1976 King Kong Review

You might be familiar with “King Kong,” but there is a strong possibility you missed this version. And for good reason. One oft, and understandably overlooked iteration is Dino De Laurentiis’ 1976 “King Kong.” It truly falls into the so-bad-it’s-good category, and the one redeeming quality it possesses is the appearance of Jeff “The Dude” Bridges. And believe me, this movie is very undude, dude.

The first thing you’ll notice is the cheesy not-quite 80’s music as the opening credits roll for an obnoxiously long time. From here you pretty much know the story, so I won’t explain the plot too much. The Petrox Oil Company sends a ship to an unexplored island in search of a supposed oil deposit, and an apparently drunken Jack Prescott (Bridges) stows away aboard the ship. We find out he is a primate paleontologist trying to warn the crew that they may discover more than oil on the island. Careful man, there’s a primate here! On the journey there a lifeboat conveniently deposits an aspiring actress Dawn (Jessica Lange) on the ship. I find it kind of ironic that Lange portrays a low-budget wannabe actress, because her role in the film is completely cliché. She plays a dumb blond solely in the movie for her part of love interest for Prescott and King Kong.

Apart from the abysmal music, trite dialogue, and stereotyped characters, what really makes the film go from mediocre to terrible are the mistakes. In one scene the team happens upon a massive wall which all but Prescott believe to be uninhabited ruins…until they hear drumming from within the fortress. The all-knowing expert Prescott hypothesizes that the building’s purpose is to keep out a giant primate. Far out man, far fuckin’ out. Then the scene cuts to the scouting party sitting behind a pile of rocks on a hill within the compound. So if a bunch of humans can easily clamber over the walls, how is this thing supposed to keep out a massive gorilla? And why do Prescott and company seem surprised when they are noticed by the natives? In the grand scheme of things, this is the least of the movie’s problems.

Graphically, the movie isn’t spectacular, but I won’t hate on the Technicolor red skies too much considering it was made in the 70’s. Some problems are really inexcusable though, like contrast in lighting effects when Kong is holding Dawn on the island. The shots of Kong make it seem like dusk, with a red-orange sky, but when it pans to Dawn the jungle is extremely bright as if it is midday. There really isn’t any excuse for such inconsistency.

The first time I watched the movie, I was doped up on pain meds after surgery so I didn’t really notice these problems. Watching it sober the film was equally as funny, and there were some enjoyable scenes. One of the highlights is a battle between a giant snake and King Kong. Monster showdowns are pretty enjoyable for the most part and this doesn’t disappoint, despite the lack of realism. Kong’s rampage through New York culminating in his World Trade Center climb is done really well, and I actually prefer it to the CGI that would have been used now.

Although it is unbelievably cheesy, I also enjoy the oil company plot and their willingness to exploit native people, animals and environments. This notion is particularly relevant today with companies more willing to pursue offshore oil extraction and mountaintop removal for coal rather than consider alternatives such as wind and solar. Now, I don’t mean to imply that the director meant to make this point because I honestly don’t such a complex thought even crossed his mind in the creation of this film. Any such messages are purely coincidental.

Altogether, the movie is pretty bad, but I’d recommend it if you have some spare time and want a few laughs. Then again, that’s just like, my opinion man.

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