Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. USA, 1976. Dino De Laurentiis Company. Screenplay by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the 1933 screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman, Ruth Rose, from an idea conceived by Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace. Cinematography by Richard H. Kline. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis. Music by John Barry. Production Design by Mario Chiari, Dale Hennesy. Costume Design by Moss Mabry, Anthea Sylbert. Film Editing by Ralph E. Winters. Academy Awards 1976. Golden Globe Awards 1976.
Dino de Laurentiis brings the tale of the giant gorilla back to the big screen, but the results pale in comparison with the original. Jeff Bridges plays a primatologist who stows away on a vessel heading to a remote South Seas Island, the crew headed up by Charles Grodin as the employee of an oil company who believes that the place contains natural treasures to plunder. A nearby shipwreck on their voyage produces one survivor, a beautiful young woman (Jessica Lange) trying to break into the movies, who joins their assembly and sparks an immediate chemistry with Bridges. When they arrive at their destination of “Skull Island”, a mysterious place surrounded by an impenetrable fog, they encounter a population of natives who have no sense of modernity, no oil and a really big ape. The locals interrupt their sacrifice of a beautiful maiden to King Kong when they spot the intruders, deciding to offer Lange up to the beast instead. When Grodin realizes that taking this monster back to New York is the only way to justify the cost of the expedition, he ends up putting the Big Apple in grave danger thanks to everyone underestimating how much the star has fallen in love with the lovely Lange. The plot is essentially the same as the original except Kong ends up atop the Twin Towers instead of the Empire State Building, but the visual effects lag behind the results of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack’s delicate and touching original. The voyage to Skull Island is beautifully photographed and engaging, but once you find yourself watching what is obviously a man in a gorilla suit (actually Rick Baker) surrounded by fake miniature trees shot on a badly lit sound stage, it’s hard to stay involved despite the good work that Lange (who had yet to prove all her strengths as an actor) is doing. The Peter Jackson version in 2005 is far too long and, like this one, overdoes its effort at pathos, but is still more rewarding than this first attempt at a remake, which despite a mammoth budget and beautiful cinematography feels cheap, its energy dwindling more and more towards the end.