King Kong [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray B - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (7th February 2021).
The Film

"King Kong" (1976)

Fred Wilson (played by Charles Grodin) of the Petrox Oil Company leads a secret mission with his crew to find a mysterious island that may lead to a new source for oil. Secretly joining the team is Jake Prescott (played by Jeff Bridges), a paleontologist looking to find more information about the island. Along their route, they encounter a lifeboat with a lone passenger - an American girl named Dwan (played by Jessica Lange) who was the only survivor of a yacht that exploded. Arriving at the mysterious island, the men find something bigger than expected, with Kong, a massive gorilla the size of a building that rules the land.

Ever since the giant ape first appeared on screens in 1933's "King Kong", the world couldn't get enough of the fantastical character. The original film, depicting a movie maker taking an unsuspecting crew to a mysterious island featured jaw dropping special effects for its era with stop motion animation and optical effects courtesy of pioneer Willis O'Brien and his skilled team of technicians bringing the character to life. Becoming a cultural phenomenon and massive hit at the box office, RKO rushed into production "Son of Kong" which was released in December 1933 - only a mere nine months after the original film. Due to the rushed project and not having the same impact, it was only a modest success, making RKO sit on the franchise for quite some time. The makers of Kong returned in 1949 with "Mighty Joe Young", a spiritual sequel that is arguably as good if not better made compared to the original. Though it didn't bear the "Kong" name, with directors/producers Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper plus screenwriter Ruth Rose taking part, there was no question where the inspiration was. And it wasn't just Hollywood taking part. There were two King Kong productions made in Japan in the 1930s which have sadly been lost over time. Toho Studios made two Kong films with "King Kong vs Godzilla" in 1962 and "King Kong Escapes" in 1967 using suit-mation techniques that they were greatly known for.

In 1976, the beast was revived again by producer Dino De Laurentiis, simply titled "King Kong", as an updated remake of the original 1933 film. The original was set in the time period it was made, and for the 1976 version, the changing times meant changes to the original. Replaced was the film crew set to find the mythical location, changed to an oil company as the energy crisis of the 1970s was clear in people's minds. Instead of Kong climbing the Empire State Building which was the tallest in 1933, he instead scales the World Trade Center towers, which were only constructed three years prior to the film's release. In addition helicopters were used in the final sequence which were not invented at the time of the original film's release. One of the biggest changes was in the technology to bring Kong to life. The original film relied on stop motion to bring life to Kong as well as the dinosaurs and other creatures on the island, but in 1976, it was decided to use elements from the Japanese films with an actor in a suit surrounded by miniatures. Rick Baker was a young make-up wiz who brought suited gorillas to the screen in "The Thing with Two Heads" in 1972 and "Schlock" in 1973. The full suit had to be more lifelike and detailed in comparison to his previous creations, having to incorporate more muscle movement in the face to express emotions and do intricate moves such as breaths and growls. In essence, this was an entirely different...beast altogether. While the suit acted Kong may have been smoother and more realistic than the stop motion, the sense of scale and weight was not very well done, as using slightly slowed down speed would increase weight on screen, but slow motion was rarely used in the production. While some of the shots featuring optical effects with the actor in the suit along with animatronic arms in the foreground with blue screen does look better, the shots of Kong alone do not feel as heavy and aggressive as they could have been.

But with the changes came some very odd choices to be seen. Instead of bringing a female starlet to the island, they incorporated a scenario in which the blonde bombshell drifts in through a lifeboat. As she says, she was on a filmmaker's yacht which exploded. Instead of raising suspicion or going on a possible search and rescue mission, they just let her on the "team" as she travels to a mysterious island. Was this the best way to introduce a female character? Was it just too far fetched to make one of the crew members a woman? In addition, the stowaway crew member of Jake was also easily let on the team with a simple background check over radio. Was there no bigger suspicion on their part either? At least he turned out to be one of the good guys... It seemed like the filmmakers had a good idea to try something more timely with an oil company's expedition, but the inconsistencies of the mission and having basically few three dimensional characters on the island makes things very bland. When looking at the 1933 original the 2005 remake "King Kong", or the 2017 "Kong: Skull Island", each of the characters had different functions or at least differing personalities to give flavor and purpose. Basically all the Petrox employees were interchangeable, leading just Jake and the oddly named Dwan (which she explains was a way to make her name stand out) to carry much of the emotional weight.

To be fair, the love story that builds between Jake and Dwan is something that works better than the one seen in the 1933 original. The seemingly opposite hippie-like bearded Jake and the glamorous yet slightly ditsy Dwan do find common ground by seeing Kong as more than just a monster, and their bond is a highlight of the film, played well by Bridges and Lange. While Bridges was still quite young at the time in his twenties, he was already a double Oscar nominee, though not yet a box office star for larger movies. Lange on the other hand was a model that had no film experience prior to "King Kong". Though she played the character as someone dumbfounded and there was criticism that a model with no acting experience was basically playing a model with no acting experience, she surprisingly won the Best Actress Golden Globe for her performance. Instead of quickly furthering her career in acting, she decided to strengthen her acting ability for three years before returning in "All That Jazz", and subsequently becoming one of the most respected and award winning performers in film history with multiple Oscars. The director was John Guillermin, who in 1974 proved to be an excellent choice for the large scale disaster epic "The Towering Inferno". For producer De Laurentiis, "King Kong" was a major gamble with a large budget of $24 million. In addition, there was a lot of press before the film came out, as there was an issue with the rights to remake the 1933 film, with Universal making claims that they had the rights.

With legal battles to deal with and high expectations from critics and the public, "King Kong" opened in December 1976 in various countries around the world with other countries following in early 1977. It earned back its production cost within a week's period and went on to gross $90 million worldwide, being the third highest grossing film in the United States that year behind "Rocky" and "A Star Is Born". Critically the film was mixed, with praises with the effects, but some backlash with the inevitable comparisons to the original film.

The film was released in an extended version, airing on NBC in 1978 with 45 minutes of added footage, plus alternate shots for a television audience. The extended version has to this day never been released on DVD or Blu-ray. For the theatrical version, it has been released on DVD and Blu-ray multiple times over the years. Since the distribution rights were different in almost every country, the home video rights were also by different companies. Paramount issued a DVD in the United States while Universal and Studio Canal released DVDs and Blu-rays of the film in many other countries.

De Laurentiis produced a follow-up a decade later with "King Kong Lives" in 1986, but it was a massive flop on its release and led to De Laurentiis closing his production company through bankruptcy. While the 1976 "King Kong" may not have the impact and charm of the 1933 original and some questionable changes made, there is still some fun to be had with the film riding the tails of both the blockbuster monster terror genre and the disaster genre.

Video

Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the theatrical 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. This disc, released at the end of 2020 is a repress of Umbrella's 2013 Blu-ray release. It was earlier released on Blu-ray in Australia by Universal in conjunction with Studio Canal in 2009, and this disc, while not identical, does use the same Studio Canal source for the transfer. The film itself looks quite good, with the remastered version having good skin tones and detail throughout, though there are some examples of speckles or dust in the frame. Portions that use optical effects like blue screened sequences can look a bit more rough with added film grain, but that is to be expected with the technical process. Unlike the earlier Universal Studio Canal discs released worldwide on a dual layer 50GB disc, this Umbrella release opts for a single layer 25GB disc with the film itself taking up most of the disc size. The film could use a boost in quality with a 2K or 4K restoration and possibly with including the extended cut, but for fans looking to see it in high definition, this version is satisfactory.

The film's runtime is 134:28.

Audio

English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Originally mixed in mono, the audio was given a surround mix in the home video era. The 5.1 track does wonders for the musical cues from John Barry, with the directional speakers bringing more life to the original music. But on the other hand, the track is not very well balanced. Dialogue sounds fairly flat, and when characters speak, they take up much of the front three channels rather than concentrating the dialogue in just the center. Dialogue sounds more spread out than it should, which is on the distracting side. As for Kong's roars they sound great, and as such with explosions and destruction as heard in the final reel. The sound just didn't seem to be mixed as well as it should have overall.

There are no subtitles for the main feature.

Extras

"Making Kong" featurette (22:18)
In this Studio Canal produced featurette from 2005 features comments from film critics and journalists Rich cline and M.J. Simpson interviewed separately, as they discuss the making of the production, about some of the cast and crew, the special effects, and where it stands with the other Kong films. In addition there are some comments from a vintage interview with Rick Baker about the making of the gorilla suit and also about his performance while in it. While there is some good information here, there is little input from people who actually worked on the film, and little to see with behind the scenes or the actual making of the film. This featurette was previously available on various DVD and Blu-ray releases.
in 576i MPEG-2, in 1.78:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Deleted Scenes (13:51)
A collection of scenes including some men spying on Dwan after she showers, an extended fight between Kong and the anaconda, Kong busting the gate, more destruction in New York, etc. These scenes were previously available on various DVD and Blu-ray releases.
in 576i MPEG-2, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles

Trailer (2:24)
The original theatrical trailer is presented here.
in 576i MPEG-2, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 with no subtitles


Considering that there was over 45 minutes added to the runtime for the extended TV broadcast version, many of those scene are not available in the deleted sections here. No new or vintage interviews with the cast or crew (except for the Baker excerpts), no option to see the extended cut, etc. Granted, the DVDs and Blu-rays released earlier had these above extras included so there is nothing particularly new to find here.

Packaging

The cover is reversible, with the Australian PG ratings logo missing from the other side. And in a rare case with Umbrella, this disc is in fact region B only, as the packaging correctly states.

Overall

"King Kong" has its charms as a remake but some of the awkward changes made and the not as impressive special effects do keep the film as being a fairly mediocre big budget monster film. The Umbrella Entertainment reissue of the film has a fair transfer, but the audio is not that great and the extras are just recycles from the DVD era.

The Film: C+ Video: B+ Audio: B- Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, amazon.de, amazon.it, amazon.es and amazon.se.