Reconsidering King Kong (1976)
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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