Thursday, February 2, 2017

THROWBACK REVIEW: King Kong (1976)

1976 was a huge year for Kong. After getting the rights, film producer Dino De Laurentiis would approach director John Guillermin to direct his very own adaptation of King Kong. The resulting publicity which would develop around this picture, made it one of the most hyped films of its time. If you wanna picture a world without social media, crazy fandoms and other things that factor into film hype, you might get an idea over just how excited people were over this film. The promotions, the merchandising.  It was on magazine covers, drinking glasses, burger commercials, lunch boxes, it even had its own drink! You can tell that they really were anticipating something huge with this picture. Another thing that caught everyone's attention was that the iconic climax was going to take place atop the then, very new twin towers of the World Trade Center (this move alone influenced some false marketing on the newest American Release of Godzilla VS Megalon, who had the film poster showing the two monsters battling atop the Trade Center). And as I read, it had a very distinctive tagline to get the viewers attention: "There is still only one King Kong." That tagline alone should really reach out to any fan of Kong. And this was the time of the blockbuster. Jaws had come out a year prior to this, and Star Wars was one year away. Kong's remake would ultimately prove to be a very decent success at the box office, and honestly, on paper this movie sounds wonderful.

A modern remake of King Kong. Just think of the possibilities in that idea. King Kong, set in 1976. I'm on board already. And I will give credit where credit is due. You can tell by the time you press play that they did everything they could to make this remake stand out on its own. The opening act of this movie is absolutely wonderful, and ironically enough, it wasn't until Kong was introduced to the film, that I began to see the problems. A lot of these problems are superficial, but they build up to the point where you're unsure what to think of this movie. Is it good? Is it bad? I'm right there with you. My best answer to you there is, the movie's not bad...but it could have been WAY better.

The opening for this movie again is wonderful. Where the original focuses on a film crew, intent on make this daring adventure of a picture, this film focuses instead on an expedition party hoping to find a vast source of oil on this mysterious island. Led by Fred Wilson (the Carl Denham of the movie), he's putting everything on the line in hopes of making a huge oil strike. On this journey, we're also introduced to stowaway Jack Prescott (Jack Driscoll) and Dwan (Ann Darrow) whom they rescue at sea. Getting to know these characters before they reach the island can be fun, and I can certainly say that the people who portray them, from Jeff Bridges, to Jessica Lange do a good job with their characters. Sure there's a little campy humor, but it does have its own little charm. My biggest gripe with them at certain points is that the characters don't exactly feel that developed. One thing I must also address is that I believe this movie has the best portrayal of the island natives that I've seen in any of these movies. It's not as realistic or crazy as Peter Jackson's remake, but nowhere near as stereotypical as the original film. And though I'll address this more when I review the movie, I never really cared for Jackson's portrayal of the Natives. I loved the costumes here. I loved the rituals. The sacrifice scene is arguably the best scene of the movie. I loved the portrayal of the Natives all around. It's things like this the film hammers. It just straight up hits the target, and really gets you into the mood of the picture. And speaking of the mood, the musical score of this picture isn't half bad either.  There are a lot of times the music has such a presence in this film, such as with the Natives. But unfortunetaly, this is all before we see the first glimpses of Kong himself. Once Kong appears, things start to get hazy.

How is Kong? Like Toho, and Queen Kong, this movie went with a suit to portray Kong. And after watching three different companies attempting to portray Kong in a suit, I'm gonna lay it on the table for you. Kong just isn't gonna be convincing if you're gonna portray him with an ape suit. There's something missing. I will say that the suit doesn't look terrible, as it does in the Toho films or Queen Kong, but it's still not that convincing. Another thing that stands out is his roar. It's...wonderful. But at the same time it can be so damn annoying. Especially when it's drawn out as it can be (like during the climax). It really is a roar I really want to like, but there are times I just want to turn the volume down, or just yell out, "Oh my God, shut up!" It likely didn't help that the production team I guess was almost always on ends with each other. Where one was satisfied, the other wasn't and it can really show in this movie.

Another thing that stands out in almost all the wrong ways is Skull Island. Because...what is Skull Island? It's Kong's home. A mysterious island full of adventure, mystery, and of course, danger at every corner. And I don't believe I've ever seen such a bland setup for Skull Island in my life. It does a really good job building up the island, with it being hidden by this thick fog bank, and of course it hammers the island natives to a T, but after that, it's all downhill. Once our heroes go out in search of Dwan, there's really...not a lot that happens. The lush jungles are replaced by a lifeless forest, which can transform at times into this place that better resembles the surface of the moon. While at times this can be kinda cool, it is absolutely devoid of any life. Which isn't what Skull Island should be. And the biggest complaint here? There are absolutely NO dinosaurs. No monsters! Except for this one giant snake that Kong fights for roughly two minutes. Now you compare the numerous fights Kong had in the 1933 film to this and tell me what movie depicted Skull Island better. QUEEN KONG had dinosaurs. And sure they were shit, but it at least gave us something resembling Skull Island. I understand this film was trying to be its own thing, but it didn't even try with Skull Island. In a Kong movie, I don't think that's something I can look at lightly.

One thing this film did do somewhat good with however was the relationship between Kong and Dwan. Like other Kong movies, it attempts to put together this relationship between beauty and the beast. It's not perfect, and there are a few scenes that some might find rather awkward, but for the most part, I thought the film did a decent job with this little aspect. I particularly liked one part where Kong takes Dwan to a waterfall, and allows her to wash herself, before he attempts to dry her off. It's not a perfect scene, but I thought it had a little charm. It's small things like this that do keep me watching despite the numerous problems that begin to arise with this film after Kong shows up.

And of course...we gotta talk about the climax. Because I don't think a Kong climax has ever been so underwhelming. Despite such an incredible setup. Kong is of course captured and brought to New York to...perform in this circus owned by the oil company? I have no idea what their idea here is. And he wastes no time escaping the circus act (Literally, as soon as the guy says the cage he's in is escape-proof, Kong is tearing it apart. Was it made by Acme?), and going on an actually pretty fun rampage of the city. I loved how he tore the roofs off of trains and whatnot. It's a city rampage that's really kinda fun to watch, before we of course see him climbing not the Empire State Building, but the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

This was a move that was borderline genius. When the movie came out in 1933, the Empire State Building had only been open about two years. When this came out, the twin towers were also rather new, only open about five years. So giving them a little screen time was a good move. Unfortunetaly, the actual climax itself in which Kong fights off these military helicopters is...not that exciting. Through it all, he just kinda stands there getting shot into a bloody mess, in a surge of bad effects, and annoying roars. I also feel that the ending of this film just kinda feels pointless. There is no "beauty killed the beast" quote, it just kinda ends with our lead roles sad that Kong is dead. Really nothing more and nothing less.

Truth be told, I keep going back and forth on this movie. I want to like it. I really do. It's not perfect, but if you want a fun fact, this was the first Kong movie I ever saw. My mom actually kinda really likes this movie. I saw the entire climax, and it introduced me to King Kong. This movie is responsible for my love of giant monsters. Yet there's just so much missing. It's got heart, it's got a good cast, a good setup...but a lot of pieces to this puzzle are missing, which brings me to my final Verdict, issued with tough love.

I'm giving the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis remake of King Kong a two and a half star rating. It is way too much of a hit or miss film for me to score it any higher, but it doesn't deserve a lower rating. It needs to be said that I did enjoy watching this. And this is a movie I considered apart the worst giant monsters at one point. Perhaps I need to move it off the list now? For all I know, one more viewing of the film will make me hate it again. I don't know. But for what it is right now, I think this is one I can safely say is an interesting watch to say the least. If you're curious, you'll likely find something fun. There's still only one Kong alright, but I'm not gonna say it's in this film.

Please feel free to suggest any movies you'd like to see me review. Leave a comment down below expressing your own thoughts of the movie, and as always, thanks for reading.

Next week...(sigh) we take a look at the sequel to this film. Job me next week for King Kong Lives, a film said to be soonest the worst of the worst.

Final Verdict: 2.5/4

No comments:

Post a Comment