Friday, March 17, 2017

Stuff I Grew Up With: King Kong (1976)

If I were to make a list of the most underappreciated movies ever made, this would be very, very high on it. Come to think of it, I've kind of already done that: back in 2012, I put it on a list of movies that I like but everyone else seems to hate and it's a decision that I still stand by. I'm confounded by all of the hate and venom that this film has gotten over the years and continues to get to this day. Nearly every major figure or reviewer I've seen talk about it has done so in a negative light. John Stanley, in his Creatures Features book, describes it as an "event" that is "far from recommend cinema" and finishes his short review with, "It finally topples from its own weight,"; Doug Walker, aka the Nostalgia Critic, once said it sucks donkey dick; James Rolfe, the Angry Video Game Nerd, called it a "lousy remake" in 2008 and while his view on it is more positive now, he says it's still not a movie he revisits that often; and, most notably, Peter Jackson has often blasted this movie, once saying that it's, "Kind of kitsch," and not, "The Kong that I saw when I was nine." I guess that explains my viewpoint on it, because this is the Kong that I grew up with. If you've read my review of the original, you'd know that, while this wasn't the first King Kong movie I ever saw (that one's coming up next), it was the one I saw the most as a really young kid, long before I finally did see the 1933 film. Plus, as you'd also know, I went through a period when I was very young where I thought this was the first King Kong movie and I was always confused when the description of the plot in the Crestwood House book I often read back then didn't match the movie I knew (the book also used photos from this film during that plot description, as well as on the front cover, only furthering the confusion). And even when I finally understood what a remake is and that there was a movie made long before the one I knew, I always thought this looked better because back then, I thought stop-motion was weird-looking and didn't feel real. Now, as you read back in my long-winded review of the original, I very much grew to understand and admire what a great movie it is and I do think it's a better movie than this. That said, though, I don't at all believe that the mythic status of the 1933 King Kong means that this one should be dismissed as complete garbage and tossed aside. Looking at it again in order to do this review, as I hadn't seen it in a couple of years before now, I think this is a genuinely good movie. It does have flaws and aspects of it are rather dated but, on the whole, like the original, I think is a spectacular and enjoyable larger-than-life fantasy.

If Merian C. Cooper is the father of King Kong, then Dino De Laurentiis, as Ray Morton says in his book, King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, can be seen as his stepfather. In fact, he was kind of similar to Cooper in that he was a very intelligent man with a strong personality, one who did things his way, even if his methods didn't sit well with certain people. He was also interesting in how he was a staunchly independent producer and yet, was akin to past mavericks like Samuel Goldwyn and David O. Selznick in that he made really big, prestigious movies. That was what a lot of people found really interesting about his King Kong: this enormous movie was put together and financed by De Laurentiis alone, with Paramount acting only as distributor. Speaking of which, according to Morton, there are two stories as to how De Laurentiis became interested in reviving Kong. One story leads to future Disney CEO Michael Eisner, who claimed that he got the idea when he saw the original movie on TV and, thinking that a remake would be a great idea, approached his friend Barry Diller, who was also the chairman of Paramount at that time, about it. Diller then took it to De Laurentiis, whose movies were often distributed by the studio. De Laurentiis himself, however, said that he got the idea when Diller talked with him about doing some kind of monster movie and then, during the time when he was thinking it over, he saw a poster for the original King Kong on his daughter's wall while he was waking her up for school one morning. However it came to him, De Laurentiis felt that at that time, movie audiences were ready to get back to a sense of fantasy, wonder, and pure escapism after the cynicism and downbeat feeling that had clouded most of the 70's and plus, he loved the character of Kong, whom he often affectionately referred to as, "The Big Monkey," and knew that movie audiences around the world did too. He summed up his feelings about the character with a popular quote: "When Jaws dies, nobody cries, but when Kong dies, everybody cries."

Although the film is often regarded as Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong, the man who was actually in the director's chair was John Guillermin, a French-born, British director who'd been making movies since the late 40's. By the time he was approached with the idea of doing this, he'd directed many movies in all sorts of genres, with some notable ones being Tarzan's Greatest Adventure (which I've read is considered to be one of the best ever made), Tarzan Goes to India, The Day They Robbed the Bank of England, with Peter O'Toole, Never Let Go, with Peter Sellers, Shaft In Africa, and, his other most well-known movie, the disaster classic, The Towering Inferno. Following that, De Laurentiis had hired Guillermin to do another disaster movie but when that film ended up not happening, he offered him King Kong instead, which he accepted, as he was one of many people who'd loved the original as a child. He also shared De Laurentiis and writer Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s notion that it would be best to make their movie as different from the original as possible, saying he wanted to make King Kong, not remake it. Looking at the film, I think Guillermin's talent and expertise at his craft is quite evident, and many who worked with him on other films had similar praise for his talents. However, he was also known for having a volatile and explosive temper and when you read up on the making of all his movies, stories about him absolutely losing it with people, sometimes over rather mundane things, are never scarce. Reportedly, the relationship between him and De Laurentiis was so tense by the end of shooting that the producer once said that he would never work with Guillermin again (more on that later).

Going back to that notion of this film being purposefully made to be very different from the original, that's one of the major criticisms that's hurled at this film and yet, ironically, De Laurentiis and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (the developer of the 60's Batman show) intentionally constructed the screenplay in that manner so as to avoid being attacked for remaking a classic movie. Semple later admitted that attitude was na├»ve on their part. Differentiating it also came out of necessity, as De Laurentiis had decided on the outset that he wanted Kong to climb the newly-completed World Trade Center, which automatically ruled out setting it in the 1930's, and wanted the story to focus mainly on the relationship between Kong and Dwan, which is why there are no dinosaurs this time, as well as because De Laurentiis didn't want to employ stop-motion. And since they decided early on they were going to set the movie in the 70's, Semple felt he had to update the reason for the expedition to Kong's island to make it play more for modern audiences, which is why here, they're going there to find a large oil reserve, a topical idea given the energy crisis that plagued most of the decade and also plays into the mindset behind ultimately capturing Kong. He also came up with what I think is a clever way for the island to have remained hidden even into the 70's, as well as a tone and approach to the story that has also been proven to be controversial to many people but we'll get into that later.

Like the original King Kong, this film benefits from a really good human cast, chief among them Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott. Bridges is always great anyway and this performance is no exception, as he's likable and trustworthy right from the beginning. He's a young primate paleontologist from Princeton who slips aboard the Petrox Explorer as it departs from Surabaya (very cunningly, I might add, acting like he's severely inebriated and dropping a big wad of cash at the gate guard's feet) because he's uncovered evidence that suggests that there might be a large, undiscovered species of ape living in the area where they're heading and, of course, when a friend of his tipped him off about the expedition, he couldn't pass up the opportunity. Once he introduces himself to the crew, he's initially pegged by leader Fred Wilson as a spy from another oil company but, once he learns that Jack is who he claims to be, he allows him to work off his passage as the expedition's official photographer. Significantly, Jack is the one who spots the life-raft holding the unconscious Dwan, leading to her being rescued, and he shows what a good guy he really is when he comforts and sympathizes with her when she regains consciousness. There's also a noticeable connection between the two of them that grows during the time they're on the ship together, to the point where he's very protective of her when they reach the island, warning her not to run off by herself and defending her when the natives try to make her a sacrifice for Kong. Speaking of Kong, Jack's the one who's convinced that he exists long before anyone else is, having already had a hunch before they reach the island and becoming a true believer when he sees the Great Wall and the ceremony by the natives. He's also a very idealistic person, living up to his hippie-like appearance, and that brings him into immediate conflict with Wilson, who's so intent on taking the island for the oil there and willing to exterminate an undiscovered species of animal in the process that Jack calls him an "environmental rapist." He's doubly frustrated with Wilson when he proves that he's more interested in continuing with getting the oil than saving Dwan from Kong, calling him a "hypocritical bastard" who's only worried about his stock options when he tries to order the search party to set their charges before they do anything else. Using smarts, he gets the others to help him continuing to search for Dwan by lying to them and telling them that the ship's radar says that Kong is heading right for them. Jack ultimately proves how heroic he is when, after everyone in the party save for him and Boan are killed by Kong, he continues following him and manages to rescue Dwan when he gets the chance. What he doesn't know, though, is that the two of them escaping back through the wall leads Kong straight into Wilson's trap to capture him.

One thing about Jack that never changes during the film's latter half is that he is firmly on Kong's side and despises what Wilson plans to do with him. He understands fully what he meant to the islanders, telling Wilson, "He was the terror, the mystery of their lives, and the magic. A year from now, that'll be an island full of burnt-out drunks. When we took Kong, we kidnapped their god," and describes his intention to exhibit Kong on a coast-to-coast tour, with a Beauty and the Beast routine around him, as a grotesque farce. His developing feelings for Dwan come to create something of a love triangle involving the two of them and Kong, as his rage at smelling their two scents intertwined on a scarf of hers that floats into his holding take interrupts an attempted lovemaking between them and she tries to calm the ape down, ignoring Jack's warnings that she can't help him. And when the first part of Wilson's intended tour begins in Queens, Jack decides to quit it once and for all, donating his money to a fund for sending Kong home, and tries to get Dwan to come with him, but her desire for stardom is too great for her to resist, which disappoints him. Fortunately, he decides to stick around to watch the show and is there to save Dwan when Kong loses it and breaks free. Once they make it to Manhattan and stop at a deserted bar to catch their breath, Dwan asks Jack if his offer for her to go with him is still good but he evades the question, telling her that he won't be able to provide her with the fixes he thinks she need and also makes this cryptic statement: "A lot depends on Kong. I mean, he's bigger than both us, know that I mean?" I've read that there was a piece of dialogue deleted from the final film about Jack telling her that their relationship won't work out if Kong is killed and I think that statement may have been alluding to that. In any case, it's while they're there that Jack realizes that the Twin Towers look like a specific spot of Kong's lair back on the island and calls City Hall to tell them that they can trap him there but only after he asks them to agree to capture him rather than kill him. Unfortunately for Jack, the officials completely ignore his request and instead, send in military helicopters to kill Kong, which horrifies him when he watches helplessly from the South Tower (right before that, he cheered Kong on when he dealt with some overzealous soldiers who attacked him with flamethrowers, making the final attack even more of a blow for him). After Kong falls off the tower and dies with Dwan at his side, Jack tries to push through the crowd to her but is unable to reach her because of the sheer mass of people. In the end, she has become a star and the crowd represents the barrier that it's erected between them (originally, Jack walked away and left her to deal with it herself, but they edited that out since they felt it was too much of a downer coming right after Kong's death).

Jessica Lange's performance as Dwan is another aspect of this movie that's often criticized, as she's considered a pathetic stand-in for Fay Wray, and, while she won a Golden Globe, it hurt her career for a little while afterward (as a result, I'm sure she doesn't think much of it). But, I think this is another example of people being unduly harsh towards the movie. There's no denying that Dwan is a bit of an airhead and is very bright-eyed and bushy-tailed throughout the first third of the movie, which I know can rub people the wrong way. And I must confess that her saying her name is the word "dawn" switched around to make it more memorable does make me groan a little bit because it's so corny. However, I've never minded her, and I think people tend to overlook the fact that at the beginning of the movie, she's been dealt a major blow. When she regains consciousness after being rescued, she reveals that, like Ann Darrow in the original, she's a would-be actor who was on her way to Hong Kong to be in a movie but now, because of the storm that sank the yacht she was on, she's lost both that opportunity and everybody she ever knew. Granted, she gets over that awfully quickly and comments about how fortunate it was that they happened to come by and find her and later says that she thinks her luck has changed, all while smiling and laughing, but I can easily overlook it because I do find her to be likable. Plus, she hints that Harry, the director she was working with, was a sleazebag who had a screening of Deep Throat on the yacht, which was why she happened to be up on deck next to the life-raft when both she and it got blown off by the storm, and comments that he might not have put her in the movie anyway. And maybe it's me but, when she's basically told that she's stuck on the ship for the rest of their voyage and she says, "I guess it doesn't matter. I'm in no rush," I read into it that she has no one to go home to, especially since she's American and asks specifically if they're heading to Singapore. Like I said earlier, Dwan forms a connection with Jack from the beginning since he's the one who spotted her raft and also becomes friendly with the entire crew, including Fred Wilson, whom she talks into letting her come ashore when they reach the island. I'll admit, her bubbliness and exuberance when they reach the beach, her being so ecstatic about touching solid ground again that she runs off by herself, and her comments about the native ceremony possibly being a wedding can be a little grating but they've never absolutely annoyed me like I'm sure they do some people.

What makes Dwan an interesting and, ultimately, sad character for me is her desire for stardom and how it affects her relationship with both Jack and Kong. Like Ann Darrow, when Dwan is first faced with Kong, she's absolutely terrified and screams bloody murder, which is understandable, given how he roars ferociously and beats his chest while towering over her. Upon waking the morning after he takes her, Dwan's first instinct is to try to escape but she's unable to make it very far, as Kong is intent on keeping her, and she hopelessly screams for help when he puts his hand around her again after chasing her down. But, her view towards him begins to change when he takes her to a waterfall so she can wash off some mud she fell into, as she then realizes that he's not going to hurt her. She still wants to escape from him, though, and when he's distracted while tangling with the giant snake, she runs to Jack and escapes with him back to the wall. She has very mixed feelings about Kong being captured because, on the one hand, she's finally going to become a star when she performs in the Beauty and the Beast routine that's part of Petrox's big promotional tour involving Kong, but on the other hand, she feels extremely guilty because, "How can I become a star because of... because of someone who was stolen off that gorgeous island and locked up in that lousy oil tank?" Kong's battling with the snake to save her life and everything else he did for her has softened her even more on him, and when he goes berserk later on, she tries to calm him down, even though it interrupts what was meant to be a romantic moment between her and Jack. Despite this, when the big night arrives, Dwan is willing to go through with it and not miss her big chance, in spite of the exploitation it means for Kong and how it disappoints Jack, who's decided he morally can't be part of it. And I think when Dwan sees the insulting sight of Kong inside a gigantic cage with a tacky, oversized crown on his head, hidden behind the veil of a giant gas pump, she begins to regret going through with it. When Kong breaks out and goes on a rampage, Dwan and Jack make it across the bridge to Manhattan and when they stop at an abandoned bar for a break (because Dwan wouldn't stop whining about it), she's now interested in the offer to go with him that he made earlier. I would hope she's asking because she regrets being a part of Kong's exploitation but there is the possibility that it's because she thinks her dreams of stardom have been dashed. Regardless, she never gets an answer from Jack before Kong finds her and whisks her away to the top of the Twin Towers. In a very poignant gesture that shows how far her relationship with him has come by this point, when the helicopters fly in to attack, Dwan begs Kong to pick her up, knowing they won't shoot if he has her, but he instead puts her down and protectively pushes her away. She can then only watch helplessly as he's shot to pieces by the helicopters, screaming at them to stop, and then as he falls off the tower, down to the plaza. And as she walks up to him and tearfully looks at him in his final moments, her heartbreak is very obvious, as I think is the feeling of guilt that comes over her, since this happened because of her. The film ends on a sad bit of irony: Dwan is surrounded by photographers and reporters as she stands in front of Kong's corpse and Jack is unable to get to her because of the crowd. She's finally a star, and she's lost them both as a result.

This film's substitute for Carl Denham, Charles Grodin's Fred Wilson, is another twist on the story in that he provides it with something that the original didn't have: a true villain. For most of the movie, Grodin depicts Wilson as little more than an overambitious, snarky, smartass dickhead whose attitude has gotten him in a real hole, in that he's sold the idea of Kong's island being the source of a huge petroleum deposit straight to the Petrox company board and says that if it doesn't come out, he'll be washing windshields. Despite this moment of doubt, Wilson is mostly confident about his chances, boasting to the men about it during a meeting when they're far out at sea, telling them, "We may be sailing into the history books," and is so desperate to get to the island before any other oil company finds out about it that he's willing to brave through a really bad storm. The way he learned about the island was through some shady means: he paid off an unnamed government official in Washington, one who he hints lives on Pennsylvania Avenue (a pretty blatant post-Watergate touch to the script), for some top secret U.S. spy satellite photos of the island that were taken when the satellite got blown off-course. When they reach the island and spot a bubbling pool of oil in the native village while spying on the ceremony, Wilson's overzealousness again gets the better of him and he sends a wire to New York about it being the biggest deposit ever before actually testing it. This blows up in his face, as he then learns that the oil is worthless and he's finished... when he decides to capture Kong to use him as a promotional campaign for Petrox. This leads into the other, much more sinister side of Wilson, as there are moments where he's revealed to be as cold and uncaring as he is greedy. When he's talking about taking the island from the natives early on and wiping out a potentially undiscovered species of animal if he has to do so, Jack tries to make him see what a waste it would be and how it could potentially affect him, but Wilson just gives him a look that says, "Do I look like I give a shit?" Not only is he more interested in continuing with harvesting the oil than saving Dwan after she's been taken by Kong, writing her off as having possibly been eaten at one point, but when he's setting up his trap for Kong at the village, he's dismissive of Captain Ross' concerns about not being able to get in touch with the search party and refuses to let him take out a search party since it'd interfere with the operation. When Ross tells him he's playing with their lives, Wilson stares at him for a few seconds before coldly saying, "Don't worry about it, Captain." His plan to capture Kong and exploit him for all he's worth for his company is the biggest example of how greedy and selfish he is, as his only other opinion of the ape is that of a savage beast who he feels tried to rape Dwan and is sure that the islanders won't miss him too much.

Speaking of Dwan, I get the sense that Wilson feels he's actually doing her a favor, giving her the big shot she's always wanted by making her part of the promotional campaign, and becoming frustrated with Jack for what he sees as an attempt to make her doubt the opportunity. This, along with the look of horror on his face when he learns from Boan that Kong killed everyone else in the search party and his letting Jack and Dwan in through the gate when Kong's hot on their heels, is one of his few acts of selflessness in the film, despite how misguided it is. Even then, though, when Dwan is contemplating leaving the show with Jack, whom he thinks is a complete fool for doing so, he threatens her by saying, "I promise you, you'll never get another booking in your life. You'll end up tap-dancing at rotary clubs," probably to ensure that he will have a show to put on in the first place. This preying on Dwan's desire for stardom does the trick and she sticks around, although he eventually ends up paying for what he's done to Kong when he breaks out of the cage and kills him instantly by intentionally stomping him.

Outside of the three leads, the most memorable human character in the film is Roy Bagley (Rene Auberjonois), the Petrox company geologist. He doesn't have that much screentime in the film and his role is mainly just to provide technobabble, like when he shows the men the satellite photographs of the island and theorizes that the permanent fogbank that surrounds it is the result of petroleum vapors coming up through the ground, as well as when he gives an overcomplicated explanation of the fog thinning when they journey through it, but Auberjonois gives him a quirky, eager-beaver quality that makes him memorable. He also tries to act as the voice of reason towards the overly ambitious Fred Wilson, clarifying to him that the pool they saw at the native village might be oil but he can't be sure until he tests a sample, a warning that Wilson ignores, sending out a wire to New York about bringing in the big one. It turns out that the liquid is oil and it will be great... in about 10,000 years, a fact that Bagley is only too happy to torment Wilson with after getting his hopes up, commenting, "Until then, you'd get better mileage filling up your Cadillac with mule piss!" As Wilson realizes that he's finished and becomes crestfallen, Bagley continues to mock him since he brought it on himself, saying, "I hate to kick a man when he's dead, but I did tell you. You shouldn't have radioed New York you were bringing in the big one." That comment, however, spurs Wilson's imagination and makes him decide to capture Kong to recoup his losses, a plan that Bagley is also incredulous about, later asking, "You really think that's gonna ring the bell: promise oil, bring back a monkey?" But, despite his skepticism, Bagley goes along with Wilson's plan and takes part in the operation that ultimately succeeds in capturing Kong.

The other characters aren't as important to the plot but they are notable for one reason or another. Captain Ross (John Randolph) isn't as much of a character as Englehorn was in the original film but he does have a personality, trying to warn Wilson about the bad weather they're going to run into if they leave Surabaya too soon and when he dismisses his warning, Ross tells him, "You'll be sorry." His most memorable moment comes when they're caught up in a bad storm that's swaying the ship back and forth very violently and he's sitting at the dinner table, eating as if nothing's going on, while Wilson's sitting there, looking like he's about to puke his guts out. He tells Wilson, "You know, for some reason, I'm reminded of Amsterdam. Ever eat a raw herring with a beer chaser and a scoop of ice cream?", and when Wilson comes back after running out into the storm, possibly to vomit, Ross reminds him, "Like you said, 'To hell with the weather.'" Other than that, he comes across as a very dependable captain who shows concern for his men when he get ahold of the search party sent after Dwan and tries to get together some people to go after them, only to be rebuffed by Wilson. Carnahan (Ed Lauter), the First Mate, doesn't have that much of a personality to him and his only significant moments are when he's aggravating Jack with a bunch of questions about why Kong took Dwan and when he's the last person to get rolled off the log to his death. Joe Perko (Jack O'Halloran, who went on to play Non in the first two Superman movies), one of the drillers, is a little more memorable of the way he looks (he reminds me of Richard Kiel) and for a perverted moment when he attempts to "examine" the unconscious Dwan when she's brought aboard, although Ross puts a stop to it. He also has kind of an incredulous attitude towards things, like when Jack proposes that the carbon dioxide that makes up the fog could be a result of animal breathing and he says, "Animal? Are you crazy?", as well as when they reach the log and he cowardly tells Jack to go first across it. Another driller, Boan (Julius Harris, who'd played a bad guy in the James Bond movie, Live and Let Die), is notable for the line he has where he tells Jack, "I ain't bustin' my ass for no white company white-man," when he tries to get him to move and for being the only one other than Jack to survive the log scene. You also have to love the, "You'll see," look he gives Wilson when they're preparing the trap and he's asked if he's sure Kong will be able to bust through the wall.

One actor who I didn't know was in the movie until I watched it on DVD for the first couple of times is John Agar, who appeared in a lot of 50's sci-fi flicks like Tarantula and Revenge of the Creature. Billed simply as "City Official," he's the man with the moustache who Jack talks to on a payphone and who lies to him about agreeing to capture Kong alive in exchange for knowing where he's heading. Given his ties to the monster movie genre, I think it's really cool that they decided to give him a small role in the remake of one of the most famous ones ever made. And finally, John Lone makes his film debut here as the Asian man who's trying to give Fred Wilson a rubdown while he's talking to Carnahan over the radio but gets fed up and storms off when Wilson shoves him away.

I usually don't go very deep into behind-the-scenes stuff when I review movies unless it's absolutely necessary but, since the production of this film hasn't been as well documented as the original King Kong and some of its progeny, and also because it's amazing that the thing came out as good as it is given the difficult circumstances of its conception and filming, I think I should tell you a little bit about the craziness that happened just so you can get a clearer picture (all of this information comes from Ray Morton's book, so go read that if you want to know even more). Long story short, this was a really tough shoot for everybody involved, and it started before filming began. At about the same time that Dino De Laurentiis became intrigued with the idea of remaking King Kong, Universal also got the idea, an odd coincidence that Michael Eisner also took credit for. He said that after he pitched the idea of a remake to Barry Diller at Paramount, he then went to Sidney Sheinberg at Universal with it, saying that he was such a big fan of the original that he wanted somebody to make a new movie. What followed was a massive legal entanglement, where Universal tried to claim that they had a binding verbal agreement with Daniel O'Shea, RKO-General's legal partner, even though they didn't have a signed contract, and tried to sue De Laurentiis for interfering with their "deal." While Universal's case was thrown out by the Supreme Court of Los Angeles, they then decided to adapt a 1932 novelization of the original movie's story by Delos W. Lovelace, since that had been in the public domain since 1960. Universal the announced their movie, titled The Legend of King Kong, proclaiming that it would be directed by Joseph Sargent, the man behind Colossus: The Forbidden Project and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (as well as the future director of Jaws: The Revenge) and that they would start filming in the spring of 1976. This started a race between the studio and De Laurentiis, who claimed that he would begin casting in December of 1975 and would start filming the following April. Universal refused to back down even when RKO filed a countersuit against them, saying that their proposed film was an infringement on their copyright, and De Laurentiis filed his own suit against them as well as sought out an injunction to keep them from interfering. They even went as far as to say that they were now planning to start filming in early January, and while De Laurentiis felt they were bluffing (which they were), he decided to beat them to the punch by getting something shot and in the can by January, even though the major sets and special effects weren't close to being ready, they hadn't yet prepared the actual locations at Hawaii and New York, and they hadn't even cast Dwan yet! He, of course, won this race, as his crew shot parts of the opening scene in mid-January, and he then, reluctantly, settled with Universal, mainly because Barry Diller told him that Paramount would pull out of the movie if he didn't. Part of the settlement was the right for Universal to produce a King Kong movie of their own sometime in the future, which is what led to the production of the Peter Jackson film nearly thirty years later.

This is the New York Times ad that
announced the film's production and release
date a year in advance. The artwork, by John
Berkey, was later refined for the final poster
Getting something filmed by January may have put a lot of pressure on the film's production team but the pressure was on before then, as on November 30, 1975, De Laurentiis and Paramount had formally announced the production in an ad in the New York Times. The ad boasted that the film would be in theaters one year to the day, and while it would ultimately be released the week before Christmas in 1976, once it was published, it meant that they now had only a year to make an enormous, very technically complicated film! They had to work around the clock to get things ready for those first shots in January, which inflated the already-large budget and it would only continue once production officially got underway. And instead of the precise, thought-out shooting schedule that you often have on big movies like this, they ultimately decided to just shoot things whenever the various sets and special effects were completed. They often worked 18-hour days, 7-day weeks, and nobody felt the pressure more than director John Guillermin. As I said earlier, Guillermin had a really bad temper and the stress that he was under to get this big movie ready in such a short time led to a lot of angry outbursts, such as breaking the back of a seat in front of him by kicking it when he saw something in dailies that displeased him, shoving a crewmember he didn't think was moving quickly enough, which followed up with by picking up a table and slamming it down into the ground, and got into a shouting match with executive producer Federico De Laurentiis, Dino's son. That, as well as their differing visions of the movie, is what led to a lot of the tension between Guillermin and De Laurentiis and why the producer said he would never work with him again, especially since Guillermin allegedly barred him from the set one time. At the time of the film's release, Guillermin said that, while he was proud of the final product, "It could've been better if we'd had more time." Considering what he and everyone else had to go through, I think it's pretty damn good myself.

Even on the special effects side, there was trouble. Rick Baker was brought in to create the King Kong suit that he would ultimately perform in himself, while De Laurentiis brought in his personal favorite effects artist, Carlo Rambaldi, to design the full-scale incarnations of Kong. He was originally supposed to build a full-scale mannequin that could have some limited arm and head movement, Rambaldi, at some point, got the idea that he could instead build a full-scale mechanical Kong that could do most of the action required. De Laurentiis absolutely loved that idea and allowed Rambaldi to go ahead with his plans, but when special effects supervisor Glen Robinson was given the designs for the proposed effect, he felt that there was no way they could make it work, especially in the short time they had. He submitted them to an aircraft construction company, who came back and said that it could take up to three years to make Rambaldi's plans a reality, which discouraged De Laurentiis. Robinson then submitted to the producer his own designs for a life-sized Kong and De Laurentiis put him in charge of building the big-scale effects, which did not sit well with Rambaldi and caused a lot of tension between the men's respective crews. Going back to Baker, he and Rambaldi were both given the task to come up with their own prototype Kong suit and whichever one was chosen would form the basis for the final suit. What happened, though, was Rambaldi, whose suit wasn't finished until much later because of the time he took making his designs for the aborted mechanical Kong, based it on an early "ape-man" concept for the character, while Baker made his look more like a real gorilla. Neither suit was well-received by the "committee" but Rambaldi's suit was deemed absolutely atrocious and John Guillermin decided to go with Baker's design, which irritated Rambaldi even more. He and Baker then collaborated on designing the final costume but they often clashed over design details and, because he was De Laurentiis' boy, Rambaldi often overruled Baker. Baker even claims that at one point, Rambaldi presented an idea that he had to De Laurentiis as his own, and considering what an honest, trustworthy man Baker seems to be and how deluded Rambaldi appeared, given his insane plans for the full-sized Kong, I'm not inclined to disbelieve Baker. By the time the suit was finished, Baker was not at all happy with the way it looked, feeling that it didn't look realistic in the slightest. I've always thought it looked really good myself but we'll get into that when we talk about Kong.

By the time it was completed, the film's budget had swollen to nearly $25 million but I think this is a case where every dollar is up there on the screen, particularly in the film's look. It is beautiful to look at, as John Guillermin and cinematographer Richard H. Kline knew where to point the camera, especially when they were on location. Kauai, Hawaii was used for Kong's island and it's shot to look absolutely gorgeous, with the jungles coming across as very lush and lovely, and the big, far-off wide-shot of Waimea Canyon, which is known as the "Grand Canyon of Hawaii," is spectacular. The same goes for the lovely beach, with the most notable part of it being the large, arching rock that divides it from the jungle, known as "Cathedral Rock" in real-life. Similarly awe-inspiring are the shots of the sea when the Petrox Explorer is traveling to and from the island, which often have perfectly blue skies and shots of lovely sunsets, and John Barry's music makes them all the more memorable. The most poignant bit of location work takes place in New York with the World Trade Center, which was newly completed at the time. Not only do you get some shots of the actual Twin Towers and the plaza but they also shot some stuff inside the South Tower's observatory, which was so new at the time that you can see spackle on the walls if you look carefully. It's always been weird to watch movies that featured the World Trade Center since 9/11 and it's especially so in the case of this film, where it plays such an integral part and also because I'm pretty sure this was the first movie to ever feature it. That said, though, I don't think this and others like it should be barred from being aired on TV; instead, they should be looked as simply being of their respective times. The sets are also really good, chief among them the Great Wall, which looks positively massive as well as ancient, and they reused it as a stand-in for Shea Stadium, where Kong is presented to the public and gets loose.

Besides being lovely to look at, the film also feels very much like the large-than-life fantasy that it is; moreover, it starts off feeling fairly based in reality but, starting with the discovery of Dwan floating in her life-raft in the middle of the ocean, which is very fairy tale-like in and of itself, the film becomes more and more magical as it goes on. While it's given a natural explanation, the sight of an island hidden away from the rest of the world by a perpetual fogbank can't help but feel fantastic, and the sight of them piercing through it with their motorboat to reveal it in all of its glory is even more so, as is the scene with Dwan running up ahead to the waterfall for a drink. The section of the movie that's set entirely on the island is where it feels the most like a fairy tale, often due to the way the scenes are designed and lit, such as the otherworldly glow of the torches lighting everything when Dwan is carried through the village to be sacrificed, the orange sky of the sunrise during the scene in the glade between her and Kong, the dimness and the dark blue, almost stormy-like, sky during the log scene, and Kong's lair, which is a large, rocky area surrounded by mountains and hills with small columns of steam here and there and two twin mountains that look very otherworldly with the full moon lighting them as well as the entire scene. A lot of these are the miniature sets with Rick Baker in the Kong suit and it makes sense that they would have this quality since they were able to create them from the ground up. The film kind of gets back to reality during the final act in New York but even then, you still have the scenario of a giant ape running rampant, much of the city suffering a blackout after Kong blunders into a power station, which leads to a very evocatively-lit scene where Jack and Dwan have a toast in the dark, and the way in which the World Trade Center is made to look when Kong heads for it. And finally, you have the film being shot entirely in widescreen, which helps to give it even more of a larger-than-life quality that meshes well with the fantasy.

Since we've now talked about the fairy tale aspects, I think it would be wise to now discuss one of the film's many controversial aspects: the tone. I've often heard this movie described as camp, which is a charge that I've never understood since, while it does indeed have a sense of humor about it, with a lot humorous dialogue given to the characters, it never comes across as mocking towards the material or, more specifically towards the original film. Lorenzo Semple Jr. said that, when writing the script, he decided to address the inherent absurdity of a story about a giant ape falling in love with a beautiful woman in a way that didn't undermine the movie itself and I think he succeeded. Some of the lines are a bit on the nose, like when Dwan tells Jack that she had a horoscope done that said, "I was going to cross over water and meet the biggest person in my life," when Kong lifts her up and she says, "I can't stand heights! Honest, I can't! When I was ten years old, they took me up in the Empire State Building and I got sick in the elevator," Fred Wilson saying, "Let's not get eaten alive on this island. Bring the mosquito spray!", or Carnahan's asking Jack, "Joe and the guys, uh, said that you said the ape was gonna marry her. Is that some kinda joke?..." but I don't find them to be as cynical and mocking as some seem to think they are. I liken it to the humor and tone in the Richard Donner Superman, particularly when Perry White tells Lois Lane, "Clark Kent may seem like just a mild-mannered reporter...": it's having fun with the material but not making fun of it. Admittedly, some of the lines are groaners, like when Dwan's rambling on to Kong in the glade scene, going from calling him a "goddamn chauvinist pig ape" to calling out his propensity for knocking down trees as a sign of insecurity and even trying to guess his sign (I understand that she's freaking out and all but those bits of dialogue do make me scoff and go, "What?!"), but I don't find them to be camp. You want camp? Watch the 60's Batman show, which Semple developed. Okay, Kong's unveiling at the stadium hidden beneath the guise of a giant gas pump and that big crown on his head is borderline, but I think that's as far as it goes. Thinking back about the tone, it's an interesting one in that, in spite of the humor, it plays the story positively straight, is rather intense at points, and the tragic aspects of the story are not played for laughs at all, and yet, it never becomes overly dark or loses its fantasy quality. It's really amazing how the filmmakers were able to accomplish this fine balancing act.

When comparing it to the original, I can understand how people who are used to that movie would look at this one and find it to be boring. It has a much slower pace than the original, taking much longer for them to reach the island and even when they do, Kong's first appearance doesn't occur until almost an hour in. It's a long movie, too (134 minutes), which I'm sure is hard for many to sit through. Plus, since there are no dinosaurs for Kong to fight (save for a pitiful-looking, giant snake that we'll get into later) or for the search party to contend with, there aren't as many adrenaline-pumping scenes during the section on the island, as you're mostly watching either Kong and Dwan's growing relationship or Jack and the others trying to find her. None of this bugs me personally and it never did when I was a kid, since I just liked seeing Kong onscreen no matter what he was doing, and the big spectacle scenes, when they happen, are really well-done for the most part, but I can see how others would get a little antsy.

One criticism that I do agree with is that the conception of the island is disappointing. It's a beautiful place and all, but it doesn't have the character and feeling of menace of the one in the original or especially Peter Jackson's film, where it's absolute hell on Earth. It has a mysterious quality with the fogbank that surrounds it and, like I said earlier, the scene where they get through the fog and see it is great but, once they reach it, it's like, "Oh, that's it?" Like others have said, it would have been nice to have some dinosaurs as well, although I don't know how they could have conceived them, considering that Dino De Laurentiis didn't want to use stop-motion and given how much time and money was put into just realizing Kong. As for the natives... eh. They're not as memorable as the natives in the original film, looking like any primitive tribe you've seen in movies, and neither is their "rehearsal" ceremony. They don't even seem to have a village, as there are no signs of any huts in front of the Great Wall (maybe they're further back and out of sight). I do remember some things about them, like the dancers who are wearing those costumes that, to me, look akin to old-fashioned, bedsheet ghost costumes with eyeholes cut out, the guy in the ape mask (Keny Long) who, according to Jack, is the stand in for Kong during the ceremony and appears to be the tribe's chief (he's not as cool as Noble Johnson was, though), and I like the idea that they use the pools of oil near the wall to make its large bolt easier to slide in and out, as well as they perhaps drugged Dwan to keep her from struggling during the sacrifice, but, all in all, they're one of the film's least memorable elements.

Now, let's get to an element that is very memorable: King Kong himself. Like the original movie, they do a great job of building him up and given a mythic, god-like status long before his first appearance. One of my favorite scenes is when Jack introduces himself to the crew while Fred Wilson and Roy Bagley are briefing them on the island and suggests that the large amount of carbon dioxide in the fogbank surrounding it could be due to large amounts of animal respiration. He then proceeds to tell them of recorded past encounters with the island: "In 1605, Piero Fernandez DeQuerez was blown south from Timetang. He wrote in his log of piercing the white veil, that's obviously the cloud bank, and landing on the "Beach of the Skull, where he heard the roar of the greatest beast... In 1749, a waterlogged lifeboat was found in the same area. It was empty, but drawn in blood on the thwart was the likeness of some huge, slouchy, humanoid thing, and this strange warning: 'From thy wedding with the creature who touches Heaven, lady, God preserve thee.'" Jeff Bridges' delivery of it is pitch-perfect and John Barry's music gives the scene a mysterious, creepy quality. It also makes you wonder about Kong's history: is he over 300 years old or is he the last in a long line of giant apes who've lived on the island? When they first reach the island, they're scanning it with their radar when they suddenly get a large blip in the center of the image. They assume it's nothing more than a glitch but, that night when Dwan is milling around in that room and is clearly thinking about what Jack said about the real native ceremony taking place that night when the moon is full, you see the blip again. It doesn't take you very long to realize that the blip is Kong, effectively giving him a presence and a sense of scale before you meet him. And Jack continues to build him up when they get on the island and see the Great Wall, deducing from the way it looks newly repaired that there are natives and that they're frightened of something on the other side of it, something that requires a structure that big to be kept at bay. When they see the ceremony, he deduces what it is and figures that the man in the ape-mask is a stand-in for the "groom," and later says that he's convinced that there's an undiscovered species of animal on the island when he's arguing with Wilson. This is all so tantalizing that it makes you eager for Kong to make his debut, which he does soon after that latter scene.

If I were to sum up Kong's characterization here, I would say it's akin to King Kong Escapes but with touches of the edge from the original movie. Like the original, he's an incredible and terrifying sight when he first appears looming over Dwan, beating his chest while letting out a mighty roar (the build-up to the first full-body shot of him makes it even more amazing), and he looks like he could easily gobble her up without thinking twice about it. But, like before, something about this blonde-haired girl intrigues him and he instead picks her up and carries her off into the jungle. During their first real scene together the following morning, he's quite curious and fascinated with her and he kind of toys with her, but he also makes it clear that he's intent on keeping her, as he becomes very frustrated and angry whenever she tries to escape. Even when she punches him repeatedly in the face when he's holding her up and is quite irritated at her for it, he still wants her, and is so angry when she runs off after he puts her down that he slams his fist down beside the mud puddle she fell in. However, when he takes her to the waterfall afterward so she can wash off the mud, you can see the dynamic between the two of them changing on both sides. Dwan is not only starting to realize that Kong isn't going to hurt her but he's also starting to grow truly affectionate towards her as he watches her wash herself off. He's never angry or threatening towards her again from here on out and, in fact, the filmmakers make it quite clear that he's very attracted to her by bringing to the surface the sexual aspects that were only implied before (something Merican C. Cooper would've hated, I might add). While his undressing of Ann Darrow in the original was mostly a case of animal curiosity, here he obviously knows what he's doing during the scene where he holds her in his hand and strokes her around the head and torso with his finger. The delighted face that he makes when he moves her top down, revealing her breasts, says it all, and is pretty uncomfortable, making me go, "Man, Kong, you're a perv!" Fortunately, it doesn't go any further than that (I don't know how it could... no, I'm not touching that one). Above everything else, like it was with Ann, Kong is very protective of Dwan and will kill anyone or anything that threatens to take her away from him, be it the rescue team when he comes across them on the log or the giant snake that threatens to eat her (God, what he does to that thing!) This is what I meant when I said his characterization is a cross between the 1933 original and King Kong Escapes: he's a noble and gentle giant with Dwan but has a hostile, territorial and protective savagery towards any intruders in his domain. Of course, as in the original, his affection for Dwan is what leads him to pursue her and Jack back to the wall and also starts him down the path towards his doom.

After he falls into Wilson's trap and is imprisoned inside the Petrox Explorer's tank to be taken to New York, Kong's attitude is a mixture of anger and depression, as he spends most of this section either pounding the sides of the tank in livid frustration or just forlornly laying at the bottom, not doing anything. It comes to a head when Dwan's scarf is blown off her and down into the tank while she's making out with Jack and Kong, upon smelling their scents together, goes ballistic and begins wrecking the ship in such a manner that Captain Ross announces that he's going to flood the tank and drown him. Kong calms down when he sees Dwan looking down at him through the grating on the ceiling and jumps up, trying to reach her, causing her to fall in from the impact. He catches her but, as he looks at her, it's apparent that something's wrong. Exactly what it is, I'm not sure. My guess are either she looks so different in her modern clothes that she doesn't feel like the same person to him or he's so crestfallen and sad at this point that not even she can cheer him up. Whatever the case, he lets her go without any struggle and allows her to climb out the tank, looking at her in a very defeated manner. That attitude is retained right through to his presentation at Shea Stadium, as he just stands inside his cage with that stupid-looking crown on his head and doesn't move a finger to escape... until he sees the overzealous reporters running up to Dwan and pushing her around, which makes him think she's being attacked (I always thought this was made clearer here than in the original; there, Carl Denham told the reporters that Kong thought they were attacking Ann with their flashbulbs but it seemed more like the flashes were pissing him off). He then breaks out of the cage and out of Shea Stadium, rampaging through the city as he searches for Dwan, killing a lot of people in his rage and also showing intelligence as he hides from circling helicopters. When he does find her and snatch her up in Manhattan, he instinctively heads to the World Trade Center, which reminds him of those twin mountains near his lair back on the island, and the fact that it's a full moon, just like it was on the night they first met, is not lost on him either. Once he climbs to the top of the Twin Towers, he's protective of Dwan to the end, even at the cost of his own life. When he sees the helicopters approaching, he puts Dwan down and refuses to pick her up no matter how much she begs, "shielding" her as the machine guns rip into him and he eventually falls from the tower. He doesn't die immediately upon hitting the ground and the last thing he sees before his heart stops beating is Dwan standing beside him. It looks as if there's a tear rolling out of his eye and the look on his face, to me, appears to read, "I did it for you."

A lot of people may think of the stop-motion Kong in the original film but my image of him when I was growing up, as well as an entire generation, was the way he looks here and it remained as such even after I became familiar with the 30's movie. Advertising and merchandising that involved him when I was a kid almost always used this version of him, including the cover of the Crestwood House book on King Kong and a very misleading VHS re-release cover of King Kong vs. Godzilla, and the Universal Studios attraction (which I never got to ride but I saw a lot of footage of) only further cemented it as my image of the Eighth Wonder of the World. That's why I'm all the more shocked when I hear that it's another aspect of this movie that's often criticized. A lot of it is from people who simply prefer the stop-motion but I've also heard genuine hate directed towards the look, including from Rick Baker, who feels it's not at all realistic and has always had hard feelings towards it and the film in general, which is partly understandable due to the bad experience he had. I, for one, think it looks awesome. Kong may not walk like a real gorilla and you can see a very human form within the suit but it doesn't bother me since, as I've said, this is a larger-than-life fantasy and also because I think the suit is well-designed and cool-looking. He really looks like a gigantic, mighty ape and comes across as very strong and powerful, like King Kong is supposed to. The best parts of the suit are the cable-controlled heads that Baker and Carlo Rambladi created, which are not only striking in how much they look like an ape but are also amazingly expressive, able to make Kong look menacing and ferocious in one shot and sweet and almost cuddly in the next. The way the faces move and contort themselves into these various expressions is also very realistic and impressive, and so is the way Baker brings them to life when he's wearing them. Those are his real eyes behind the mask, with special contact lenses to make them look like a gorilla, and it's uncanny how he's able to make Kong look like an alive, thinking and feeling animal. Speaking of Baker's performance, despite being buried within that suit and the excruciating hardships he went through, he's able to work through them and with the heads to make Kong a fully-realized character, just as Willis O'Brien had done with his stop-motion back in 1933. Kong's roar in this film is my personal favorite vocalization he's ever had, as it sounds like a mighty and fearsome beast. It's a combination of various sounds, including some stock dinosaur roars that had been used in movies like The Land Unknown and which Steven Spielberg used in both Duel and Jaws, and I really love the main roar, which sounds like that stock roar combined with another sound at the start to make it more distinctive. He also makes other sounds, some of which sound very ape-like, and, in fact, Peter Cullen did some vocalizations, mainly the growling and groaning Kong makes now again (according to IMDB's trivia page, Cullen strained his throat during recording to the point where he was coughing up blood!)

Just as impressive as the Kong suit are the miniature sets that Rick Baker performs in it on. These sets are so well-designed and detailed, as well as look so much like the actual ones, that they rival those seen in Toho's monster movies; in fact, as James Rolfe said, this whole movie is what those films might have been if they'd had more money and better materials. Every miniature set looks great, with some notable examples being the forests of the island, the miniature of the Great Wall and the altar when Kong first takes Dwan and when he later bursts through it, Kong's mountainous lair (which is one of my favorites because of how cool it looks), and especially those meant to represent locations in New York. Watching Kong tear his way out of Shea Stadium and attack that elevated train is exactly the kind of stuff you want to see in a movie like this, with the latter being on par with the scene of the original in terms of spectacle, and his walking amongst the buildings and using them to hide from the search helicopters looks so good and realistic. But no miniature can top the recreations of the Twin Towers, which were enormous enough to get really good, wide-angle shots of Kong climbing up the side and low-angle, far-off shots of him standing on the rooftops. It's a shame that you rarely see this type of stuff in movies nowadays because this is much more satisfying to watch than just about anything computer-generated.

As much as I like the suit and miniature sets, I'm a little more critical of the full-sized Kong effects. It's odd, despite there being four decades' worth of difference between them, I want to say that the big hand in the original King Kong felt more real. That's probably because, except for that moment where it reaches in through the apartment window and pulls the bed Ann Darrow has fainted on, all it was required to do was hold onto her; the hands in this film, however, are often reaching for Dwan, picking her up, and carrying her around, and while they certainly look good and are impressive in how big they are, the way they move is unavoidably mechanical and doesn't feel natural. Plus, when Dwan pounds her fists on his fingers when he's gripping her, they're clearly made of foam rubber and don't have a solid feeling to them. However, as clunky as they sometimes are, the hands are much better-looking than the huge, mechanical Kong that was often referred to as the "Big Kong" and is used only in the scene at Shea Stadium. Like the hands, while the thing is impressive for its sheer size and the fact that they went to the trouble of actually building something that huge (let's face it, you'll never see them do that for a movie ever again), it was better used for promoting the movie than it was for actual filming. Right off the bat, you may notice that it looks nothing like the suit and the reason for that is it was based on the original ape-man concept for Kong, which was changed to be more like a real gorilla after construction had already begun. They tried to modify it to accommodate those changes but it didn't help much, as you can see. Another problem is how choppy and robotic the Big Kong's movements are, which meant they could only show it onscreen for a total of maybe six shots without it being laughed off the screen and even at that, it's a disaster. Pieces of it like the legs and the head were used for shots such as when Dwan punches Kong's upper lip and slips off his legs in the tanker scene; those look passable but the entire thing is quite a bust. Ironically, the best-looking full-size incarnation of Kong is the one they use for the ending after he's died, which was called the "Styrofoam Kong" since it was made up fiberglass attached to a Styrofoam core. That thing looks so realistic that you'd swear it was Rick Baker in the suit somehow blown up to giant size and lying there dead.

A creature that never looks good is the giant snake that comes out of nowhere to attack Dwan (at this point, you're expecting Kong to be the only monster on the island, so this thing's appearance is really random). It's nothing short of phony-baloney, especially when Kong struggles with it. When it's slithering across the ground, it's passable, although it's obvious that it's fake, but when Rick Baker's fighting with it on the ground, it is, as others have said, akin to the ending of Ed Wood's Bride of the Monster where Bela Lugosi is not fooling anyone when he's shaking the octopus' tentacles around to make it look like it's attacking him. They used a snake puppet that was supposed to be manipulated by wires but when the thing didn't work the way it was supposed to, Baker had to shake it around to make it look alive and they ultimately had to cut the snake into pieces and use those pieces for various close-ups in order to complete the sequence, which is one of the film's lowest points in terms of quality.

Effects-wise, the most dated parts of the movie are the blue screen shots and compositing, which have aged very poorly. Like the matting and rear-projection shots in the original King Kong, the optical work here was very ambitious for the time, as I'm sure this movie required more blue screen shots than any movie ever made and effects artist Frank Van Der Veer had to be innovative and come up with some techniques to make them look as good as they possibly could, especially since I've read that hairy creatures and people with blonde hair are exceptionally difficult to composite well. He also made use of matte paintings (the one of the Great Wall in front of the cast when they first see it is very impressive), as well as split-screen and a couple of instances of miniature projection, which had both been used in the original (the top image here is an example of the former), but while they look great for the most part, the blue screen and compositing work is more of a mixed bag. Some of it looks good, like when you first see Kong towering over the real Jessica Lange, when he breaks through the Great Wall and you see the people running for it, and the people running from Kong after he breaks free in Shea Stadium, but a lot of times, the black lines and faded quality of the composited images are painfully obvious. They may have been the best of their kind at the time, which, along with the mechanical effects, was enough to win this movie an Oscar, but nowadays, they're very archaic and distracting, much more so than any of the aged effects in the original (to me, that's mostly due to the color; bad compositing is infinitely worse in color). The optical department, like every other part of the production, were under such time constraints and enormous pressure to get it all done for the December 1976 release (according to Ray Morton, the last shot was finished only a few hours before they needed to start making the prints) that some shots couldn't be fine-tuned as much as the effects artists wanted, which led to some really bad ones during the latter part of the final act. These include a shot of Jessica Lange on the Big Kong's shoulder mixed with a blue screen composite of Rick Baker's costumed arm climbing up the side of the building, which came out looking more like Kong's floating in mid-air; some really bad shots of the helicopters "flying" behind Kong during their attack, which look more like he's standing in front of badly-projected images on a movie screen; and his fall from the building, wherein he suddenly materializes in one frame when he wasn't there before and awkwardly falls towards the camera in a manner that's more akin to sped-up floating.

As in the original, King Kong '76's first major scene is Kong's first appearance... and it's a doozy. After Dwan is put through the ceremony and more than likely drugged, she's tied to the altar outside the door of the Great Wall. A rescue party led by Jack Prescott and Fred Wilson attempt to reach the island with their motorboats but arrive too late, as the primitive horns the natives are blowing into atop the Great Wall soon catch Kong's attention. You see the trees in the distance shaking and bending and you get your first glimpses of him through a series of close-ups of his eyes and snout, a back shot of him tearing down trees, and a POV of trees falling in his wake, as he stomps through the jungle, towards the altar. It's a very suspenseful and effective build-up to his first full-body shot, which follows a traveling close-up of his eyes as he walks up to the altar and stops. Everything gets eerily quiet, as the natives stop their chanting and the music cuts off, while Kong peers down at Dwan. She regains her senses and slowly looks up upon hearing some heavy breathing, which is when you see Kong in all his glory, towering over her, as he lets out a might roar and pounds his chest. Dwan screams in absolute terror and backs away, as Kong grows quiet and, looking down at her, takes a step and reaches for her, as the natives watch. Dwan backs away and screams for help but is unable to do anything as Kong closes his hand around her and lifts her up. He sniffs her a few times and then lets out a couple of roars at her yelling and struggling, apparently trying to scare her into being quiet. He then walks off into the jungle with her, as the natives resume their ceremony, and what's interesting is how different the aftermath of this scene is from the original. Instead of a fast-paced, driving moment where the men run through the wall after Kong, here they use what they call their "Fourth of July" routine, which is shooting some flares into the sky, distracting the natives, and them scaring them off with their gunshots, to clear the way to the wall. They manage to get the door open and it's an eerily quiet scene as they see the aftermath of Kong's trek through the jungle and find no sign of Dwan. Wilson continues to be a disbeliever, until he slips and falls into a hole that Jack makes him realize is really an enormous footprint.

As mentioned earlier, a lot of the scenes involving Kong in this film are more about the evolving relationship between him and Dwan than they are action-oriented, such as the next one. Kong wakes up, letting out a loud yawn, and then rises up, revealing Dwan, who's been sleeping in a rocky outcropping beside him. She slowly awakes and sits up in terror when she sees Kong peering down at her, letting out some low grunts. She then makes the first of several vain attempts to escape, sliding across the ground and then trying to crawl away, only for Kong to block her path with his hand. Dwan tries to crawl around his hand but it moves with her and when she looks up at him, Kong glares at her. Not taking the hint, she continues trying to get around the hand, only for it to again move back and forth with her. When she stops, Kong pulls his hand back, only to block her path with it again when she tries to crawl away, prompting him to roar in frustration and scare the hell out of the birds in the nearby trees. Dwan stops trying to crawl away, prompting him to again pull his arm back, and she then gets to her feet and starts to back up slowly. Kong, at first, just watches her but, as he realizes what she's doing, he takes a couple of steps forward while still squatting down and reaches his hand out again, proceeding to toy with her and push her a few times with his index finger. He stops and Dwan takes the opportunity to run for it, but Kong catches up to her in only three strides and closes his hand around her. She tries to push his fingers off, which he doesn't like and prompts him to roar in irritation, and he lifts her up. Dwan babbles about her childhood experience in the Empire State Building as Kong brings her up to his face so he can get a closer look at her. She screams at him to put her down and then tearfully begs him to do so, but Kong just continues to stare at her and sniff her. Looking at his mouth, Dwan then begin angrily yelling at him, "You want to eat me? Then, go ahead! Do it! Go ahead and eat me! Go ahead! Choke on me!", and begins punching his upper jaw repeatedly. Kong, at first, just slightly jerks his head at her punches and then glares at her once she's finished, as Dwan realizes what she just did and apologizes profusely, saying she sometimes gets too physical. Kong brings his other hand up to his snout and touches it, while Dwan caresses the fur of his other hand, calling him a nice ape, and then tries to guess his sign, saying that she's sure he's an Aries (the same sign as Jack). Kong groans and puts her down, as I'm guessing he's tired of her babbling, and goes back to watching her. Seeing another chance to escape, Dwan makes a run for it, only to trip and fall in a large mud puddle, as Kong comes stomping through the trees after her, showing his displeasure by roaring and angrily smashing his fist on the ground next to the puddle. He closes his hand around her again, as she futilely beats against his fingers and screams for help, while he glares down at her.

The next scene between the two of them is much more gentle and nice. Kong carries Dwan over to the island's impressive waterfalls and sticks her under a very small one so she can wash the mud off (the blue screen work in this sequence is very apparent, as you can see). As he watches her clean herself, his truly soft hear begins to shine through as he smiles happily at her and then drops her down into the large pool below to finish the cleaning. He sticks his hand down into the water, which she climbs back into, and lifts her up as he stands up completely straight, proceeding her to dry her off with repeated blows of air from his massive lungs (I always liked how his cheeks puffed out while he's doing this). While Dwan is initially surprised by this, she soon gets into it and enjoys the feel of his breath drying her, and when he's finished, she looks up at him and he smiles back at her.

Now comes the log sequence. Jack and the search party come across the fallen tree that bridges a deep canyon and, under Joe Perko's insistence, goes across it first to make sure it's safe. He does so and, in spite of a moment where he had trouble with his balance, he makes it across and assures the others that it's solid. The others begin to cross, with Carnahan and Perko leading the way, with two other men in the middle, and Boan in the back. Things go smoothly, until Kong announces his presence with a loud roar and when they see him nearby on a ridge, the men on the log panic and fire their rifles at him. Jack yells at them to stop firing but being hit in the arms with bullets has now thoroughly enraged Kong, as he stomps towards the log. Jack uses a vine to scale down the canyon wall and takes cover in a small ledge there, while the others try to make it back across the log. Kong grabs the end of the log and starts rolling it back and forth, causing the men to lose their balance and hold on for dear life. It isn't enough, though, as one of the men in the middle falls to his death, followed by the other, who tries to hold onto the stumps of one of the missing branches. As Jack watches from his ledge, Perko is the next one to fall and then, it's Carnahan's turn when he tries to run back across the log, falling right by Jack. Boan is the only one left near the opposite end and jumps for the ledge. He misses but is lucky to grab onto one of the vines hanging on the side of the canyon wall. Now that he's gotten rid of everyone on the log, Kong attempts to deal with Jack by stomping his foot on the edge of the canyon, causing a small rockslide that forces Jack off his ledge and into a small opening beside it. Undeterred, Kong reaches down and attempts to grab Jack and pull him out but, fortunately for the latter, his hand is too big to reach inside the opening. Jack further protects himself by ducking as far back into the alcove as he can, and as Boan watches from across the canyon, Kong continues trying but is unable to reach him. He stands up and lets out a frustrated roar before trying one more time, only to not even come close when he reaches down while standing. Stomping in anger, Kong decides to hell with it, picks up the log, and tosses it down into the canyon, storming off back the way he came. Jack hears Dwan scream as Kong stomp off and he yells at Boan to make it back while he goes on. A later shot shows Jack following his footprints up a steep, dirt hill, leading to the mountains in the center of the island.

That night, under a full moon, Kong takes Dwan to his rocky, steamy lair up in the mountains, smiling at her and grunting lovingly as she tells that this "thing" between isn't going to work. He carries her into the middle of the large crater, unaware that Jack isn't too far behind them, and sits in a squatting position, sitting her in the palm of his right hand. He begins stroking her with his left index finger, caressing along the top of her hand, down her front, and making circles back around, while smiling at her in a rather uncomfortable way. This goes on for a little bit, as Kong brushes loose some of the necklaces that the natives had placed around her neck and then pulls her top down with his finger, exposing her breasts. He's quite happy to see this sight, smiling and grunting at her in a way that's rather creepy, and caresses her a little more before, thankfully, setting her down on the ground.

This moment is stopped short when an enormous snake comes slithering out of nowhere towards Dwan. Kong gives it a warning roar and then rises to his feet, furious, when it continues to threaten Dwan, who runs behind his leg. Kong grabs the snake's head, lifting it up, and in the next shot, it's suddenly maneuvered itself around his left leg and up his front. He roars as he struggles with it, and when Jack climbs up to the edge of the crater, he sees Kong struggling with the snake, which has now wrapped around him, on the ground. Dwan comes running towards Jack, the two of them meeting up on the ridge, while Kong is still struggling with the snake, grunting and growling from the exertion. He rolls over and sees Dwan with Jack as he gives her his shirt as cover, a sight he's not happy about, as he roars at them before going back to the fight. Having had enough, he grabs the snake's head, pries its jaws open, and splits its head in the right corner of its mouth, killing it instantly. Jack and Dwan run for it as Kong rises up, angrily throws the snake's body to the ground, and stomps after them. The two humans run down the side of the hill, into the bush, with Kong hot on their heels, swatting trees out of his way as he chases after them. Jack and Dwan soon reach the edge of a cliff and, with no other choice, they jump off into the river below. Kong reaches the edge of the cliff in time to see them surface and, continuing to roar and growl angrily, follows after them along it.

Back at the wall, the workers are just about finished preparing Fred Wilson's trap for Kong when they're told by the Petrox Explorer's radar man that he's heading their way and will be there in no more than five minutes. Everyone shuts off the lights and takes cover, while the man in the pit finishes preparing the barrels of chloroform and Boan prepares the charge that will dump them. On the other side, Jack and Dwan almost reach the wall's door, as Roy Bagley and the others pull back the bolt halfway just in case Kong isn't as strong as Boan claims he is and the man in the pit takes the lids off the barrels, climbs out, and covers it up. Carrying the exhausted Dwan in his arms, Jack stumbles towards the door, yelling for help, and Wilson sees them, he yells at the others to open the door completely. It opens up just enough for them to slip through, with Captain Ross and another man helping them, and Jack helps them close the gate, when Kong's roar is heard. Bagley and the other men up top slide the bolt back into place, and Jack, Dwan, and the others run for cover, while Wilson, at the very top of the wall, looks up when he hears another roar and a look of amazement comes over his face when Kong comes stomping through the trees. Letting out a loud roar, he charges at the wall, with Wilson in such shock that he almost waits too late to climb back down the ladder before Kong tears the bit of scaffolding he was standing on apart with his hand. He tears at the top of the wall for a little bit but, when that doesn't get him anywhere, he starts pounding across the side of the wall, looking for a weak spot, while everyone on the other side looks up at the wall in sheer terror of the sounds. Kong eventually reaches the much weaker door and begins smashing into it furiously, bellowing at the top of his lungs. The structure doesn't stand a chance, as it bends and breaks almost immediately, with Kong's hand smashing through the center of the left side before he tears at the piece in the center. Seeing that he's almost through, Ross yells at Wilson, "Blow the goddamn thing! Dump the chloroform!", which he does, filling the hidden pit with the gas. Kong then smashes his hand through the right side of the door, sending pieces of wood flying everywhere, and finally, with one last ram, comes exploding through the center, ripping it apart completely, while the people run for it. But, Kong's victory is short-lived, as he takes another step and falls face-first into the enormous, chloroform-filled pit. He tries to rise up after falling in but, his weary groaning shows that the gas is already taking effect and he then slams his fist down as he begins to succumb to it. Everyone then cautiously walks up to the pit and the hiding natives emerge from the bushes, as Kong's arm rises up out of the misty pit while he groans and moans before it slowly falls out of sight. The natives pray to their fallen god, as the scene transitions.

Kong's voyage to the United States in one of the Petrox Explorer's enormous tanks is not a happy one. When he first awakens and looks up at the grill on the opening in the ceiling, he has a confused and frightened expression his face, and that gives way to anger when people up top start dumping fruit down into the tank for him. He pounds the side of the wall and roars, prompting them to do their job and get away as quick as possible. His angry roars and pounding can be heard during Jack, Dwan, and Wilson's conversation nearby, but things really get hairy one night when Dwan's scarf blows off with the wind while she and Jack are making out and it floats down into the tank. Kong awakens and looks up at it curiously, when it lands on his chest (note how it's not scaled correctly at all). He picks it up and sniffs it, and then, in the next cut when Jack and Dwan go into their cabin to enjoy themselves, Kong suddenly roars nearby. As Dwan rushes to see what's going on, much to Jack's dismay, Kong, having smelled their scents together on that scarf, is going berserk. He tears a long, metal pipe off the wall and bends it in half, stumbling backwards into the walls in his anger, and then pounds them furiously, knocking one guy off his bunk-bed in an adjacent room and wrecking machinery on the bridge, shorting out computer banks and causing oil to spurt out of some pipes (that's what I think it is, not shit-water like James Rolfe does). The fire alarm goes off and this only enrages Kong further, as his pounding then damages the galley. Dwan rushes to the grill and looks down at Kong, when she hears Captain Ross announce over the intercom that he's going to flood the tank and drown him. Realizing she has to calm him down, Dwan calls to him and when he hears her voice, he looks up. His expression softens and he quiets when he sees her, probably for the first time since he was captured, and realizes it is her. Jack rushes on deck and Dwan crawls up onto the grill, threatening to jump if he doesn't stay back. He tries to tell her that she can't help Kong now but when she tells him not to come any closer, he complies and stays back. She then goes back to trying to calm Kong down, telling him no one's going to hurt him and he's going to America to be a star, when he jumps up at her, trying to reach her. When he slams back down, the impact knocks her off the grill and into the tank, right into his waiting hand. Jack yells for them not to flood the tank, while Kong looks at Dwan in his hand and, for whatever reason, becomes sad and forlorn at the sight of her. He lets her down on his right leg and she slides off of it, watching her with a defeated expression on his face. Dwan backs away and climbs up the ladder leading out of the tank, with Kong doing nothing to stop her. She's helped out by Jack and Wilson and the former tries to comfort her but Dwan is clearly upset, while Kong has fallen asleep in his sad state.

As Jack described it, Kong's exhibition at Shea Stadium on opening night is a complete farce, as a helicopter lands in front of a tacky recreation of the native bridal altar, Dwan is led out by Fred Wilson, and tied to the white, glittering ropes, which look like leis, by people in overdone native costumes (yeah, force her to reenact a traumatic experience for the show). Jack watches from the crowd while Wilson delivers a hammy recitation of a Beauty and the Beast-like quotation, ending with the line, "Now, the earth... moves," as the enormous doors in front of the altar open, revealing what looks like an enormous Petrox gas pump. The object is wheeled forward, stopping in front of Dwan, while spectators and members of the press run up to it and Wilson goes on, "Oh, the power of it! Oh, the super power! Hail to the power!" The pump is then revealed to be an enormous covering as it's lifted up, slowly revealing Kong, chained inside of a gigantic cage and with a big, ridiculous crown with a Petrox symbol on it. Everyone cheers, while Kong, with a perplexed expression on his face, looks around like, "What in the hell is this?" Dwan and Jack are both horrified at how the mighty creature is being exploited but Kong seems to have given up and stands there, not even struggling. That changes quickly when a bunch of reporters storm the altar to interview and photograph Dwan, pushing and shoving her around in their excitement. Kong sees this, and before Jack can warn them what's happening, he lets out an angry roar and easily snaps both of the chains holding his hands. The journalists back off and the crowd begins to panic, but Wilson assures that the cage is escape-proof. No sooner has he said that than Kong rips it open and crumples the steel bars like they were paper, lifting what's left of them up and dropping them to the ground. Wilson tells Dwan to come down from the altar, trying to calm her and everyone else down that his feet are still chained, which they are... until he pulls his feet forward and snaps those chains just as easily. Stepping off the bottom of the cage, he walks towards the frightened crowd and roars right at them, causing a panic. Everyone in the stadium scrambles to get out, with Dwan almost getting trampled to death, as Kong walks right through them, stepping on small groups of people and leaving them convulsing on the ground (the overhead shot of him doing this always reminded me of a similar one in Godzilla 1985). He continues walking through them and roaring, while Jack manages to get Dwan and help her escape. The scene is nothing short of chaos, as people are falling over the stands and scrambling to avoid getting stepped on, while Wilson stupidly runs right at Kong and falls backwards in front of his foot. Looking down at him with a furious face and letting out a roar as he recognizes him, Kong raises his foot and brings it down on the screaming Wilson, killing him instantly. Making it to the stadium walls, he peers over them at the parking lot full of panicked people and sees Jack and Dwan run for it when they can't drive out due to the congestion of the cars. Kong roars upon seeing this and tears his way through the stadium walls, dumping the debris on the running people blow as he finally marches through.

As both the Queensborough and Brooklyn Bridges are blocked off by the authorities, Jack and Dwan just make it onto an elevated train. That turns out to be a very bad idea, however, as Kong, trying to catch Dwan's scent, wanders over to the tracks ahead of the train and, seeing it coming, smashes and tears at them. Ripping a good chunk of them away, Kong reaches his hand out and grabs the train, as the conductor saw him too late to slam on the brakes, causing it to come to a screeching halt and flinging everyone onboard forward. He pounds on the roof of the front car and then picks it up and throws it down, before turning his attention to the one that was attached to it. He lifts it up, sending everyone sailing backwards, and as Jack smashes a window in the door to open it with the outside latch, allowing him and Dwan to escape, he rips half of the car's roof completely off and tosses it aside. Seeing a screaming, blonde woman lying facedown on the floor, Kong reaches in and lifts her out, only to roar in anger and throw her aside like a doll when he sees it isn't Dwan, who's currently climbing down some scaffolding with Jack. He lifts the entire train up and drops it behind him, creating a massive explosion around him as he stomps off. Jack and Dwan make it to the street and run for it, but when a motorcyclist panics and leaves his bike behind, they use it to reach the nearby bridge; they have to cross it on foot, though. Kong, meanwhile, uses the corner of a building to hide from a search helicopter and heads for the river. In Manhattan, Dwan, feeling that there's no need to rush since they've just crossed a river and reminds Jack that he wrote in his own book that apes don't swim, begs for the two of them stop in a nearby bar for a drink and rest; little do they know that Kong's wading through the river, drawn to the Twin Towers as they remind him of the two mountains near his lair back on the island. Things slow down for a bit, as Jack and Dwan discuss their relationship, while Kong inadvertently causes a power outage when he walks out of the river, soaking wet, and blunders right into a power station. He jumps back when he gets a nasty shock and, perplexed, touches the wires again, shorting the wires out to the point where one of the generators bursts into flames.

Jack and Dwan continue talking in the darkened bar for a little while, when the former realizes how much the Twin Towers look like those mountains and makes the fateful call to the city officials to try to get them to capture Kong alive. Back up in the bar, a giant, hairy hand reaches through the front doors and when Dwan spots it, she looks up to see Kong looking at her through a window. Before she can do anything, he closes his hand around her and pulls her out. Coming back upstairs, Jack hears glass smashing and Dwan screaming for him, and runs outside in time to see Kong whisking her off towards the World Trade Center. His march towards the towers don't go unnoticed, as he sends two horses running off in a panic with their carriages and a curious priest ducking back inside his church, crossing himself as he does so. He walks straight down Fifth Avenue, a squadron of soldiers keeping tabs on him when the power comes back on and they get into the shadows. They gather in the dark near the World Trade Center plaza and watch as Kong arrives on the scene, stopping in the center. Looking down at Dwan in his hand, he then peers up at the towers when he senses danger and looks out into the darkened area near the plaza. He roars and growls at the soldiers when he sees them moving and, after one more quick glance at the towers, he stomps towards the base of the South Tower to begin his climb. Jack arrives on the scene via bicycle and sees that Kong is already on his way up, with Dwan on his shoulder. He tells her to just hold on and that the helicopters will be coming soon to net Kong. Not wanting to lose sight of them, Jack runs into the lobby and gets into the elevator. As Kong continues his climb, soldiers and police fill the plaza below, using big searchlights to keep track of him. Inside the building, Jack reaches the observation deck right when Kong does, watching him climb up outside through the window, and takes a nearby stairway that leads up to the roof. Kong then finally reaches the top of the building and pulls himself up over the edge. He picks Dwan off of his shoulder, smiling at her, and they both look up at the full moon in the sky, remembering it was a similar night when they first met. Kong seems happy to be alone with Dwan, while she shows nothing but concern for him.

Jack finds that all of the doors to the roof are locked, when he spies some men wielding flamethrowers riding up to the roof on a window washer platform, something they're not supposed to be doing, as the commander down in the plaza asks, "Didn't they get my orders?" The three men reach the roof and quickly shot a stream of fire at Kong's left arm, prompting him to swat at the flames before running across the top of the building, dodging the stream. He's ultimately forced to leap over to the North Tower, a feat he just barely succeeds at, and he grabs onto the edge of the roof and pulls himself up on it. Jack, as well as a large crowd of onlookers gathering down below, watch as Kong throws a couple of pieces of girding at the men on the opposite tower, who are still trying to burn him. That doesn't work, but then he picks up a large propane tank and throws it at them, causing an explosion that kills them instantly. He roars victoriously and Jack cheers him, yelling, "Dirty rotten bastards!" Picking Dwan up, he walks to the other side of the roof, when he sees three helicopters approaching. The pilot of the lead helicopter tells his men to follow him in a tight holding pattern above him and prepares his machine guns. Jack realizes what they're doing and so does Dwan, when Kong puts her down to fend off the attackers. Dwan tries to get him to continue holding her, saying they'll kill him if he doesn't, but he's determined to protect her. Standing back up, Kong faces the helicopters, as they fly straight at him. The attack begins, with Kong receiving two blood bullet wounds straightaway, one in the right side of his upper chest and another in the lower left of his torso. Jack watches in horror from the South Tower, as Kong roars and recoils in pain from the assault, although manages to hit one of the helicopters head on with his fists. Dwan runs up to his leg and grabs onto it, momentarily stopping the attack as she begs him to pick her up. Still being protective, he gently pushes her away as she protests, when the firing resumes. Kong is utterly massacred as the machine guns rip into him, blood flying everywhere, as Dwan screams, "Don't kill him!" Jack is similarly horrified, screaming, "Assholes!" as he watches Kong get ripped to shreds. He manages to hit another one of the helicopters and send it crashing into the side of the building, but by this point, it's meaningless. His fur almost completely red from the blood and moaning in pain, he falls down on the roof with a loud thud. Dwan walks up to him, trying to comfort him as best as she can, when he, either intentionally or accidentally, rolls over the edge of the roof and falls the great height, crashing onto the plaza below.

Still alive, but barely, Kong slowly opens his eyes, the sound of his heartbeat echoing, while a police officer detains several reporters who've climbed up on his chest to take photographs. He turns his head to see Dwan standing there, tears running down her face as she looks at him, and lets out a soft groan towards her, as his heartbeat begins to slow. She's the last thing he sees when his heart finally gives out and he quietly dies (I always hated how Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin copied this for the ending of the 1998 Godzilla). Dwan shakes her head while continuing to cry upon realizing he's dead, when she's surrounded by droves of journalists and cheering onlookers, unaware that she's anything but happy. Seeing Jack in the crowd, she tries to make her way towards him, angrily pushing away the city officials who arranged for Kong's death, but is unable to reach him and can only mournfully call his name, as the movie ends on the image of Kong's corpse on the plaza of the World Trade Center.

He gave Kong life through his acting, so I guess that can be
considered a "special contribution."
Before the credits roll, the film ends with this strange paragraph that, while giving most of the credit to Carlo Rambaldi and Glen Robinson, acknowledges Rick Baker's involvement in the production but in a very vague and unspecific way. Originally, he wasn't supposed to receive any credit at all, as the producers wanted to give the impression that the Big Kong was such an advanced special effect that it did most of the action in the film, just as Rambaldi had proclaimed his proposed creation could have done. This ploy worked for a little while, as photos of both it and the Styrofoam Kong used at the end were circulated and well-received, but their cover was blown when a reporter from Time magazine visited the set, was shown the Big Kong, which was unfinished at the time, and was then showed scenes from the film of Kong in action (can you spell "stupid" on the part of the producers?) The reporter was perplexed about this, given how the Big Kong was clearly not functioning well enough to do any of this stuff, and they had no choice but to introduce him to Baker and show him the suit. This exaggeration about the film's effects has grown into another strike against it in the minds of many in the years since, although it certainly didn't hurt its publicity or box-office at the time and it also didn't prevent the film from winning an Oscar for Special Achievement in Visual Effects. But, even that was controversial, as Rambaldi, Robinson, and optical artist Frank Van Der Veer were the ones nominated, while Baker wasn't since they were still trying to emphasize the full-scale incarnations of Kong at the time. When the Academy's Visual Effects committee brought Baker in to ask him what his acknowledgement at the end of the movie meant, they decided not to give the movie the award since the Big Kong that the award was focused on was revealed to only be in a few shots. The board of governors, however, decided to go ahead and give it the award, which caused an outrage and prompted several members of the effects committee to resign, accusing the governors of allowing Dino De Laurentiis and Paramount to pressure them into giving the award. Once the decision was made, there was an attempt to give Baker a special Oscar for makeup but it was turned down. Between this and the strife he went through during the entire production, it's small wonder why Baker's memories of this movie aren't fond ones.

Like the original King Kong, the cherry on top of the uneven but still delicious sundae that is Kong '76 is the superb music score by James Bond composer, John Barry. It's a very different score from the one Max Steiner composed in 1933, with an emphasis on awe and wonder rather than fast-paced action and thrills, but it's no less effective. The opening piece of music when the Petrox Explorer departs from Surabaya is a big, sweeping piece that goes through just about all of the emotions the movie conveys: starting with a sense of wonder, building ominously into a big "Dun!" when the title King Kong appears onscreen, transitioning into a lovely, poignant-sounding section that hints at Dwan, followed by what sounds like a church organ, and finally a series of horns and strings building and building until they finally crescendo into a downbeat ending bit that hints at the tragedy to come. My favorite theme in the score is what can be considered the theme for both Kong and the island, which is this very ominous, mysterious piece that starts out on low strings and builds into an accompaniment by horns that gives a feeling power and majesty. You hear this theme many times throughout the movie, first in a subdued form when Jack tells them bits of the history of Kong in the briefing room, which makes it very effective, and is used as an atmospheric piece when they pierce through the fogbank and are exploring the island. It's used in full again during the panic that Kong causes as he breaks out of Shea Stadium, perfectly showing the sense of full-on terror he inspires. Speaking of Kong, the music that plays when he first appears and when Fred Wilson first sees him at the wall is awesome, as it's mingled with the sounds of native music and transitions into a very ominous piece that builds and builds as Kong gets closer and closer. The music during his first appearance is mostly comprised of the natives' chant for him (which is okay but nothing special), with hints of theme that I mentioned before, and then begins building with big horns and tense, screeching strings when you get your first glimpses of him, before climaxing with a powerful series of sustained, "Duns!" They do something similar for when Wilson first sees him and it's majestic both times.

There's also a low, melodic piece that you hear many times, often during the treks through the island's jungles, and there's a magical, piano piece that plays when they first explore the island and Dwan runs to the nearby waterfall. This hints at the love theme between her and Kong, which you first hear when he takes her to the falls so she can wash herself off, and is a very sweet, pretty piece, with a whimsical melody as well as a subtle hint of sadness. It's another one you hear a number of times throughout the movie, re-orchestrated in different ways to fit the respective scene, and it's really beautiful. There's a doom-laden piece that consists of horns going, "Dun, dun, dun," and a sad-sounding string piece that you first hear when Kong and Dwan have that melancholic reunion in the Petrox Explorer's tank, one that hints at his inevitable demise as you hear it again when he's making his fateful climb up the World Trade Center and the movie, narrative-wise, concludes on it before the ending credits begin, bringing it full-circle with the image of Kong's corpse. Finally, there's a low, mournful string piece during Dwan and Kong's final moments together after his fall, emphasizing her heartbreak and his noble sacrifice to "protect" her. This plays into the ending credits, which is their love theme but it ends on that downbeat note that concluded the score's first theme, again bringing us full-circle with the tragedy that was imminent.

In the end, King Kong '76 will never reach the mythic status of the classic that spawned it but that doesn't mean that it's a bad movie, because it most definitely isn't. It's a very well-made, larger than life fantasy, with a sense of spectacle and wonder, like the original, and has a lot of good notes to it: a stellar cast, great production values, gorgeous cinematography (especially in the real locations of Hawaii), a superb music score, and, most importantly, a performance by Rick Baker in a, to me, well-designed suit, on some masterfully-constructed miniature sets, that makes King Kong as much of a fully-realized character as Willis O'Brien did in the 30's with his stop-motion. There are some flaws, though, such as the clunky, full-sized mechanical effects, the optical effects that range from pretty good to dated and downright bad, some admittedly corny lines in a script that I, overall, don't consider to be as campy as everyone else seems to, and the movie is missing a lot of the thrill factor of the original, with no dinosaurs and a much slower pace for an over two-hour running time. It is a mixed bag but I think there's plenty good in it for it to be worth your time. The original may be a better movie and one I watch a lot more often but this is a movie that I've loved ever since I was a kid, I still enjoy it whenever I pop it in, and I don't see that ever changing.

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