Skip to main content

Who the hell do you think went through there, some guy in an ape suit?


King Kong
(1976)

Which is the best version of King Kong?  Even though the 1933 original is one of those universally acclaimed classics that leaves me a little cold, it would unquestionably be my pick. Mostly because it conjures a sense of the mythic that both this and Peter Jackson’s bloated CGI spectacular singularly fail at. That Dino De Laurentis was the producer of the 1976 remake should come as little surprise to anyone familiar with his publicity first, quality a distant second, approach.

But John Guillermin’s film isn’t all bad. Guillermin is very far from being an auteur; a safe pair of hands blessed with minimal panache. But De Laurentis seemed to like it that way. To be fair, he was possibly just blind to the differences in skillset; that Polanski and Pecinpah were offered the chance to direct but also Michael Winner says it all. All directors are equal, but some directors are cheaper than others. Guillermin was fresh off The Towering Inferno so there was no doubt he could handle the scale and the effects-heavy nature of the picture (reportedly it was people he had problems with, De Laurentis threatening to fine him unless he treated the cast and crew better).

Ah yes, the effects. Much of the publicity for the film concerned the 40-foot robot Kong built by Carlo Ramabaldi (E.T.); ironically it ended up on screen for less than a minute. Most of what we see is Rick Baker in a gorilla suit (to be fair to Rambaldi, he also supervised the construction of the giant hands and the mechanics involved in making the various Kong masks work). Anyone can see that De Laurentis at least got his money’s worth from the giant hands, which feature prominently throughout.  But, given all the expense involved, it’s ironic that the effects in the finished film are mostly on a par (or inferior to) your average Japanese Godzilla movie. At one point Kong battles a giant snake, which he shreds into a bloody pulp. It looks for all the world like a guy in a hairy suit bursting an inflatable sausage.

While composer John Barry does his best to give an emotional underpinning to Kong and his “relationship” with Dwan, the problem is that a giant ape just isn’t really very interesting. For all the faults of the 2005 version, Jackson at least understood that the most exciting thing about the original, for most kids, was the dinosaurs Kong battles on Skull Island. The first 45 minutes, before Kong arrives, are actually quite enjoyable. But once he shows up any momentum evaporates. Dwan frolics in a lake while Barry’s score blossoms romantically. He blows her dry, eliciting orgasmic gasps from his tiny amour. You can see the serious intent, but a guy in a gorilla suit tickling Lange’s fancy can only elicit mirth. Effects-wise, things don’t get any better once the location shifts to New York. We’re asked to believe that the enterprising Charles Grodin managed to stick a giant crown on Kong’s head and keep it there. And we don’t even get to see the big gorilla topple from the World Trade Center. The ape suit is memorably splattered with ketchup in the big screen’s bloodiest end for the beast.

The best aspect is the one overshadowed by its titular star attraction; the supporting cast. The interaction between Charles Grodin’s boorish oil magnate and Jeff Bridges’ hirsute paleontologist is highly enjoyable, and they’re much more fun to watch than their counterparts in the other versions. You can see that Grodin’s performance is wholly informed by his moustache. I’ve read some criticisms of him here, but I’d argue he’s suitably over-the-top and provides some much needed humour. Bridges has the proto-Dude thing going for him nicely; it’s amusing that in his first leading man role in a really big movie he’s gone for the “dishevelled tramp” look. He also get's the film's best line, acknowledging the limitations of the special effects. 

As for Jessica Lange, it isn’t hard to understand why Kong had an enormous gorilla boner for her. This was her first movie role and she must have taken its critical mauling to heart as it was another three years before she featured in another (All That Jazz). Given how at variance with her later career Dwan is, you can understand if she needed a rethink before taking other parts. Lange by no means gives a poor performance, but she’s playing such a complete bimbo you’re given pause too consider whether her character is intended to be a comedy imbecile. She’s more akin to one of those self-consciously dim-watt Monroe roles from the ‘50s.  When Bridges’ character testifies that he loves Dwan, you know it can’t for her brains.

This version of Kong is widely derided today, but it was a reasonably big hit for Paramount. Unbelievably, it also garnered an Oscar for Best Special Effects. In that respect, it marks the end of an era; the next recipient was Star Wars. While Kong innovates in some respects, there’s a gulf in the approach to filmmaking between the two spectacles; the old school versus the wunderkinds. A further irony is that one Steven Spielberg was apparently considered as a director. Whether he turned it down or he was never made an offer, it’s fortunate for that it passed him by. If he’d embarked on this special effects disaster following the problems that beset Jaws he might have retired from filmmaking all together.

**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.