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King Kong Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review

Written by ZigZag

Blu-ray released by Scream Factory

King Kong Collectors Edition Large

Directed by John Guillermin
Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (based on screenplay by James Creelman and Ruth Rose)
1976, 134 minutes, Rated PG
Released on May 11th, 2021

Starring:
Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott
Jessica Lange as Dwan
Charles Grodin as Fred Wilson
John Randolph as Captain Ross
Rene Auberjonois as Bagley
Ed Lauter as Carnahan
Jack O’Halloran as Joe Perko

King Kong Collectors Edition 01 King Kong Collectors Edition 02

Review:

It is 1976 and there is a global oil crisis. Petrox Oil has sent one of its executives, Fred Wilson, to Indonesia in search of new sources of raw crude. Fred has researched a remote island and believes this site holds enough oil that he can save the company from this troubled time. As the research vessel prepares to ship out, a primate paleontologist named Jack Prescott slips aboard and has his own interest in the island. Jack tells the crew the island is reportedly the home of a legendary giant ape. Fred believes Jack is a spy from a rival oil company and orders him locked in a cabin until they can confirm his identity. Jack spots a raft in the ocean and they pull it in only to find a beautiful woman named Dwan (yes, Dwan), the sole survivor of a boat accident. Once his story checks out, Fred offers Jack a job as expedition photographer. Dwan wants to be a famous actress and is always eager to get in front of a camera so she and Jack hit it off immediately.

They arrive at the island and Fred leads a small landing party, including a selection of crew joined by Jack and Dwan to assess the situation. They find the island inhabited and its people secure behind a towering wall. Slipping in for a closer look, they see the islanders holding a ceremony involving a woman as some sort of offering. Fred and his team are spotted and the islanders take a keen interest in Dwan, offering six of their own women in trade. The crew makes a hasty retreat to their ship. Later that night, Dwan is abducted and taken back to the island and placed at the center of the ceremony. It is here we meet the legendary Kong, a forty-foot ape worshiped as a god. Kong is immediately smitten by Dwan’s beauty and instead of eating her, he takes her away with him. While Jack’s instinct is to organize a rescue, Fred plans to capture Kong and bring him back to New York as a company mascot – what could go wrong?

The 1933 King Kong is a classic monster movie filled with action, chills and mind-blowing special effects. Stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien thrilled audiences with his talents as he brought Kong and the other monsters of Skull Island to terrifying life. The film was an instant success and over the next four decades became a beloved work that has inspired generations of filmmakers. In 1976, legendary producer Dino De Laurentiis (Manhunter, Firestarter), determined to create the biggest motion picture ever, decided to remake the Kong story for contemporary audiences. He wisely anticipated backlash from the original film’s legion of fans and instructed screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. (Flash Gordon) to use the original script (written by James Creelman and Ruth Rose) as a template, keeping the premise and standout moments, but put a fresh spin on the material by playing up the love triangle between Jack, Dwan and Kong.

King Kong (1976) somehow manages to be both romantic and incredibly cynical with greed and a desire for fame playing a large part of the character motivations. Kong is no longer a simple monster, but rather a protector and defender of the woman who has captured his heart. Dwan is understandably terrified but becomes emotionally attached to her captor and in the end does her best to protect him. Kong is a sympathetic beast taken from his habitat, put into chains and placed on exhibit in a faraway land. Jack’s goal is to protect the environment from corporations like Petrox, but he is easily swayed into joining them on the island as a photographer. He is the most conflicted character, struggling to hold on to his morals in the face of opportunity. Fred knows no shame and will do anything to advance his status no matter the cost. He doesn’t think twice about enslaving Kong or the effects his absence will have on the inhabitants of the island.

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Director John Guillermin (The Towering Inferno) does a serviceable job delivering a thrilling adventure with a lot of heart. Some of the key set pieces from the original film play a little stronger than in the remake, particularly the sequences on the island where Kong battles a giant snake or when he attacks the rescue party as they are crossing a bridge. That being said, this version’s ceremony scene is rather impressive and the waterfall scene is the best. Some may be disappointed that Semple’s script replaces the iconic Empire State Building climb with the ultra-modern towers of the World Trade Center, but the switch keeps in tone with the rest of the updates and feels right for the era.

The biggest difference with the remake is the decision not to use stop-motion animation for Kong, but instead go with the classic man-in-a-suit approach. Fortunately, the performer/designer is make-up artist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London) and his work is largely convincing – with limitations. This project came at the beginning of Baker’s career before he established himself, and his efforts were sidelined by De Laurentiis, who insisted on bringing in fellow artist Carlo Rambaldi (Silver Bullet) to make creative decisions. Rambaldi insisted he could make a forty-foot-tall robot Kong to do all the action but failed to deliver, with the clunky contraption appearing in only a handful of quick shots at the end. Baker deserves all the credit for bringing Kong to life and making him the star of the film.

The human cast is led by a shaggy Jeff Bridges (The Vanishing) as Jack Prescott, the eco-friendly paleontologist. He is driven by a good cause and while briefly seduced by corporate greed, manages to retain his decency. He doesn’t see Kong as a monster but knows better than to antagonize him. This film marks the debut of Jessica Lange (American Horror Story), who plays Dwan, a ditzy beauty aching to be famous. She excels in the part while making her character likeable and sympathetic. Her scenes with Bridges are playful and the two work well together, but her time with Kong is the real highlight. Charles Grodin (Seems Like Old Times) co-stars as Fred Wilson, the corporate asshole responsible for causing countless deaths and destruction with his hare-brained idea of putting Kong on display. He’s not evil, just an opportunistic antagonist looking out for his own interests.

This King Kong lacks the original’s sense of wonder but manages to hold its own as a crowd-pleaser. The scenes in New York are the most thrilling, even though these are the moments where Kong is obviously a man in an ape suit wrecking miniatures. Guillermin succeeds in making Kong sympathetic and sad and by the end of the picture audiences will likely be rooting for him. Promoted as the biggest, most original movie ever, and using the giant robot Kong for endless publicity during shooting, De Laurentiis’ film was a moderate success and won an Oscar for its special effects. Never one to pass an opportunity to make a buck, De Laurentiis went on to make the ill-advised sequel King Kong Lives! (1986) with Guillermin returning to direct. The less said about that turkey the better.

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Video and Audio:

Presented in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio from a dated but solid HD transfer, picture quality is generally strong albeit a bit grainy. Colors are bright and well-saturated and black levels are deep. Kong looks pretty great with plenty of detail in his fur and he is never lost inside a dark background.

A robust DTS-HD MA 5.1surround mix gives speakers a workout and a newly available DTS-HD MA 2.0 original theatrical stereo mix is also included. Dialogue is always clean, crisp and understandable and music and effects cues are well-balanced and never intrusive. John Barry’s lush score has never sounded better.

Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.

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Special Features:

Scream Factory pulls out all the stops for this 2-disc 45th Anniversary Collector’s Edition, including two audio commentaries, half a dozen new interviews, a reunion panel discussion and best yet, the three hour TV cut of the film in glorious widescreen!

Disc 1: Theatrical Cut

Author Ray Morton (King Kong – The History of a Movie Icon) provides a thoughtful and interesting audio commentary tracing the history of Kong. He covers most of the cinematic adventures with an understandable emphasis on this version. Morton provides a lot of behind-the-scenes trivia and context of the production and its legacy.

The highlight of the supplements on this disc is the audio interview from make-up artist/ Kong performer Rick Baker. An excellent storyteller, Baker happily shares his side of the story regarding the challenges of the shoot and having his efforts frequently undermined. He is grateful for the opportunity but wishes the experience had run more smoothly. This is not a scene-specific commentary but actually an extended interview, broken up to span the full run time of the feature. The pauses grow tiresome, but the stories are so good you won’t mind.

In the featurette On Top of the World (12 minutes), production manager Brian Frankish and assistant director David McGiffert share their memories of the ambitious production starting with scouting Hawaii for locations. Other topics include the various techniques used to bring Kong to life, filming crowd scenes and a story about the director.

When the Monkey Dies, Everybody Cries (14 minutes) is a fun interview with production messengers Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler, who recount their daily duties on the set and what a great learning experience it was. They talk about the round-the-clock demands of working for De Laurentiis. Other topics include the malfunctioning giant robot Kong and a lively trip to Italy to promote the film at a fair.

Sculptor Steve Varner discusses his contributions to building the giant Kong and the oversized hand used to carry Jessica Lange around in the segment Maybe in Their Wildest Dreams (6 minutes). He also talks about his time working with designer Carlo Rambaldi.

In Something’s Haywire (6 minutes), actor Jack O’Halloran looks back fondly on the shoot and his relationship with co-stars Bridges and Lange. He talks about working with the director and shooting the log scene.

In the segment From Space to Apes (6 minutes), photographic effects assistant Barry Nolan talks about his time working in the aerospace industry and making the transition to Hollywood. He explains the blue screen process in the days before motion-controlled cameras. He wasn’t the biggest fan of the director but did return for the sequel.

Second unit director Bill Kronick was initially brought on board for filming screen tests and is credited with discovering Jessica Lange. In There’s a Fog Bank Out There (7 minutes), he shares this story and several more production tales about the challenges of the giant Kong robot and shooting on location in Hawaii and New York.

There are four photo galleries; the first is dedicated to production stills (7 minutes), the second showcases a collection of lobby cards, promotional items, press book pages and international poster art (9 minutes). The third gallery presents a series of behind-the-scenes images and publicity shots (7 minutes) and the final gallery shows off newspaper ads for the film’s theatrical and television releases.

Two theatrical trailers are included along with seven TV spots and three radio ads.

There is a really fun Easter egg included on this disc that you won’t want to miss!

 King Kong Collectors Edition 09 King Kong Collectors Edition 10

Disc 2: Television Cut

The extended version of the film (182 minutes) that aired over two nights on NBC appears in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, featuring roughly 45-minutes of additional footage not seen in theatres. In addition to the expected character beats and dialogue exchanges, we get some more exciting Kong mayhem in New York. The new footage received a 2K scan and restoration of the internegative for this presentation. There is a note at the beginning explaining some audio issues that were not obvious when aired on television in 1.33:1 full frame that are apparent in widescreen.

A King Kong panel discussion at the Aero Theatre (2016, 69 minutes) celebrating the film’s 40th Anniversary finds artist Rick Baker joined by cinematographer Richard H. Kline, actor Jack O’Halloran, Martha De Laurentiis (Dino’s widow), John Barry’s assistant Richard Kraft and author Ray Morton. Baker dominates the discussion but allows the others plenty of time to contribute. The floor is then opened to questions from the audience – most of them for Baker.

There is a second Easter egg on this disc that is also worth a look.

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Grades:

Movie: Threeandahalfstars Cover
Buy Amazon Us
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Buy Amazon Uk
Video: Fourstars
Audio: Fourstars
Features: Fourandahalfstars
Overall: 4 Star Rating

About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Reviewer - USA
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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