Directed By: John Guillermin
Written By: Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace
Staring: Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, Rene Auberjonois, John Randolph, and Julius Harris
“No, you’re dead wrong. He was the terror, the mystery of their lives, and the magic. A year from now that will be an island full of burnt-out drunks. When we took Kong we kidnapped their god.” -Jack Prescott
Having watched a few movies today that have been made into recent remakes, gives a fresh new way watch a movie. Trying to understand the motivation for remaking classic films like Sabrina and King Kong is perplexing. Though this version of King Kong is an actual remake itself, forty years may warrant a remake. Twenty-five and not a very differing plot? If it wasn’t Peter Jackson it would have made no sense, as I adore his version of what King Kong should look like with his special effects team, Andy Serkis , and a story that was slightly reworked. As good as it is, the 1976 King Kong is a remarkable benchmark in special effects mixed with an adventure story while still creating one of cinemas most interesting love triangles.
When an expedition lands on an island thought to be uninhabited somewhere lost in time, they discover something far beyond their thoughts or comprehensions could have ever predicted. Upon exploring, the group discovers a gigantic wooden wall keeping something of apparently large size out. The group explores within the wall to find a group of natives performing a ritual in what seems to be the sacrifice of one of their females. When they spot the ever beautiful Jessica Lange as Dwan , they desire her above all the others for their sacrifice. Disturbed by the entire situation the crew heads back to the ship only to find that Dwan has been taken. Her love interest Jack Prescott charges the island in search of his love, only to find her missing and some very large footprints.
The special effects at the time this film was released was groundbreaking. The enormous Kong vs. the very small humans was a challenging feat to overcome, and though it doesn’t hold up against today’s standards it is still a remarkable and enjoyable film to watch visually. Once the crew has reached the island there is such a large tension that has been built, and the eerie illusions to something sinister in their future makes for a suspenseful build up to the first sight of the Mighty Kong. The revelation of Kong’s almost supernatural existence is a trip into a land and world unknown and untouched by mans destruction. After Dwan is taken, they must venture into his world leaving even more unknown for the future.
Jessica Lange has never been so beautiful. In fact, few women ever have. She was simply statuesque as Dwan. Being wide eyed, with an almost child-like nature herself, it seemed to make sense that she and Kong found a connection beyond him keeping a lovely pet. She wasn’t just a possession, there was something between them that words and no one else could understand, and you could see it in each of their eyes. The man in between, Jack Prescott played by Jeff Bridges, loves Dwan in spite of her own strange naivite . His own love drives him to relentlessly hunt down Kong, but only to save her, not capture Kong. His sadness and empathy for the giant Ape is what really makes the transition from Island to New York work. With Charles Grodin representing the evil empire of man and it’s nature to destroy everything it touches, a strange relationship was developed between the group, really giving the film a deeper more textured level than just an action adventure fantasy film.
Something that had slipped my memory over the years was how strong the sexual tension was. The relationship between Dwan and Jack is already full of deep seeded desire and attraction. When that passion is diverted to Dwans capture and offering as a body rather than than a person, her reaction to the drink they fed her was one of deep engraved sexuality. A symbol of beauty and physical desires and passions, she is left on the alter for Kong, an Ape that is instinctual and simplistic yet as close to man as the race of humanity has ever discovered. His enormous size and prowess make him seem like a monster ready to violate and harm our heroine, until we see his eyes, and the sweetness and intelligence behind them. King Kong was a true exploration of beauty and the beast and carnal urges, but the inner love was also a profound element in this adaptation.
The 1976 King Kong is without question a classic for what it achieved and what it still has to offer audiences. At the end we see Kong was never the beast, only man in it’s selfish desires for superficial success. On the outside Kong was what Fred and his Hollywood, newscasting world were on the inside. A giant, destructive monster, while Kong himself was truly a victim of mans inability to accept things they don’t understand. Kongs love for Dwan showed his humanity, and the final moments on the World Trade Center showed our cruelty. There is much to reflect on in this film, which is why it lingers so long. It has multiple levels of entertainment to offer, but always a very complex evaluation of human nature that has a resounding impact on the audience, which is why it’s stood the test of time. This is one of my personal favorite movies of all time. King Kong is one of the movies that inspired my love and adoration for the art of cinema. If not for it and a small handful of others, I may not have this addiction and the appreciation for this very enjoyable art. I would never say this version is better or worse than the Peter Jackson version. Even though they have similar moments and plot points, each is their own film. King Kong is one of the greatest movies of all time.