With a Long Runtime, Absence of Dinosaurs, and Preachy Reworking of the Story, it Shouldn’t Work. And Yet…
Oft maligned but also holding a special place in the hearts of many who have viewed it over the years (especially those who grew up seeing it on TV), 1976’s big and bold remake of the classic King Kong is an odd film that’s worth a revisit, especially if you haven’t seen it in awhile.
The updated-for-the-70s story drops the filmmaking pretense of the original and instead reframes the human story centered around a corporate quest for oil. Charles Grodin’s smarmy character is leader of the expedition and the stand-in for Carl Denham, an ambitious and risk-taking mid-level Petrox executive trying to find the big discovery that will propel his career and make his fortune.
Jessica Lange is absolutely radiant in her starmaking first role as Dwan (our leading lady in place of Ann Darrow), and Jeff Bridges opposite her as an environmentalist and primatologist who stows away on the ship after learning it’s headed for headed for the island where he believes the legendary Kong dwells.
The film also boasts a number of great character actors in small parts, mostly as other members of the expedition crew — including Julius Harris, Jack O’Halloran, Ed Lauter, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, and John Agar.
Judging the film by its contemporary reputation, one might think it performed poorly on its release, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It was massive event, raking in major box office success and proving a good investment despite its monster budget. Audiences flocked, though critical response was mixed.
Kong 76’s biggest appeal was doubtlessly its incredible practical effects, which included both traditional monster suit (performed by none other than Rick Baker) and gigantic animatronic props designed by Carlo Rambaldi.
Those giant props are no joke. Kong is real and tactile, which is directly tied to his incredible pathos as a character. By modern standards the visuals might seem a little dated, but I’d contend that it’s actually the old-school compositing, not the in-camera effects themselves, which has aged poorly.
The film’s long runtime, especially in the TV cut, is kind of inexplicable, especially considering that all the cool dinosaur battles from the original are excised (Kong does tangle with a giant serpent, but if your favorite aspect of these movies is giant monster battles, this film doesn’t deliver much of that).
And yet, it’s a very compelling, fun, and romantic movie. Even in its extended format if doesn’t drag or feel overstuffed. The finale adds an interesting twist by using the Twin Towers instead of the Empire State building, which plays out a little differently and provides some different logistics (and viewing angles) to Kong’s last stand.
With a game cast, cool effects, and 70s vibe that I find charming rather than dated (especially once Kong’s set loose in NYC), King Kong ‘76 is still a winner in my book, and I’m especially thrilled that the extended TV cut is now available on home video.
King Kong 1976 finally comes to Blu-ray with an exciting bonus: the extended television cut of the film (with the additional TV footage newly scanned in 2K). Scream Factory’s new Collector’s Edition presentation of the film features both cuts, reversible artwork (new and classic), and tons of extras including several new interviews produced by Justin Beahm’s Reverend Entertainment.
Features and Extras — Disc One
Theatrical Cut of the Film (2:14:29)
Several new interviews with many interesting folks close to the film’s production. The disc’s covid-era production is evident in the results. A couple of the interviews are conducted in person and professionally shot, but most are “quarantine video” — remote interviews conducted via webcam. While the video quality of the interview segments varies greatly, the quality of the conversation does not. Each of the interviewees is full of interesting stories, remembrances, opinions, and technical details about the film’s making (which sounds like it was pretty difficult). The interview videos are supplemented with photos and clips relevant to the discussion. Aside from director John Guillermin’s name being misspelled on screen a couple times, it’s a very well made set of features, especially considering the challenging landscape in which they were made.
“On Top of the World — Brian Frankish and David McGiffert” (11:54)
“Maybe in Their Wildest Dreams — Sculptor Steve Varner” (5:36)
“Something’s Haywire — Jack O’Halloran” (5:52)
“When the Monkey Dies Everybody Cries — Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler” (13:48)
“There’s a Fog Bank Out There — Second Unit Director Bill Kronik” (6:31)
“From Space to Apes — Photographic Effects Assistant Barry Nolan” (5:36)
Vintage TV Ads (1:36)
Commercials for products with Promotional ties to the film: Mego drinking straws, Universal Studios Tour, and Burger Chef restaurant & drinkware
Production Stills (7:26), Behind the Scenes (6:39), Promotional Materials (8:53), Newspaper Clippings (3:58)
Trailers (5:02), TV Spots (3:26), Radio Spots (1:35)
Features and Extras — Disc Two
TV Cut of the Film (3:12:52)
Watch the extended film as a single movie or broken into 2 episodes. In truth there’s really no difference in these options as the combined version is identical to the two “episodes” stitched together with no changes. (opening titles appear midway through the combined film)
Celebrity Panel and Q&A at the Aero Theater (68:45)
A panel from 2016 featuring cast and crew from the film, most notably cinematographer Richard H. Kline and SFX artist and Kong suit actor Rick Baker, among others.
NBC TV Bumpers (3:52)
Introduction and commercial bumpers that accompanied the televised showings of the film — these are only available separately as a special feature, and not integrated into the film presentation.
Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have compression or resizing inherent to file formats and Medium’s image system. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.