Son of Reviews Strikes Back
John R. Christopher from Science Fiction Illustrated Magazine: 1977
"King Kong: The Ninth Wonder of the World"
|A dimly-lit street in the Queen's section of
New York City. Shadows criss-cross the avenues, sporatically.
Terror-stricken citizens abandon their homes and vehicles, racing for their
lives. Upon this street, Jack and Dwan search for safety. Behind
them, a black cloud pursues. THE BIG ONE, encompassing all which
lies before it. A black cloud called KING KONG.
"Every picture I have worked on," observes producer Dino De Laurentiis, "has had certain problems, like WAR AND PEACE and THE BIBLE. But Kong has been a special situation. Our pictures must have quality for it to be a success...be a better picture than the original."
Happily it must be noted, the new KING KONG is a success. The 1976 re-make is equal in every way -- and in many ways, superior -- to its noble predecessor.
Director John Guillermin is no novice at this kind of large scale drama. In films ranging as far afield as TOWERING INFERNO and TARZAN'S GREATEST ADVENTURE, he has displayed an ability to inject subtlety and character within a spectacular format.
A fine cast has been assembled, even to the smallest parts. Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin head off the players, with Jessica Lange making an impressive debut as the Beauty which lures the Beast. Then, of course, there is Kong...from man-size to forty feet of mechanical marvel.
"Everyone knows the monkey is the star of this picture," comments cinematographer Richard Kline, "and you have to trust him just like the other actors, even though you know he's just a mechanical creature. For the story of Kong is told through his eyes and mouth. His true emotions are in his facial expressions."
"His eyes!" exclaims Guillermin when pressed for the secret of Kong's ability to move the audience. "Those f----- eyes!"
As Dwan, of course, Jessica got to know Kong the best. Especially in a playful moment when he disrobes her.
"It was no longer an abstract mechanical, a hand coming at me. I had to respond to him as a lover."
Confesses De Laurentiis, with a smile, "It won't be a straight 'G'. There is a relationship between beauty and the beast." A relationship etched more sensitively and deeply than ever before. The triangle of Jack, Dwan and Kong, in the hands of Guillermin and crew, becomes a thing of exquisite beauty and amazing intricacy.
For this reason, this new Kong is not afraid to take its competitors head-on. Little references are made, here and there, almost a snicker at its skeptics.
When lifted into the air for the first time, Dwan is haunted by childhood memories. "No, I can't stand heights!" she screams. "Once when I was a child, my parents took me to the top of the Empire State Building and I got sick!"
In a later scene, the captain of the expedition pulls oil company executive Grodin aside. "Y'know, I just thought of something," remarks the Captain regarding the still unseen Kong. "Wouldn't this make a great commerical?"
The film does have its tongue-in-cheek moments, but the story is played straight and Kong is never buffooned. If anything, he becomes a more realistic, sympathetic figure.
True, as the cynics have made an effort to point out, Kong is a monkey suit. But what a monkey suit! Built to scale in Kong's image it towers 40 feet in height and weighs more than six and a half tons. [sic] Thousands of feet of cables and wiring within this shell connect Kong to a control panel, where six men are required to direct his actions for this film.
Unlike the 1933 version, the film is not laced with rock-em, sock-em battles between monsters, designed to dazzle the audience. The new Kong actually takes its viewers on a journey into the world of fantasy...a fantasy as real as the person seated beside you. The wizards manning these effects have channelled their efforts to the creation of life, rather than a mere fairy tale.
Throughout the two-hours-plus length of the story, the audience will find themselves forgetting KING KONG is only a movie. The film is so consistently effective, it is difficult to single out just a few memorable sequences.
One such scene has Kong bathing Dwan. After showering her beneath a waterfall, Kong dries the girl off with puffs of his warm breath. Her eyes closed, Dwan sways exotically, contentedly, to the buffeting breeze.
Outwardly, the scene is amusing in its simplicity. Under the surface, however, it is a complex situation. Within her mind is a hot-bed of emotion, reacting to a dream lover who cannot survive reality. It is the first time Dwan regards Kong as anything more than a beast.
Equally effective are the New York sequences, topped off by a new version of the classic climax. Jack and Dwan's parts have been embellished to give the audience a wider range of identification. In the original, Fay Wray was the threatened and Bruce Cabot the savior. Bridges and Lange, on the other hand, have found their futures inextricably bound with Kong's. They are thrown into dire conflict at his potential demise.
Kong is a stronger character as well. We can actually feel his thoughts, see the self-sacrifice in those eyes. Truly, it is not the death of a king, but that of a genuine character, which climaxes the film.
More memorable still, is the aftermath. Describing the scene would diminish its overwhelming impact. Suffice it to say, the producers have come up with one final twist which is perhaps the most beautifully moving moment in any film this past year.
"Violence is around us," concludes De Laurentiis, "and the motion picture industry is in the middle of our society. If I am to make a picture about the world we live in, then I must show this violence. Yet, there are too many films which are just about sex and violence."
Kong's world, on the other hand, is beyond the one in which we live.
"That's why I believe KING KONG will be unique for today's audiences. A straight, romantic adventure...a 'movie for all seasons'."