In 1976, Kong returned to the big screen in an American remake as I continue my exploration of Sci-Fi Chronicles. Taking its cue from the Japanese films in the decades since the original film, this film forgoes the miniature route (to its detriment I think) and replaces Kong with a man in a suit, and a large animatronic arm and face, designed by Carlo Rambaldi, with some acknowledged help from Rick Baker). Rambaldi would later go on to design E.T., bringing Spielberg’s alien to life, and he actually won an Oscar for his work on Kong, Special Achievement in Special Effects. In addition, this film was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Sound.
That may come off as surprising considering how poorly the film has stood against the tests of time, and honestly, probably isn’t the best efforts of any of the people involved with it. Jeff Bridges headlines the cast, alongside Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange.
Bridges plays a primate paleontologist, Jack Prescott, who sneaks aboard a petroleum expedition ship, run by Grodin’s slimy executive, Fred Wilson. The course is set for a remote island, that rumor has it is barren, but has a history of large animals, and may in fact be rife with oil…
When Prescott is discovered, instead of tossing him in the brig, or confining him to some quarters, Wilson puts him to work as the expedition’s photographer (!), and then Lange’s Dwan arrives in evening dress, and a life raft, the only survivor of a yacht’s accident on the high seas.
Arriving at the island, a gorgeous location, by the way, they realize it is inhabited, and that the locals worship some sort of ape god! Struck by Dwan’s blonde hair, the natives kidnap her and offer her up as bride to Kong. Prescott goes off in search of her, allowing for a log sequence homage to the original film, but sadly lacking any encounters with dinosaurs. Kong meanwhile is making nice with Dwan, bathing her, and then blowing her dry with ape breath (seriously), before defending her against a rather silly looking and slow-moving snake.
Wilson, dreams of using Kong as a huge boon to his advertising budget, and captures him, relocating the beast to New York, where he is literally crowned King, commercialized, and then everyone acts surprised when things go sideways and the beast escapes! The Empire State Building is left behind this time, as the ape climbs the World Trade Center, and squares off against a trio of choppers who are intent on turning him to a bloody mess…
Bridges is fun, Lange is lovely, though Dwan is a bit vacuous and wants only to be a star, while Grodin’s Wilson has no redeeming features at all, so you’re not even fazed when he meets his fate!
The man in a suit thing, much like in the Japanese films just doesn’t work in this film, as you can tell it’s a man in a suit, and not someone who has been trained in movement.
A rather hap-handed remake, but the director returned a decade later to make a sequel… we’ll check that out soon!
(as a side note, it did have a great little score by John Barry ).