King Kong

An oddity on photographs taken decades apart supported by the happenstance passage of a spy satellite, an expedition is sent to the Indian Ocean to locate a supposedly unknown island, Fred Wilson of Petrox inspired by the spectrographic readings which indicate the possibility of an untapped oil field, but Princeton educated stowaway Jack Prescott knows the legends of the island from folk tales of indigenous populations and hopes to find something rarer.

Recovering the sole survivor of a shipwrecked yacht en route, the aspiring actress Dwan, the island is located behind a perpetual fog back, the “white veil” of legend, but it is far from uninhabited, occupied by a tribe of natives who have erected a massive wall dividing the island beyond which lies another, greater, surprise: their living god, the giant ape Kong.

The original King Kong of 1933 regarded as a classic of its era, expanding the scope of what was possible in cinematic adventure and effects, sequels and spinoffs had been released in the interim but it was not until the Christmas of 1976 that a remake was released, directed by I Was Monty’s Double‘s John Guillermin from a script by Three Days of the Condor‘s Lorenzo Semple Jr, based on the original ideas of Merian C Cooper and Edgar Wallace.

Already a two-time Oscar nominee, Jeff Bridges took the lead as primate palaeontologist Prescott while newcomer Jessica Lange, then working as a model, was the newcomer cast as Dwan, effectively taking the role which had made Fay Wray an immortal star, while Rosemary’s Baby’s Charles Grodin, Images’ René Auberjonois and Family Plot’s Ed Lauter took supporting roles as Wilson, Petrox scientist Ray Bagley and First Mate Carnahan.

Key of course is Kong himself, a suit worn by Rick Baker, later an Oscar winner himself for An American Werewolf in London and constructed under the supervision of Carlo Rambaldi who would later work on Alien, Nightwing and David Lynch’s Dune, though despite the considerable advance from Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion puppetry of the original the crew were unsatisfied with what they had to work with, though in fact it is Kong’s overly human posture and walk which now seem unconvincing.

Wilson warned by Prescott that he is orchestrating a tragedy when he tries to capitalise on the fame Kong can bring him, that is what the film inevitably becomes, the Petrox executive driven by nothing other than wealth with no concern of the damage being done to the island, the natives upon whom he has forced unwanted contact, or of the dangers to Kong himself, a wild animal drugged, kidnapped, imprisoned and forced to perform, the white man bringing nothing but greed and violence and cursing himself in the process.

Bridges comfortable as an action hero or romantic lead, Lange is badly short-changed, pulled from the life raft in a soaking evening dress and babbling about horoscopes, ogled by crewmen, natives and giant apes and passive in all her interactions before finally developing a moral awareness in the final reels of the film, with John Barry’s score doing much of the work to make the drama work as well as it does before the needlessly violent and bloody finale.

Remastered from the original 35mm negative, the new release of King Kong is well supported with separate commentaries filled with production detail from Baker and film historian Ray Morton, deleted scenes including “how Jack got the shirt,” and interviews with many of the crew who recall the rushed and difficult production, the Hawaiian island paradise of Kaua’i offering spectacular locations but presenting huge challenges.

King Kong will be available on 4K UHD Blu-ray exclusively containing the extended television version of the film, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Monday 5th December



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