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Peter T Chattaway

King Kong (1976)

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Link to our thread on the 2005 version, which probably includes some posts on the 1933 version.

Has anybody here seen the 1976 version, starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange? In some ways I find it more interesting than Peter Jackson's version.

For one thing, it's a bit over 2 hours, instead of being a bit over 3 hours.

For another, it re-sets the story in what was then "the present day", i.e. the 1970s, and so it incorporates a time capsule's worth of attitudes and social issues that make the film different from the original movie in some interesting ways -- whereas Peter Jackson set his film in the 1930s, and so its ability to reflect its own time is somewhat limited. (E.g., you can point to all sorts of ways that the 2005 film reflects AESTHETIC changes since 1933, but is there any point at which you could say that the 2005 film addresses the SOCIAL issues of the early 21st century?)

For another, the impresario character from the 1933 and 2005 versions (played by Jack Black in 2005) has been turned into a greedy capitalist (played by Charles Grodin) who goes to the island looking for nothing but oil, and who tries to capitalize on the monkey only after it turns out the island's oil deposits are no good. (When he puts the monkey on display, he hides the monkey behind a doozy of a product placement.) The film pretty clearly treats Grodin as a bad guy -- the Jeff Bridges character is always there to tell us how morally rotten he is -- so as you watch the film, you assume it WON'T end with Grodin reciting that "it was beauty that killed the beast" line that ended the other two versions. Grodin's character simply doesn't have the kind of authority or curiosity or humanity or whatever that would allow him to say that. So ... how DOES the movie end?

Well, I'm not telling. Not yet. But the ending that IS there is strikingly ambivalent, for a big-budget blockbuster. Perhaps it wasn't so unusual for the 1970s. But then, the fact that it reflects its own time is part of what I like about it.

Man oh man, though, is the dialogue goofy. "Who the hell do you think went through there?" asks Bridges when the monkey first appears. "Some guy in an ape suit?" Um, well, YEAH. I mean, that's what we SAW. :)

Oh, and I had a wonderful "aha!" moment when I realized that the oil expert on Grodin's team is played by Rene Auberjonois, YEARS before he developed the wrinkles and gruff voice that I associate with, e.g., the characters he played in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999).

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Has anybody here seen the 1976 version, starring Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin and Jessica Lange?

Given your age (close to mine, IIRC), it seems more appropriate to ask: Has anyone here NOT seen the 1976 version? I mean, I was a kid, born in 1970, but I saw the film many times, possibly in theatrical re-release, and then again on TV, multiple times. I had a "King Kong" lunchbox for most of elementary school, with an image of the 1976 Kong atop the World Trade Center, fighting off the planes.

It's a terrible film in many ways, but it took me years to realize that. Still, it's an interesting timepiece, as your post indicates. Believe it or not, I do think the 1976 version is superior as an entertainment than Peter Jackson's absurdly overwrought treatment of the story, but I acknowledge nostalgia as a looming factor in that evaluation.

Edited by Christian

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I saw this as a kid, but only remember the giant snake and the attack helicopters. Very bloody end to Kong.

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I saw Kong in the theater when i was seven. My first girlfriend was Jessica Lange, so the film obviously has an important place in my heart. I remember carrying a newspaper clipping of her in my notebook for the remainder of the school year.

I saw it again recently on tv and it floored me just how wretched the acting was, especially Lange's. Who would've ever thought this same lady would go on to be such a respected actress? That role would've been a career-ender for virtually anyone else. I love when she gives Kong a slap and calls him a "chauvinist pig".

Rick Baker's effects also have not aged well. Although the Kong mask mechanics allowed some range of emotion, that pair of goofy human eyes peering out through black face paint still make it seem like nothing more than a b-movie ape suit. Even worse is the "event" scene when he's breaking out of the cage and they opted to use a laughably phony, large scale animatronic Kong for a few shots.

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I also consider Guillermin's remake superior to the Jackson one, not just visually but also as storytelling. It moves quickly and ends satisfyingly, and Richard Kline's widescreen cinematography (Oscar-nominated, it's worth mentioning) is clean and spacious. I seem to recall his visualization of the fog bank being especially vivid and mysterious.

I wasn't around for the theatrical release but I caught it on DVD in preparation for the 2005 version. For me, the two remakes mark a progressive decline in entertainment value while the original still holds its own. Apparently, there are some things money can't buy.

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coltrane wrote:

: That role would've been a career-ender for virtually anyone else.

Ah, but this movie was "introducing" Jessica Lange, so it was actually a career-STARTER! :)

: I love when she gives Kong a slap and calls him a "chauvinist pig".

The quote I wrote down was "You goddam chauvinist pig ape!" Yeah, that's another fun line.

: Rick Baker's effects also have not aged well. Although the Kong mask

: mechanics allowed some range of emotion, that pair of goofy human eyes

: peering out through black face paint still make it seem like nothing more

: than a b-movie ape suit. Even worse is the "event" scene when he's

: breaking out of the cage and they opted to use a laughably phony, large

: scale animatronic Kong for a few shots.

I was actually impressed by some of the articulation they got out of that giant puppet hand. But yeah, the man-in-the-ape-suit thing just doesn't work. The stop-motion puppets of the 1933 film and the CGI performance capture of the 2005 film both allow for a sense of "otherness", a sense of "Wow, I don't think I've ever seen THIS before..." But the man-in-an-ape-suit approach of the 1976 film is clearly just, well, a man in an ape suit. I mean, they COULD have put a man in an ape suit for the 1933 film, but they didn't, and wisely so. OTOH, special effects of that sort are easier to pull off in black-and-white films, where there's a level of abstraction anyway, and might have been trickier in 1976, when they had the colour widescreen cinematography and everything else to worry about.

Nathaniel wrote:

: Richard Kline's widescreen cinematography (Oscar-nominated, it's worth

: mentioning) is clean and spacious. I seem to recall his visualization of

: the fog bank being especially vivid and mysterious.

Yes! And I enjoyed some of the shots of that huge boat -- you could really tell the actors were on an actual boat and getting the benefit of being at sea on such a large ship. I wanted to BE there. Whereas Jackson's film, I suspect, was all done on digitally-extended sets.

FWIW, a couple other thoughts that occurred to me since that first post:

First, it is interesting to see how the "love interest" is progressively less "mascluine" -- progressively emasculated, you might say -- over the course of the three films. In 1933, he's a crewman, a typical tough guy of that era, etc. In 1976, he's an associate professor of primatology, but still fairly robust, and hey, he's played by Jeff Bridges. In 2005, he's... a writer... played by Adrien Brody.

Second, it is interesting to see how the woman is... Well, I'm not sure the changes all point in a single trajectory.

In the first film, if memory serves, she's just a pretty girl plucked from a soup line by a movie producer looking for someone he can take overseas to shoot his nature film.

In the second film, she's been taken overseas by a movie producer who evidently had even lower ambitions for her: he and his partners were watching Deep Throat on their yacht when it exploded, and she was thrown clear of the boat because she had gone up to the deck to get away from the film; and as often happens, the film gives us a couple of brief nude shots while also implicitly criticizing the way that women like her are exploited by the capitalist media; but I'm not sure what I could say about the character HERSELF.

And then, in the third film, she's an actual entertainer BEFORE she is taken overseas, and she even goes so far as to entertain the monkey that has abducted her; in fact, the third film might "exploit" its leading lady the least, but I remember so little of Jackson's film that I can't recall if it had anything comparable to the monkey-peeling-off-the-woman's-clothes scenes in the 1933 and 1976 films.

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The tree log scene was badly done in the 1970's version--no suspense, not fast or tense enough. And the giant snake was just dumb looking.

Jessica Lange was very good and did what she could with bad material.

The script wanted to emphasize the sexual attraction by Kong toward her, which is ridiculous. And so I appreciated Jackson's version which went for a Diane Fossey take on the relationship between Kong and Ann.

If anything, the set-up of Act 1 was pretty good in the 1970's version--the whole oil exploration thing.

Edited by Plot Device

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Hey, Plot Device, where ya been!

: The script wanted to emphasize the sexual attraction by Kong toward her, which is ridiculous.

Well, the romantic John Barry music (he's the guy that did Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, Somewhere in Time and most of the James Bond movies up to 1987's The Living Daylights) was certainly laid on a little thick in some of the monkey scenes. But... the sexual element was definitely there in the original 1933 film, at least in the uncensored version; e.g. both the 1933 and 1976 films feature scenes in which Kong peels some of the clothes off of the leading lady.

I'm sure someone, somewhere, has asked what significance it has that these films depict a giant black male from the jungle becoming so smitten with a fair blonde woman. I'd be interested in reading some of the discussions around that question, though I haven't bothered looking for them yet. Then again, it occurs to me that perhaps Kong "falls in love", as it were, with ALL of his brides, and the only reason he seems so particularly smitten with THIS one is because, well, human men actually came into Kong's world and RESCUED her and took her away -- and so he had to pursue her/them, and so his attraction to her SEEMS greater than his presumed attraction to all his other "brides".

I love how Jeff Bridges says the oil explorers have taken "the mystery and the magic" (quoting from memory) out of the lives of the inhabitants of that island, and how they're all going to become "drunks" now. (Um, is it guaranteed that they would have access to booze on that island?) Me, I wonder who's going to protect all those villagers from the GIANT SNAKES, now. Removing the island's one Giant Ape is bound to wreak havoc with the delicate balance of the island's ecosystem. (Then again, where does that one Giant Ape come from? Does he have parents? Is there a Giant Ape population on that island? Or is Kong perhaps some ultra-long-lived refugee from another island now lost to us...?)

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: The script wanted to emphasize the sexual attraction by Kong toward her, which is ridiculous.

Well, the romantic John Barry music (he's the guy that did Out of Africa, Dances with Wolves, Somewhere in Time and most of the James Bond movies up to 1987's The Living Daylights) was certainly laid on a little thick in some of the monkey scenes. But... the sexual element was definitely there in the original 1933 film, at least in the uncensored version; e.g. both the 1933 and 1976 films feature scenes in which Kong peels some of the clothes off of the leading lady.

I'm sure someone, somewhere, has asked what significance it has that these films depict a giant black male from the jungle becoming so smitten with a fair blonde woman. I'd be interested in reading some of the discussions around that question, though I haven't bothered looking for them yet.

I'd have to look some up for you to get the references, but I've read a number of articles that use King Kong as a classic example of racial paranoia, depicting the black male as mysterious, powerful and virile. Kong is all of these, and he not only threatens the white men and steals their women, he has an allure so strong that the woman may even be attracted to him. In the end, he must be destoryed to demonstrate the superiority of western(ie. white) civilization, as represtened by technology(planes, helecopters) over the primitive(ie. black) interloper. Kong could also be seen as an example of the "noble savage," but that's for another day. The one I remember most clearly, although I have no idea the author, used Kong as a passing reference to focus on another film that was much more subtle. I got the impression that Kong was too overt to make for a compelling academic disection.

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