King Kong Lives [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - Australia - Umbrella Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James-Masaki Ryan (5th February 2023).
The Film

"King Kong Lives" (1986)

After being continuously shot and falling from the World Trade Center, King Kong has been left in a coma for a decade, kept alive in a scientific institute just barely. The scientists have created a massive artificial heart that could bring him back, but the only issue is blood needed for a transfusion. Thankfully, hunter Hank Mitchell (played by Brian Kerwin) is out in the jungles and able to capture a female giant ape, which the science institute makes an offer so they could use her for the operation and in effect have two massive kongs to be able to study. Dr. Amy Franklin (played by Linda Hamilton) is against the idea as there could be terrible consequences with the revial project. When King Kong awakens and senses a possible mate nearby, stopping him once again will prove to be a major hassle for the scientists and the military that get involved.

Film producer Dino De Laurentiis' version of "King Kong" was met with mixed responses, but was still big enough to become one of the highest grossing films of 1976. The remake of the 1933 "King Kong" retained some of the original's concepts but updated quite a lot to set things within the new era and be distinguishable as a standalone film. There were ideas thrown around for years about making a sequel, but the biggest issue was that Kong fell to his death at the end of the film. Finally the idea was set to have Kong in a coma for a decade and the rampaging beast could be revived with medical breakthroughs. Another addition was giving him a mate of his own kind with a new female Lady Kong that would become his new love interest. While the destructive and emotional power of having two Kongs would be enough to make a satisfying and interesting story, there is so much in "King Kong Lives" that doesn't work due to its inconsistent tone, the questionable actions by the characters, and the bad dialogue.

What should be praised are the special effects. Make-up effects wizard Rick Baker who created the amazing suit for the 1976 film unfortunately couldn't return for the sequel, though many of his molds and materials were still available. The new crew were able to use them as a basis for the Kong effects which would again be performed by an actor in a suit, with Peter Elliot as King Kong and George Antoni as Lady Kong. There would also be massive mechanical hands for use in certain scenes, quite a lot of personality given in the facial movements by puppeteers, and of course the actions from the actors to give the creatures personalities. Techniques such as miniatures, blue screen, and split screen mattes were used to give the illusion of the massive size difference between the Kongs against the natural environments, and the team did quite well with the effects, even if there were some size inconsistencies at certain points. In addition, the production team actually created life size model Kongs for scenes such as in the heart transplant when Kong would remain still.

What the film doesn't get right is basically everything else important. The main actors from the 1976 film, Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange would not return, so a new love interest had to be created for the human side, with Brian Kerwin's character of Hank Mitchell being basically a copy of the Bridges character sans the beard. Linda Hamilton's character of Dr. Franklin would be a new role to fill, and is seemingly the only person that senses the onslaught of destruction that would come. How does everyone else not see the danger in reviving a creature that destroyed a major part of New York City a decade prior? Well, they are looking at things from a scientific perspective and wanting to study a massive creature like Kong would make sense. But if a female Kong was captured, why not just look for more Kongs on Skull Island again and study their habitat? King Kong is kept at the Atlanta Institute, or Atlantic Institute depending on the on screen text or the character dialogue as they do not match, and the consistency of the naming isn't the only thing wrong here. There is also a lack of communication between the scientific team and the military, as once the Kongs escape, the military is just ready to kill on sight rather than ready to capture as the scientists would want. It was said that even behind the scenes there was a lack of understanding and communication, as the production crew was made up of Americans and Europeans and everything from work aesthetics and ideas were different.

As for the lead humans, the time it takes for the rugged hunter and the young scientist to fall in love and have a sexual encounter for the first time in the middle of a rural forest is extremely quick and unexpected with some very unsexy lines to lead into it. In addition, the next morning there is an extremely quick topless shot of Hamilton that seemed completely unnecessary and gratuitous, almost as if it wasn't supposed to be, but they used the shot anyway. But after their first night together, their relationship doesn't quite seem believable throughout as there are no major ups or downs to progress things, and we the audience must just accept it rather than question it. The other secondary characters are easily forgettable and have little personality to bring into the story, and the comedic minor characters, such as the kid whose parents' car gets stepped on the beer guzzling rednecks that try to kidnap Kong have scenes that work better in a teen comedy rather than a straight up monster movie. The tone is all over the place with the main characters being straight with drama while others around are seemingly playing for laughs.

Director John Guillermin who directed the 1976 film is one of the only people to return for the sequel film, and while he is a capable director who has done some excellent work in the past, "King Kong Lives" was hampered with problems and some of them were due to Guillermin himself. He was not an easy director to work with and he had clashes with the other cast and crew. In addition, there were instances of Guillermin not appearing on set, apparently stemming from trauma of losing his son in an auto accident two years prior. But not everything was entirely the fault of the director. Besides the awkward plot and story, there was also the cost cutting measures placed by De Laurentiis by shooting the film in Wilmington, North Carolina to avoid union workers. While that may have saved money on the cast and crew, the location also made things become unrecognizable. In the 1976 film, the Skull Island scenes had personality, as well as the distinguished landmarks of New York City. But for the sequel, there were rural plains, forests, mountains, rivers, and all seem fairly dull. There was not much to connect to for a visual standpoint to figure out where things were for audiences. And while the film supposedly takes place over a number of months as there is the pregnancy and birth to be seen near the end, there is no particular transition of seasons to signify anything. While there could have been additions made to the script to fill in some of the wholes, there were just too many in "King Kong Lives" to make the film make perfect sense.

The film was shot during 1985 and 1986 and released theatrically on December 19th, 1986 in the United States and a number of other countries at the end of the year and beginning of the next. With an $18 million budget, the film only grossed less than $5 million in the United States, becoming a massive bomb with terrible reviews and bad word of mouth. While it was not at all a hit in America, the film actually found success overseas, grossing a total of nearly $49 million. But with marketing and promotion costs, along with other misfires from the studio, De Laurentiis' company had to file for bankruptcy soonafter. Over the years, time has been kinder to the 1976 "King Kong" but not much as been done for the reputation of its sequel. To be fair, it still is a fun watch even with its cringy scenes and the effects are still quite remarkable. It's just too bad that there wasn't a clear enough vision for the story and the awkwardly constructed script has many oddities to be pointed out. Could a massive ape have such perfect congnitive skills after spending ten years in a coma? Wouldn't a bloody bash on the head cause death or at least brain damage? These could go on and on. The film has been available on various home video formats over the years though for a long time in standard definition. This Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray presents the first time that "King Kong Lives" can be experienced in full HD, and there are some fascinating extras included as well.

Note this is a region ALL Blu-ray


Umbrella Entertainment presents the film in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio in 1080p AVC MPEG-4. The transfer comes from rightsholder Studio Canal. The HD transfer looks quite strong throughout, with colors looking natural and detail being clear. It is not particularly a bright or vivid feature, but dark blacks such as night scenes and the detail on Kong's dark hairs are crisp as well as the surrounding colors of the environments. Damage is minimal with a clean image, though processed shots such as blue screen matting other special effects shots sometimes have additional grain and visible damage printed. Overall the visuals are very pleasing and is a major step up from previous home video releases for its HD debut.

The film's runtime is 104:55 which includes the modern Studio Canal logo at the start.


English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo

There are both lossless 5.1 and 2.0 stereo options available. The original stereo mix is well balanced, keeping dialogue centered and the left and right channel separation used well for the score and effects. The dialogue, music, and effects are well balanced and there are no signs of dropout, damage, or other faults to the audio track. The 5.1 track on the other hand has its pluses and minuses. The 5.1 spreads the music and effects out, though the mix doesn't make the use of separation well, as the dialogue bleeds from the center and out to the left and right channels. Though the surrounds make better use of the music cues in this case. Like the 2.0 track the 5.1 is also free of distortion or other errors for a clean sounding audio track.

There are optional English HoH subtitles for the main feature in a white font.


Audio commentary by "King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon" author Ray Morton
This newly recorded commentary has author Ray Morton discuss the production of the film, from the filming locations, the different ideas for the sequels, the building of the models and miniatures, the film's inconsistent tone, the direction and difficulties the film faced, the cost cutting measures, the great musical score, the reception and much more. There is a lot of detail about the film both good and bad, though there is one point that Morton seems to have repeated a page of notes, as he repeats the story about the legal issues between De Laurentiis and Universal Studios almost verbatim at two points during the commentary.
in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"A Fresh Viewpoint" interview with David M. Jones (11:36)
David M. Jones, who was credited as supervisor of the special effects miniature department for the film is interviewed here discussing the making of "King Kong Lives", from the filming in North Carolina with an international crew that had communication problems, the troubled production and being able to make the best of the situation with the results. He discusses a lot about the tricks of miniature construction and filming which is quite fascinating. With credits ranging from "Star Wars Episode IV", "Close Encounters of the Third King", "Air Force One" and many more, Jones passed away from cancer on April 8th, 2022 at the age of 74. Note this interview was filmed for the 2011 documentary "Sense of Scale".
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

"John Guillermin Lives" video essay on director John Guillermin by Stephen Vagg (29:12)
This new video essay by writer Stephen Vagg is a great look at the lengthy and underappreciated career of British-French director John Guillermin, from his youth, the WWII years, his early features at Adelphi Films, as well as looks at "Town on Trial", "Tarzan's Greatest Adventure", "Rapture", "The Towering Inferno", "King Kong" and more, plus a great deal of time devoted to the making of "King Kong Lives". With film clips illustrating his works chronologically with great information provided, it's a great listen, though there is one mistake, with the on screen text mistakenly stating "Town on Trial" was a 1986 film instead of 1957, though Vagg correctly states the year vocally.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 1.78:1 / 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

Stills Gallery (7:32)
Presented here are a series of production stills from the feature in an automated slideshow format with soundtrack cues for the background music.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, Music Dolby Digital 2.0

Original Theatrical Teaser Trailer (0:42)
This teaser trailer actually features no footage from the film itself, but instead uses some quick shots from the previous "King Kong" to entice audiences of his comeback. It comes from a film source that is unrestored, so there are damage marks to be seen and crackle to be heard.
in 1080p AVC MPEG-4, in 2.35:1, in English Dolby Digital 2.0 without subtitles

The film was released on DVD in various countries over the years with none of them having significant extras. It's great that Umbrella Entertainment were able to gather these extras for the disc as exclusives. While it's great to see the teaser trailer here, one wishes that the original trailers could have also been included.

Other notable clips:

Critic Joel Siegel unenthusiastically reviews the film on ABC's Good Morning America.

The film takes a slot in Siskel & Ebert's worst films of 1986.

Joe Bob Briggs' introductions for the film for its showing on TNT's Monstervision in 1998.


This is volume 24 in Umbrella Entertainment's "Beyond Genres" line, which includes a uniform black slipcase with newly created artwork of Kong busting through the cover, which makes the full title unreadable on the front. For the keep case's inlay there is original Japanese theatrical poster artwork in the front without text. For the back and inner portions, production notes for the film are printed without a writer being credited. This seem to be from the original production EPK as it lists many facts and figures of the making of the film for promotion, rather than a look at the film in hindsight.

The packaging states region B only, but it is in fact region free.

There is also a Collector's Edition which also includes a reversible poster featuring the US theatrical and Japanese theatrical posters plus six postcards. There are three postcards with the Japanese theatrical artwork title "King Kong 2", a French one with the title "King Kong II" and two English theatrical poster art variations. This is exclusively available from Umbrella Entertainment directly.


King Kong Lives" has so many things working against it - a bad script, an inconsistent tone between drama and comedy, questionable human characters, yet it still has some great effects and charm from the two Kong characters for a feature that is never boring. The Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray features a great transfer plus a great selection of extras for fans of the film or with newcomers.

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


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