't hear anything else, is about to go back when she does let another. Answering her again, Kong hits his chest while letting out a yell before wading into the swamp, following the direction of the sound. It leads him to a small, lakeside town. Inside a house, a guy is making out with his girlfriend on the couch, talking about how she has big, brown bedroom eyes, when he looks up and notices some much bigger, brown eyes peering down at them through the skylight. His girlfriend implores not to stop but when she looks up and sees Kong through the skylight as well, they both panic and run out of the house. Their screams get their neighbors' attention, who run outside and become just as frantic when they see Kong. People start driving off in a panic, an old man with a gun almost shoots some of his neighbors when they stumble in front of him and begins shooting up into the air, and others run for their motorboats at the lake and use them to escape, all while Kong watches the chaos with a bewildered expression on his face. One guy decides to be a daredevil and, with his girlfriend, drives right between Kong's legs with his motorcycle. After that, Kong decides he's had enough and walks off into the woods.





Mitch and Amy use a small plane upon hearing of Kong's reappearance and, when they see a trail of broken trees that they're sure is his, they fly ahead of it in an attempt to meet up with him. Elsewhere, four beer-guzzling hunters wait at the end of a large canyon, having prepared a trap for Kong. When he rounds the bend in front of them, though, they become much less gun-ho when they see just how big he is, and his spotting them and letting out a roar sends one of them running off in a panic, saying that he has to go to church. He takes a few more steps towards them, when one of them hits a switch that ignites some dynamite that they'd set at the top of the canyon, causing a massive avalanche of rocks that heads right for him. He barely has time to react before he's buried up to his torso and then, unable to move, can only roar helplessly as he's buried up to his shoulders. The hunters are overjoyed when they realize that their plan's worked, while Kong snarls at them after the smoke and dust clears. They set up a campfire in front of him and celebrate by drinking, shooting their guns off in the air, and having one take a couple of pictures of the others in front of Kong's face. As you can expect, Kong does like the camera flashes at all and snarls and hisses at the hunters in front of him. One comments on how badly his breath smells when another decides to give him some liquor. Grabbing a big bottle, one pours it into his mouth, and Kong promptly spits it right back in his face. Two of them start talking about teaching him some respect, when one of their friends tells them to leave Kong alone, saying that there's no need to torment him. Ignoring him, two of the hunters pick some burning sticks out of the fire, when the more sympathetic hunter picks up his rifle and threatens them, trying to stop their cruelty, when the fourth one smacks him in the back of the legs with another rifle, giving them the opportunity to take his away from him. Turning back to Kong, the one hunter says, "Now, then, we're gonna teach you some manners, you big, ugly son of a bitch," and then cruelly burns the side of his face, laughing as he yells in pain. This proves to be their undoing, as Kong erupts out of the rocks, killing two of them by sending boulders flying everywhere. The other two, who were tormenting him, aren't so lucky, as he chases them through the canyon and corners one when he tries to climb up the cliff-wall. Snarling, he grabs him, lifts him up, and snaps him in half like a Kit-Kat. He then turns his attention to the other one, who's also trying to climb to safety, and the fact that he's made it up out of his reach doesn't deter him at all. When grabbing at him doesn't work, Kong begins running his hand up the side of the cliff, the impact of it creating a rockslide that knocks the man off his ledge and into his hand. Grabbing him, Kong hoists him up, and then eats him alive in one, massive bite. Swallowing him, Kong smiles, as he apparently tasted pretty good, and picks around in his teeth, pulling out his hat, which he drops to the ground.

Kong walks out of the canyon, only to clutch his chest and groan in pain for a few seconds, his heart reeling for that exertion. The pain quickly subsides and he stomps off after letting out a groan. Up ahead, Mitch and Amy hear Kong approaching and the latter pulls out the monitor to check his condition. She sees that his heart is crippled and attempts to correct it. Kong then appears and heads up the hill right towards, but Amy is too busy trying to complete the sequence to worry. He continues to walk towards them, when Mitch grabs Amy and pulls her off to the side. He steps right on the monitor when he walks past them and when she sees its smashed remains, Amy reveals that she couldn't repair the damage and now, his heart won't last another day. They watch him round the bend and, following the path he took, they find the two dead hunters, as Mitch figures what happened. Amy realizes, "Well, Kong, you've killed now. Now, nothing will stop them from killing you."



The next day, while Col. Nevitt deploys his men and Mitch and Amy use their plane to keep track of Kong, he wanders into a suburban neighborhood. He steps on and crushes a young man's car, prompting him to say that his dad's going to kill him, and then has some bad luck when he walks near a golf course and gets whacked in the head with a ball. His angry snarl promptly scares off the golfers. Mitch and Amy fly over the spot where Nevitt and his forces have gathered, waiting for Kong, and they land their plane near the base, waiting for a chance to help Lady Kong escape. That night, we see Kong cautiously approach the spot where Nevitt and his men are waiting, keeping low while making his way towards the tree-line at the edge of the ridge overlooking them. Nevitt uses a small, telescope-like device to check the ridge, and Kong then peaks his head out and frowns angrily when he seems to recognize the colonel. He then explodes upwards in a cloud of dirt and dust, continuously throw up into the air over them, as the men open fire. Unable to see because of it, all of their shots miss and when the place is completely covered, Kong stomps towards them and through the field. Nevitt commandeers a vehicle with a mounted gun in the back and has the driver chase after Kong, only for the ape to turn around and throw a clump of dirt right at them, knocking Nevitt off the back. His face bleeding, Nevitt watches Kong stomp off and angrily yells, "You son of a bitch!" (Funny story about that: when I first saw this when I was only like six years old, I repeated that line in front of my mother, even though she and I had seen it together and she had told me that it wasn't a good thing to say. As you might expect, she wasn't amused and I was reprimanded for it.) He commandeers a passing tank and resumes the chase, with his other men following after him.



Back at the base, Mitch and Amy manage to get inside when the guards at the gate get into an argument with two soldiers who attempt to drive off in a jeep. They quickly run through the gate and Mitch uses the controls at the guard booth to open up a large door leading into the heart of the place. Although they're found out, they're able to run through the door and close it as one of the guards opens fire on them with an assault rifle. Two guards inside are warned of the intruders through the telephone and arm themselves, only to be caught off guard when Amy walks through the door. The one guard walks up to her, when Mitch swings around the edge of the door and decks him in the face. He's able to easily punch out the other guard as well, and he and Amy then look through the observation window at Lady Kong. Seeing her bloated belly, Amy realizes that she's pregnant, and Mitch grabs the keys off of one of the guards and uses them to open the door leading into the silo. They climb down the ladder to the floor, with Lady Kong backing away from them, as she hasn't seen them in a long time and doesn't know who they are, and activate the controls that raise the floor up to the opening of the silo. She's initially confused and frightened, but soon recognizes Mitch and becomes happy when he opens the panel in the ceiling, showing her the sky and the moon and making her understand that she's getting out. Unfortunately, one of the guards in the control booth regains consciousness and uses the control panel there to stop the platform and close the ceiling back up. Lady Kong becomes distraught when she sees it closing and reaches for it, yelling, while Mitch unsuccessfully tries to open it back up. He then tells her to calm down, when she corners him, picks him up, and holds him to her shoulder, needing some comfort. Suddenly, Kong shows up outside and uses his strength to push the panel back open. Lady Kong is ecstatic, while Amy and especially Mitch are scared over what he might do. Kong's forcing open the panel causes the gears to smoke and short out, and he tears off chunks of the concrete as they freeze in position. He continues tearing and smashing the panel open until he's created a hole big enough and reaches in, takes Lady Kong's hand, and pulls up through it, all while she's still holding Mitch in her other hand. When the apes climb out of sight, Amy climbs up one of the ladders and uses it to reach the outside herself. She sees the Kongs run off into the distance and, spotting a nearby supply truck, she quickly commandeers it. Seeing numerous approaching headlights, she knows who it is and drives the truck straight through the gate.





Kong and Lady Kong show up at a barn dance and it takes the people there a long time to notice them, in spite of how big they are (it's only when Kong lets out a yell that they run off in a panic). In fact, it's only until they're almost on top of them that two old men actually see them; once they do, though, they run for it. Lady Kong gently places Mitch on the ground, as Amy drives up, and both them and Kong watch as she loses her balance and falls backwards, right through the barn. Kong looks in on her as she begins to go into labor and then turns upon hearing the sounds of approaching vehicles. Col. Nevitt and all of his men show up and Kong, recognizing them, lets out a protective roar. Nevitt gives the order to fire, and Amy tries to stop him, saying that he'd hit Lady Kong. But the madman is now thoroughly intent on killing the apes and repeats his order to fire. His men do so, opening fire on Kong with everything they have, and thus begins the best sequence in the whole movie. Determined to protect both his mate and unborn child, Kong gets down on all fours and charges right at them, not slowing down at all as the gunfire rips into him. He grabs one tank and throws it to the ground, causing it to explode, smashes another vehicle with a swipe of his hand, grabs the wreckage and bashes it into the ground before picking it up and tossing it aside, and pounds the side of another tank (a guy runs by it on fire!). He stands up, roaring as shells continue to rip into him, kicks one tank on its side, exploding it, and charges at the retreating soldiers as they fire on him with their assault rifles. Seeing that his men have abandoned him, Nevitt aims his tank directly at Kong and fires at him with everything he has, spraying bullets across his chest and shoulders. Wading through them, Kong grabs the colonel's tank, picks it up, and throws it into a nearby cemetery, where it explodes, although Nevitt falls out of it in mid-air. Getting to his feet, Nevitt turns to see Kong looming over him, growling. Defiant to the last, Nevitt pulls out a handgun and shoots him with every bullet he has left, which he easily withstands. Looking down at the colonel, Kong growls at him menacingly and raises his arm in a threatening manner. Nevitt tries to run for it but doesn't get very far when Kong brings his fist down right on top of him, pulling it away to reveal the colonel's legs sticking out of a large hole in the ground, a sight that makes him smile satisfactorily.





Kong stands up and lets out a victorious roar, only to then clutch his chest in pain again. Watching him, Amy realizes that his heart is giving out, as he falls to his knees and supports himself up with his right arm. At the same time, Lady Kong is going through labor pains inside the barn, yelling and groaning, as her dying mate stumbles up to it and finally collapses at her feet. Lady Kong lets out one last, long yell, which is then followed by the sound of a baby gorilla squawking and crying. Hearing this, Amy and Mitch rush to the barn, as Kong looks in as his mate cradles their newborn son in her hands. Walking through the hole and up to her leg, Mitch tells Lady Kong to show Kong his son and she, appearing to understand him, places the baby on her thigh. Looking around, Baby Kong walks across his mother's leg, getting to his feet and yelling at one point, and settles down. He and his father then see each other and Amy tearfully implores Kong to reach for him. He weakly looks down at her and then, turning his attention back to his son, who isn't quite sure what to make of him, he reaches his hand in (again, can they now suddenly understand what the humans are saying to them?) and touches Baby Kong, as Lady Kong smiles. Baby Kong feels the hair on his father's hand, as he then raises it up and uses it to envelop him. The baby is initially frightened by this, standing up and moaning, but he quickly gets a feeling of comfort from it instead and smiles, patting and rubbing against his father's palm. Kong and Lady Kong exchange loving glances and groans at this, when the former's last bit of strength is ebbed away and he slowly slumps down and lets out one last groan. Seeing his father's hand collapse and go limp, Baby Kong ducks out from under it and, realizing there's something wrong, begins to whine. Amy is brought to tears, while Lady Kong forlornly accepts her mate's death and her baby lets out a scream. Patting at the hand, he looks back at his mother, who nods and growls lowly at him, as if confirming what's happened, and Amy and Mitch leave while Baby Kong continues to snuggle against his dead father's hand. This is the one bit of interaction between the Kongs that I find to be genuinely moving rather than just schmaltzy.



The film's conclusion takes place in Borneo, at the preserve that Mitch bought, as an older Baby Kong is swinging through the trees (as I said earlier, he looks more like a little hairy human than he does a young gorilla). Resting on a tree branch, he looks at his mother, who's holding some flowery shrubs, mourning her lost mate. Seeing her sadness, Baby Kong beats on his chest, which gets her attention and she makes a motion with her head like, "Yeah, son that's nice." He then lets out a loud yell, and Lady Kong can't help but smile at that, seeing how much he is like his father. She makes a loving gesture towards him and Baby Kong, smiling at seeing her happy again, continues swinging through the trees.

John Scott, who'd done the music for Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (as well as Yor, the Hunter from the Future and Inseminoid), composes the score for this film and I doubt anyone would argue that it's one of its best aspects, by far. I think John Barry's score for King Kong '76 is much better, mind you, but this is pretty good. It gives the film a feeling of adventure, excitement, and grandeur (much more than the movie actually has, I might add), as well as the character of Kong one of nobility and a pure heart. His main theme is a nice little tune that you first hear in a soft, sympathetic way during the opening credits and is reused many, many times throughout the film, in different variations, be it sweet and loving, sad and tragic, and melancholic. My favorite iteration of it is the grand, sweeping one that plays when Kong annihilates Col. Nevitt's forces and makes it even more of an awesome sequence. The downside of the notable main theme is that it's played so much, it makes the score feel very repetitive, akin to the main piece to Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the rest of the music, although adding to the thrills and comedy of their respective scenes, isn't something I could hum for you if you asked me to, which I could for most of the pieces of Kong '76. Still, it is a good score and is one of the highlights of a film that's very uneven for the most part.

I will always defend King Kong '76, but I can't say the same for King Kong Lives. While I don't think it's an out-and-out horrible movie and feel that it has some good notes that people tend to overlook because they're too busy trashing it, despite my nostalgia for it, I can't call it a good movie. I think it has good actors, some well-done optical and mechanical effects, a good score, and a great, likable characterization of King Kong himself, who has some fun scenes of him smashing and throwing stuff, but on the whole, there's a lot stacked against it. Significantly, the movie feels like it can't decide whether it wants to be straight or comical, resulting in it feeling awkward, and the very premise poses a major, dramatic problem; the locations of the forests, canyons, and country neighborhoods, with lots of redneck characters, despite being relatable for me, do get repetitive after a while and robs the film of the grandeur and scope that a King Kong movie should have; the miniature sets, while well-done, are clearly miniatures and you wish that there was more infrastructure for Kong to smash rather than just trees and rocks; the unrealistic designs of the Kong suits make it clear that Carlo Rambaldi needed Rick Baker's assistance; and the interactions between Kong and Lady Kong are groan-inducing and sappy, rather than heartwarming and sweet like they're meant to be. But what ultimately makes this a disappointing sequel is that Kong '76 was a larger-than-life spectacle that was filled with wonder and enchantment, while this is a fairly low-rent, generic B-movie, and Kong deserves better. In conclusion, while I have good childhood memories of it and can still get some entertainment when I watch it, I can completely understand why so many others, including the majority of the people who worked on it, despise this movie and wished Kong had stayed dead (which he did for nearly twenty years afterward).

1 comment:

  1. Always nice to see pictures of me on the internet! - Benjamin Kechley

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