Reconsidering King Kong (1976)

Dino De Laurentiis promised a lot of things when he remade the classic King Kong in 1976 and the backlash poisoned the critical reception. But almost 40 years later, it's not as bad as everyone thought. Not close to the original, better than the Peter Jackson fiasco, it holds up pretty well.

In the midst of the unprecedented media frenzy leading up to the release of the 1976 remake of King Kong, producer Dino De Laurentiis (who was always more closely associated with the film than director John Guillermin) made several outrageous promises. He promised that unlike the original, Kong’s death in his version would make audiences cry. He promised he would be introducing a huge new star in the form of Jessica Lange. But most importantly—and garnering the most publicity—was his claim that instead of a stop-motion animated 18-inch doll (as was the case in 1933), Kong would be played by a 40-foot-tall robot gorilla designed by special effects whiz Carlo Rambaldi. Production stills of the robot were leaked to the press, and anticipation grew high.

Unfortunately, Rambaldi’s giant robot didn’t work very well. For close ups in which Kong had to pick up Jessica Lange, a separate enormous hydraulic arm was used, and for the rest of the film, the giant ape was portrayed by makeup artist Rick Baker in a gorilla suit (albeit a really good one) crunching through miniature sets and projected on a green screen. In the end the overhyped, and almost completely immobile, robot only appeared onscreen for a few seconds during the Shea Stadium sequence in which Kong escapes. Even those few brief moments left audiences laughing. It looked pretty bad. So much so that those scenes were cut from the home video release.

That wasn’t the only thing audiences laughed at, though. There was the overhyped Jessica Lange as well. Long before she would go on to gain our respect and win an Oscar, the model-turned-actress playing Dwan, the would-be model-turned-actress who enflames a giant gorilla’s oversized libido, was about as stiff and emotionless as that robot. The script, in which she was expected to shout lines like “Put me down you goddamn chauvinist pig ape!” didn’t help matters either.

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  1. Are you out of your (Vulcan) mind? You state "it's better than the Peter Jackson fiasco", and then proceed to tear it down in the last paragraph and a half! Better than Jackson's? Really? I think Jackson's is awesome; a bit long in parts perhaps, but pretty true to it's source and inspiration, and damn fun when it is. The De Laurentiis version, which I was stoked for as a boy, has NOTHING on Jackson's or the original. Mind you I still like it, but c'mon, let's get real here! Not a dinosaur to be found, and then the WTC as the finale. I did like Baker's work and I liked Jeff Bridges' character. Of course, as a 11-12 year old boy, Ms. Lange was quite easy on the eyes, in spite of how awful her character was. Now don't tell me, you liked Emmerich's "Godzilla" too right? And "Alien 3" is the best of the Alien movies! Right.

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