KING KONG (1976)
Article 3646 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 7-24-2011
Posting Date: 8-8-2011
Directed by John Guillermin
Featuring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange
What it is: Giant ape classic remake
While exploring a mysterious island in hopes of finding it rich in oil, an oil company discovers the existence of a giant ape. When the oil proves to be unusable, they hit on the idea of capturing the ape and using it as a promotional gimmick.
Trying to remake a movie that is as epochal and well-loved as the original KING KONG is an extremely difficult task; for one thing, devotees of the original will most probably be hostile to it from the get-go. As a result, this movie is much maligned by fans of the original, and the early emphasis in the movie’s promotion on the creation of a full-size mechanical model of the title character backfired when the model turned out to work horribly (its scenes are the worst in the movie). I quite love the original movie, but not as much as many others, and I resolved to give this remake a chance.
On the plus side, I quite like Jeff Bridge’s performance, but then, I’ve liked every performance of his I’ve seen. I mostly like Charles Grodin’s performance; he occasionally succumbs to an annoying strain of campiness that infects the script. If I get past the fact that they’re not using stop-motion, I quite like some of the special effects; the Kong mask is well articulated, and Rick Baker does a good job of bringing the character across (and he never succumbs to the campiness, but then, Kong doesn’t have any lines). The giant mechanical hand actually works well enough to pass muster.
Nonetheless, there are some formidable down sides to this movie. That aforementioned strain of campiness is a constant annoyance, often resulting in clunky “laugh” lines that sound way too self-conscious. I also don’t care for the way what was subtext in the original movie is made obvious here; the idea that this is a “love story” of sorts is really belabored here (especially near the end of the movie), and the movie makes way too big a deal of how the Twin Towers resemble two peaks on Kong’s island. Yet, for me, the worst problem is the reduction of the Fay Wray character from the original to an airheaded dumb blonde stereotype here. I don’t blame Jessica Lange (she played the character as written); I blame the writers. It’s hard to take the movie seriously when the heroine is yelling lines like “You male chauvinist pig ape!” or asking Kong what sign he was born under. Somehow, I find it really irritating that they have these endless scenes of her character trying to have conversations with Kong while having no battles with dinosaurs.
Then there’s the ending of the movie. I won’t go into detail, but it’s been said that people cried at the end of the original movie, and to my eyes, it seemed to accomplish this without trying for tears. This one really strains to make you cry at the end, and fails. Ultimately, I have to side with those who are disappointed by this one.