VOD film review: King Kong (1976)
James R | On 31, Mar 2021
“Put me down you goddamn chauvinist pig ape!” That’s the sound of King Kong getting an update to the 1970s in a remake that’s certainly bigger but not exactly better.
Produced by a confident Dino de Laurentiis and directed by The Towering Inferno helmer John Guillermin, the film follows the same basic formula as the 1993 classic: gigantic ape is whisked away from a remote island to New York so he can be displayed to gawking audiences for big bucks. But where that was a masterclass in special effects and world-building, this gargantuan update loses the charm that makes the previous outing so timeless.
There are some strong turns from a cast that includes Jessica Lange as Dwan (“Like ‘Dawn’ but I swapped two letters”) and Jeff Bridges as a student with a camera – the inspiration, perhaps, for Brie Larson’s photographer Mason in Kong: Skull Island. Charles Grodin also brings good deadpan sleaze as Fred Wilson, an oil tycoon who replaces the traditional Carl Denham role and takes a ship to Kong’s island home in search of striking oil.
These aren’t terrible ideas from screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr, but the script gives these characters some dreadfully cheesy dialogue – and most of those humdingers go to Dwan. “It’s a sign of insecurity, like when you knock down trees,” she tries to rationalise to Kong, the kind of explicit statement of something in common that reveals how little faith the movie has in the chemistry of the cast to convey their feelings.
As for Kong himself, out goes the stop-motion miniature and in comes Rick Baker in a suit, and if there’s a lack of creative wit to this feature’s creature, there’s certainly no end of fur and gore to try and make up for it – the original’s biplanes are replaced by full-on attack chopppers. The film even swaps the Empire State Building for the World Trade Centre in the aim of upping the scale and spectacle – but by deciding to omit the prehistoric beasties that battle Kong on his island home, has already undone its chance of truly wowing.
A soaring, swooning score from John Barry helps to boost the emotional stakes soemwhat, but this Kong is far from king. If the 1993 movie was a dated but stunning landmark that set the precedent for monster movies and blockbusters to come, this 1970s reboot sets a similar benchmark for the bloated Hollywood remakes that would soon become a familiar sight.