Black Gold

Sleazy oil business lackey Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) tries convincing Dwan (Jessica Lange) that King Kong tried to rape her as Kong held her captive. That’s bizarre. More so is Jeff Bridges’ retort to Dwan a minute later. “Maybe Kong had the right idea.”

King Kong 1976 is less a movie about a sizable ape than it is a grim, lurid sexual escapade that traps Lange. It’s a story determined to lock women into a helpless stance as men both lust after and save her, a situation worse than Fay Wray’s screaming damsel in the original. Kong himself spends much of the movie creepily gawking at his prize, almost to a point of camp, but that’s what King Kong aims for at times. But then there’s John Barry’s magnificent score that plays this material straight, and the impassioned pleas from Bridge’s progressive hippie archetype that seem totally earnest.

… it’s obvious how King Kong took the beauty and beast angle to an asinine extreme

It’s a movie of the oil crisis period, and with it, the environmentalist movement. When not manipulating Dwan, Grodin’s Fred Wilson is a delightful satire of corporate yes men, slavishly following the draw toward a new oil score that will send company stock prices soaring.

In that sense, King Kong adds contemporary flair to the depression-era original, mocking the absurdity of marketing’s reach through Wilson. That’s best personified in New York as Wilson preps a growing audience for Kong’s appearance, but the doors open to a gargantuan Petrox-branded gas pump, to which Wilson rants about, “the power.” It’s hilarious. Then before Kong breaks free, Wilson notes the cage was certified as escape proof by the New York government. King Kong takes every pot shot it can, private and public sector alike.

For those wins though, it’s obvious how King Kong took the beauty and beast angle to an asinine extreme. Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong did too, but there, Naomi Watts’ gawking eyes came from a place of empathy and absurd authenticity. In 1976, Lange looked on after two hours of sexual badgering by the men in her life. Plus, she’s a dismal blonde stereotype, hooked on horoscopes and easily schemed by shrewd show biz promoters. Everything is done to make her “easy,” easy on the eyes as much as easy to lay.

For its closing chapter, King Kong escalates its action. Not only is the setting switched to the (then new) World Trade Center, but then amplified by a grotesquely cruel blood show, evocative of exploitation cinema. That’s meant to draw empathy for Bridges’ character Jack who shouted with excitement as Kong killed people earlier in the fight, and to ingrain the idea of Wilson’s villainy who, as Jack says, is an “environmental rapist.” That’s evident with or without the gore, but the explicitness only makes it worse.

King Kong (1976) Blu-ray screen shot

Video

Scream’s two-disc set includes the theatrical and TV cuts on separate discs. For the theatrical cut, it appears Scream licenses a master put out by Studio Canal on import HD DVD and Blu-ray (judging entirely by eye). On the dated side, a slight sharpening elevates the grain structure and forces the encode to work overtime. That leads to mixed results, some artifacting prominent in darker areas; hazier shots of Lange double up the issue.

Damage is slight at the worst, the print preserved well, even the opticals. Faded vertical scratches show the worst of it. Moderate sharpness manages to nail some fine detail, albeit inconsistently. Undoubtedly though, this is miles above Paramount’s own DVD. Textural touches on skin or the Kong suit do look pronounced.

Rudimentary color shows a little age, but thankfully untouched by modern grading. Dull flesh tones and primaries lack density. Better is contrast, sparkling under the island sun, and lapping up the reflecting waves. Black levels only fall due to source overexposure, and do achieve purity.

As for the extended TV cut, “new” scenes look sensational, even better than the rest (the remastered deleted scenes are spliced in to the older master). Grain is sharper and more natural. A slight bump in detail shows, as does a refined color grading.

Audio

Stereo and 5.1 options, both in DTS-HD, and either is a satisfying choice. Preference leans toward the surround mix, not for any grand action, rather John Barry’s score that sounds wonderful when amplified by the additional channels. It’s so full and rich and wide, his work sounds totally new. Small touches like Kong’s roar fill the soundstage.

Limited low-end extension preserves the aged material as-is, producing a small jolt on occasion, but generally supporting the music more than anything. Kong’s steps do produce a minor thud though. Overall fidelity impresses given the age, slight scratchiness to the dialog acceptable.

Extras

Oddly not listed on the case, the theatrical disc contains two commentaries, one by Ray Morton, the other by Rick Baker (the latter more of a spaced out chat). On Top of the World is the first featurette with two of the crew discussing the production over 11-minutes. Two of the messenger team call in over Zoom for a 14-minute chat. For 5:36, sculptor Steve Varner talks about his part. Photographer Barry Nolan chimes in for a matching 5:36. Jack O’Halloran speaks on his small role for nearly six minutes. Then, for six and a half minutes, second unit director Bill Kronik adds his thoughts. Trailers and galleries galore follow.

On the second disc, there’s an hour long panel discussion from 2016, in addition to the three hour-plus TV version.

King Kong (1976)
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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Movie

Easily one of the oddest straight adaptations of King Kong, the 1976 version focuses on a goofy sexuality that’s neither successful or comfortable when trying to settle on tone.

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User Review
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