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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/15/99

King Kong
1999 (1976) - Paramount

review by Todd Doogan, special to The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

King Kong (1976) Film Rating: C+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/C+

Specs and Features

134 mins, PG, widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:16:08, at chapter 17 switch), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), language: English (DD 3.0 & 5.1) & French (DD mono), subtitles: English

In the late 70s, giant monster films were as big as Satan is this year. There were monsters in the water, monsters in the sky, and monsters in the suburbs -- monsters everywhere. But you know, one monster film stood above them all, at least for everyone who enjoyed monsters in the 70s. That monster film was King Kong (the 1976 version). Today (as an adult film fan), I can honestly say that I like the 1930s version much better. But Warner hasn't seen fit to release that one yet on DVD, so right now, the only way we'll get to see Kong going at it solo on our favorite format, is in this version from Paramount.

The 1930s version of Kong was inventive, thrilling, and it pulled at the heart strings. This version of Kong is a carbon copy storywise, except it's been updated with a modern tone, and has an even more impressive hotty as Kong's main squeeze. Jessica Lange would make any monkey hot, now or then, but especially then. The 1976 version of Kong isn't as thrilling or inventive as the 1933 version. A guy in a monkey suit just isn't as scary as, say, something that you can't rationally make out as being real. That's the theory of horror in Ridley Scott's film Alien -- most likely taken from the thrill failure of King Kong (made three years earlier).

As a kid, the 1976 King Kong rocked. I don't care who you are, if you were a little kid back in 1976, you probably loved Kong. I grew up in New York, so it was a state pride thing we had. Kong was in our blood. Today though, King Kong (1976) pretty much sucks. As a movie, the acting is stiff, the dialogue is pretty stupid, and most of the effects are lame. It doesn't hold a candle to the 1933 version. I do, however, still think it's a fun film. I tried watching the film as I did when I was a kid. Sure, I'm a jaded film historian and critic now, but I do remember watching this film for the first time, tightly holding onto my huge black rubber Kong toy (you remember the one -- glossy red tongue, thatched-in hair, and the badly matched up eyes). I wonder where that thing ever went? I amazes me what kind of toys our parents let us play with -- that thing had to be toxic. It smelt like a tire gone bad. Anyway, I just watched Kong again for the first time in years, and you know... it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

The story's like this: it's the 70s, and Fred Williams (Charles Grodin -- one of the best straightmen ever) is a egocentric oil executive. Historically, this is the time of the oil crisis, which is important because Williams is in search of a fabled cache of petroleum on a tropical island. As the film opens, we're on a huge oil ship, and a mysterious young man named Jack Prescott has just stowed away. Jack is a young anthropologist, who has heard of a legendary monster living on the same petroleum-filled island. Jessica Lange plays Dawn, a beautiful party girl who fell off a yacht, and has been floating around in a rubber dingy that the ship happens upon. So now the Kong trinity is complete, and off to the island we go.

On the island, we find an almost prehistoric clan of natives that worship Kong as a god, and who are about to sacrifice a young woman. When the natives get an eyeful of Lange though, they decide Kong would rather have a blonde... and to the alter she goes. What happens next, is a love affair that made sense to boys under 14, while their fathers were no doubt thinking: "He's just too big for her methinks." The search for Lange is on. Kong, of course, is captured, brought to New York, and then things just go from bad to worse for our big hairy friend.

As I said above, the flick isn't all that great. Kids today may not dig the effects, considering most have seen Godzilla and The Matrix by now, so they're as jaded as I am. As a retro-treat for 20-something's everywhere however, it's a fine way to kill an hour or two. Although, I would suggest most film and DVD fans to go out and find the new Rhino CD, that's dedicated to the original Kong's soundtrack (by Max Steiner) -- the disc absolutely rocks the house.

On DVD, 70s King Kong is an enjoyable treat. Except for some obvious edge enhancement going on with the opening credits, the 16x9 transfer is pretty stellar. The colors are good, and there is only minor grain showing through. I saw no noticeable artifacting anywhere in the picture. All in all, it's pretty good looking video, rich in detail and color. Depending on which soundtrack you use, the sound is dead on as well. If you listen to the soundtrack in full on 5.1, you'll find the jungle scenes are the best, with falling trees and all those heavy footstep thumps. The New York stuff isn't half bad either. The Pro-Logic channel seems to be missing some of the directional sound effects, which becomes apparent in the New York City scenes. It's only somewhat obvious, but it still knocks the grade down a bit. There are no real extras to speak of, aside from the trailer, which is pretty shocking. There was so much hype about this film when it first came out, that you would almost expect a special edition here. At the very least, a making-of documentary would have been cool. Sadly, there is nothing.

In this day and age of computer effects, King Kong is hardly boundary-pushing stuff. It's just a guy in a monkey suit, and it's painfully obvious. But for a select few of us, still hanging onto our childhood, Kong is a window back to a time when we believed most of what we saw, and we went home from the movies to continue playing the adventure with our toys. DVD is my new toy now, and this DVD, even without the extras, is a welcome addition to my collection. Here's looking at you Kong.

Todd Doogan
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