Remakes are a mixed bag. You either enhance the original concept with an updated viewpoint and enhanced technology or you bury it deeper than a sandworm’s poop and miss the point entirely. There are copious examples of fool hardy attempts to reclaim the magic of timeless classics and some of which have actually succeeded… King Kong ’76 is… not one of these movies.
Before we beat our chests, roar our defiance at the sky and dive into the meat of this legendary cinematic screw up, firstly we have to ask the question: who the hell was idiotic/brave enough to attempt to retell America’s greatest monster movie using Jeff Bridges’ hippy hair and a monkey suit.
The unsurprising answer? Fearless producer Dino De Laurentiis, that’s fucking who; and just by looking at the lavish production values he bestowed upon this unintentionally hilarious shit show, you can tell he’s not fucking about. However, it’s a pity that more money and attention wasn’t spent on the stunningly awful script that feels like it was written by a second rate comedian who was genuinely unaware that he was supposed to produce a dramatic movie about a giant ape.
Unscrupulous Petrox Oil executive Fred Wilson has bet the farm on moving a massive expedition to a mysterious island to drain the place of as much crude as he can. Stowing away on this voyage of the crammed is Jack Prescott, a hairy environmentalist whose agenda proves to be a little in question when he’s hired to be Wilson’s personal photographer after he’s caught. Not long after we are introduced to the glamorous, yet stunningly empty headed wannabe starlet Dwan (“Like Dawn but I changed the letters around to make it more memorable.”) who just happens to be picked up after she literally drifts into the movie on a rubber raft wearing an evening gown after a shipwreck (I swear I’m not making this up). While the crew immediately start making like the most charming sexual predators on the seven seas (she’d have been better off staying on the raft) and gets over the loss of her ship mates alarmingly quickly by vomiting up hideously vapid bullshit while everyone around her visibly struggles to contain their erections.
Mercifully, the crew finally make it to the island but find it populated by uncomfortable native stereotypes who steal Dwan away to sacrifice to their God, a giant ape who goes by the moniker of King Kong. While Jack leads a rescue mission to get her back, Fred sees the sizable simian and sees a giant, hairy dollar sign when he hits upon the idea of capturing Kong and using him as a mascot for his company (again, I’m not making this shit up) – meanwhile, Dwan is finding that despite the witless bollocks that keeps falling out of her face (chatting to a giant ape about astrology? Really?) Kong has formed a romantic attachment to his would-be sacrifice and would risk his life to protect her.
Sooner or later, Kong’s going to take an unplanned, fateful trip to civilisation whether he wants to or not, but as the urban jungle prepares to meet the baddest animal of Skull Island, is the King about meet his match, not in the buzzing helicopters that will try to riddle him with bullets, but in the feelings he has for a bubble headed blonde?
When watching this second swing at at this timeless legend, you can tell that no expense was spared in order to bring the massive monkey to a new generation with lush sets and a typically slick John Barry score (a composer that’s been tirelessly polishing turds for years so his appearance here is exceedingly welcome), but unfortunately the execution manages to thottle the presentation at every turn with a film that oddly seems to be embarrassed by the idea that it should take it’s subject with any sort of reverence whatsoever.
The original Kong wore it’s “beauty killed the beast” metaphor proudly on it’s sleeve but here the 1976 version seems to think this is something to be ridiculed, having the balance of power between Kong and his blonde hostage happen thanks to sub-Woody Allen style rambling about relationships as a scantily clad Dwan unleashes a metric ton of verbal diarrhoea about how she’s “not that kind of girl”. I understand that Fay Wray may not exactly be the poster child for a balanced female portrayal in genre movies but Faye Dunaway makes Anne Darrow look like Glen fucking Close as the horrifically selfish character is appropriately pretty but her role feels like it could single handedly puts the women’s rights movement back about twenty years. In fact, the movie’s handling of it’s female is so atrocious it even hints that she’s to blame for the climatic carnage, and not the greedy promoter for an oil company that escapes the judgemental glare of the final shot because he’s already been stepped on by a huge gorilla foot. As wrong as it is say, the film doubles down on it’s victim blaming to the point where it’s hard to disagree, making Dwan the kind of truly horrible person that demands her boyfriend buy her a drink in a bar when the city is under siege by an ape who sole focus is her and her alone.
In contrast, Jeff Bridges comes to the party armed with a distractingly soft looking beard and hippy hair combo that makes it look like Captain Caveman invested in some serious “me time” at the salon, but ultimately comes across as a fairly wet hero, openly cheering when Kong kills the shit out of soldiers who are trying to stop this giant, rampaging animal injuring more people.
Giving the best performance in the film (aside from an appropriately slimy Charles Grodin looking like he’s having tremendous fun playing a prick) is Kong himself but the choice to ditch stop motion animation in favour of a man in a monkey suit is a bad one. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a Carlo Rambaldi/Rick Baker designed monkey suit so therefore, for 1976, it’s a great monkey monkey suit… but it’s still a monkey suit none the less and it just can’t hope to measure up to Willis O’Brien’s artistry that still holds up to this day. One of the notable problems is the animatronics in Kong’s face are great when he’s angry but whenever he’s supposed to be smiling benignly at her, he unfortunately looks like he has resting rape face. The less said about Rambaldi’s full sized Kong animatronic the better – a hugely expensive endeavor that ultimately could hardly move and is only featured in a couple of long shots.
Similarly, some of the cosmetic updates also fails to hold water, the lack of dinosaurs on Skull Island for Kong to wrassle is keenly felt leaving Kong to furiously beat a snake to win Dwan’s affection (steady now) and the climatic switch from the Empire State Building to the Twin Towers simply lacks the appropriate iconic oomph due to the simple fact that if the seriously wounded Kong had simply fallen in a different direction he wouldn’t have fallen off the damn roof.
When all is said and done, King Kong’s main problem is that it curiously has no idea as to what a King Kong movie actually should be.
It certainly isn’t a movie where the female lead is a thoughtless fame hungry ditz, or where Kong is at one point labelled an attempted rapist; and yet frequently the wild imbalance of subtlety leads to moments that are a rich source of unintentional comedy and actually tips into so bad it’s good territory with the help of a little alcohol and some slices of pizza.
Betraying the timelessness of the original by swapping classic storytelling with high-budget trash, Kong 2.0 is crass, overblown and oddly seems to be embarrassed of it’s own legacy like a kid on the playground who pulls on the pigtails of a girl he likes because he has no idea how to tell her he likes her…
Simply put, this Kong is wrong.