King Kong is a 1976 American monster thriller film produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. It is a remake of the 1933 classic film of the same name, about a giant ape that is captured and imported to New York City for exhibition. Featuring special effects by Carlo Rambaldi, it stars Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange in her first film role.
The remake's screenplay was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr., based on the 1933 screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, from the original idea by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace.
The film was the fifth highest grossing film of 1977 according to box office statistics compiled during its release by Variety, although decades later Box Office Mojo published a list indicating it was the 7th highest grossing film of 1977.
Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), an executive of the Petrox Oil Company, forms an expedition based on infrared imagery which reveals a previously undiscovered Indian Ocean island hidden by a permanent cloud bank. Wilson believes the island has a huge deposit of oil. Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges), a primate paleontologist who wants to see the island for himself, stows away on the expedition's vessel. Prescott reveals himself when he warns the crew the cloud bank may be caused by an unknown beast. Wilson orders Prescott locked up, claiming that he is really a spy from a rival oil company. While escorted to lock-up, Prescott spots a life raft which carries the beautiful and unconscious Dwan (Jessica Lange). Wilson conducts a thorough background check on Prescott and realizes he is telling the truth. He appoints Prescott the expedition's official photographer and requests that he be present when Dwan revives because of his medical background. Upon waking, Dwan says she is an aspiring actress who was aboard a director's yacht which suddenly exploded.
Upon arriving at the island, the team discovers a primitive tribe of natives who live within the confines of a gigantic wall, built to protect them from a mysterious god known as Kong. The team finds that while there is a large deposit of oil, it is of such low quality that it is unusable. Later that night, the natives kidnap Dwan, drug her, and offer her as a sacrifice to Kong. A gigantic ape grabs Dwan from the altar and departs back into the jungle.
Although an awesome and terrifying sight, the soft-hearted Kong quickly becomes tamed by Dwan, whose rambling monologue calms and fascinates the monstrous beast. After Dwan falls into mud, Kong takes Dwan back to a waterfall to wash her and dry her with great gusts of his warm breath.
In the meantime, Prescott and First Mate Carnahan (Ed Lauter) lead a rescue mission to save Dwan. The rescue party encounters Kong while crossing a log bridge, and Kong rolls the huge log, sending Carnahan and most of the rest of the sailors falling to their deaths. Prescott and Boan are the only ones to survive. While Boan returns to the village, Prescott continues looking for Dwan. Kong takes Dwan to his lair, where she finally realizes that he is no threat to her. A giant snake appears and attacks them, and while Kong is fighting and killing the snake, Prescott escapes with Dwan. Kong chases them back to the native village. There he falls into a pit trap and is overcome by chloroform.
When Wilson learns the oil cannot be refined, he decides to transport Kong to America as a promotional gimmick for Petrox. When they reach New York City, Kong is put on display, bound in chains with a large crown on his head. When Kong sees a group of reporters pushing and shoving Dwan for interviews, the ape breaks free of his bonds, roaring at the crowd as panic ensues. People are trampled as Kong walks through the crowd, including Wilson, who is completely flattened by the ape's foot.
Prescott and Dwan flee across the Queensboro Bridge to Manhattan while Kong pursues them. They take refuge in an abandoned Manhattan bar. Prescott notices a similarity between the Manhattan skyline (notably the World Trade Center Twin Towers) and the mountainous terrain of Kong's island. He runs downstairs to call the mayor's office and tells them to let Kong climb to the top of the World Trade Center where he can be safely captured. Kong discovers Dwan through the window of the bar and grabs her, then makes his way to the World Trade Center with Jack and the National Guard in pursuit.
In the climax, Kong climbs the South Tower of the World Trade Center. After being attacked by men with flamethrowers while standing on the roof, Kong flees by leaping across to the North Tower. He rips pieces of equipment from the roof and throws them at the men, ultimately killing them when he throws a tank of flammable material. Going against Jack's earlier request for safe capture, military helicopters are sent in to kill Kong. Kong fights them, destroying two, with Dwan pleading for his life the whole time, but the helicopter guns fatally injure him and he falls down to the World Trade Center plaza. Dwan rushes down to comfort him and tearfully watches him take his last breath. An enormous crowd gathers around the ape while Dwan is surrounded by photographers. Jack fights his way through the crowd to get to Dwan but stops short as she is taken away by journalists.
- Jeff Bridges as Jack Prescott
- Charles Grodin as Fred S. Wilson
- Jessica Lange as Dwan
- John Randolph as Captain Ross
- Rene Auberjonois as Roy Bagley
- Ed Lauter as Carnahan
- Julius Harris as Boan
- Jack O'Halloran as Joe Perko
- Dennis Fimple as Sunfish
- Jorge Moreno as Garcia
- Mario Gallo as Timmons
- John Lone as Chinese Cook
- John Agar as City Official
- Sid Conrad as Petrox Chairman
- Keny Long as Ape Masked Man
- Garry Walberg as Army General
- George Whiteman as Army Helicopter Pilot
- Wayne Heffley as Air Force Colonel
- Eve McVeagh (uncredited) as Reporter
- Corbin Bernsen (uncredited) as Reporter
- Joe Piscopo (uncredited) as Bit Part
- Donald F. Glut (uncredited) as Guy in amphitheatre bleachers where Kong escapes
- Peter Cullen, Rick Baker & Will Shepard have uncredited roles of Kong
The script was written by Lorenzo Semple Jr who later recalled:
We made a very deliberate attempt not to be anything like the original movie in tone or mood. Dino wanted it to be light and amusing, rather than portentous. I don't think the original was meant to be mythic.... The original King Kong is extremely crude. I don't mean it's not wonderful. It was remarkable for its time, but it was a very small back-lot picture. We thought times had changed so much that audiences were more sophisticated. Dino felt we could have more fun with it. We hoped to do sensational things with advanced special effects on a big screen.
Semple says Universal wanted to make their own version of the story, The Legend of King Kong, from a script by Bo Goldman, to be directed by Joseph Sargent and star Peter Falk as Carl Denham.
Producer Dino De Laurentiis first approached Roman Polanski to direct the picture.
According to King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon, director John Guillermin, known to have had outbursts from time to time on the set, got into a public shouting match with executive producer Federico De Laurentiis (son of producer Dino De Laurentiis). After the incident, Dino De Laurentiis was reported to have threatened to fire Guillermin if he did not start treating the cast and crew better. Rick Baker, who designed the ape suit along with Carlo Rambaldi, was extremely disappointed in the final suit, which he felt wasn't at all convincing. He gives all the credit for its passable appearance to cinematographer Richard H. Kline. The only time that the collaboration of Rick Baker and Carlo Rambaldi went smoothly was during the design of the mechanical Kong mask. Baker's design and Rambaldi's cable work combined to give Kong's face a wide range of expression that was responsible for much of the film's emotional impact. Baker gave much of the credit for its effectiveness to Rambaldi and his mechanics. To film the scene where the Petrox Explorer finds Dwan in the life raft, Jessica Lange spent hours in a rubber raft in the freezing cold, drenched and wearing only a slinky black dress. Although Lange wasn't aware of it, there were sharks circling the raft the entire time. Shooting of this scene took place in the channel between Los Angeles and Catalina Island during the last week in January 1976.
On one of the nights of filming Kong's death at the World Trade Center, over 30,000 people showed up at the site to be extras for the scene. Although the crowd was well behaved, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (owner of the World Trade Center complex) became concerned that the weight of so many people would cause the plaza to collapse, and ordered the producers to shut down the filming. However, the film makers had already got the shot they wanted of the large crowd rushing toward Kong's body. They returned to the site days later to finish filming the scene, with a much smaller crowd of paid extras.
According to the Internet Movie Database, seven different masks were created by Carlo Rambaldi, and molded by Rick Baker to convey various emotions. Separate masks were necessary as there were too many cables and mechanics required for all the expressions to fit in one single mask. The masks were composed of a plastic skull over which were placed artificial muscle groups activated by cables which entered the costume through Kong's feet, with the outer latex skins molded by Baker placed over the top. The masks used hydraulics to provide movement, so much like the mechanical Kong and hands, the facial expressions were controlled by the team of operators working off-set with the control boards. To complete the look of a gorilla, Baker wore contact lenses so his eyes would resemble those of a gorilla.
Carlo Rambaldi's mechanical Kong was 40Â ft (12 m) tall and weighed 6Â½ tons. It cost $1.7 million, and is the largest mechanical creature ever built. Despite months of preparation, the final device proved to be impossible to operate convincingly, and is only seen in a series of brief shots totalling less than 15 seconds.
The movie poster showing Kong and the New York City skyline painted on the side of a Times Square building existed for about twenty years after the movie's release. Some posters advertised it as "The most exciting original motion picture event of all time," although it was a remake. The poster's main image is also wrong, in that Kong is seen battling jet planes and not helicopters, as in the movie. This scene also takes place at night and not in daylight as depicted in the poster. King Kong is also shown straddling the World Trade Center towers with one foot on each, though in the movie he was not that large and had to leap to reach the North Tower.
The film score, composed and conducted by John Barry, was released on CD by both Mask and FSM in 2005. It is noticeably incomplete (due to copyright issues), however, missing at least two major cues from the film, notably the log rolling sequence, several extensions of cues already present on the soundtrack, and small restatements of the main theme. On October 2, 2012, Film Score Monthly released the complete score on a two disc set; the first disc features the remastered complete score, and the second discs contains the original album soundtrack with alternate takes of various cues.
- 2012 Film Score Monthly Album
Extended television version
When King Kong made its network TV debut on NBC in 1978, a number of scenes deleted from the theatrical version were reinstated to make the film longer. Most fans of the remake agree that the extended version of the film works much better than the original truncated release. This version also features several changes to the John Barry score, including entirely alternate cues in places that no music existed in the theatrical version, as well as several different edits of cues. This may actually indicate that the version was an early workprint of the film, before it went through its final editing stages. While this is the first of the Kong films to have an extended cut, the second one is the 2005 remake of King Kong. To date, the only DVD appearance of this extra footage is in the form of three deleted/extended scenes on the Region 2 release.
Momentum Pictures released this film on DVD in 2001 on the Region 2 label with a photo gallery and a theatrical trailer. This has now been deleted according to the online retailer site Zavvi. Optimum Releasing has confirmed a new re-release of this film on Region 2 with deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer from the previous issue. There are only two deleted scenes on the DVD. This is the extended scene of the brawl between Kong and the Snake. The other scene is the demise of Wilson at the New York unveiling of Kong. The film has been released on Blu-ray in Region B territories, although this disc is region-free and can work in any Blu-ray machine.
King Kong was commercially successful, earning Paramount Pictures back over triple its budget. The film ended up at #5 on Variety's chart of the top domestic (U.S.) moneymakers of 1977. (The film was released in December 1976 and therefore earned the majority of its money during the early part of 1977.) The film made approximately $80 million worldwide on a $24 million budget.
After months of much anticipation for the film's release, the film received mostly mixed responses from critics at the time of its initial release, especially from fans of the original King Kong. It did however, obtain positive reviews from several prominent critics. Pauline Kael in The New Yorker, Richard Schickel in Time, Charles Champlin in the Los Angeles Times, Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times, and 'Murf' in Variety, among others, responded favorably to the film's pathos and (often campy) sense of humor. Kael, in particular, truly loved the film, noting "I don't think I've ever before seen a movie that was a comic-strip great romance in the way this one is â" it's a joke that can make you cry." The performances by Bridges and Grodin were generally well regarded, and even the film's detractors found Richard H. Kline's Academy Award-nominated cinematography and John Barry's musical score noteworthy.
Currently, critical response to King Kong continues to be mixed. Of the 25 reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes regarding the title, 52% reflect negative reactions. According to Entertainment Tonight's Leonard Maltin, the film "...has great potential; yet it dispels all the mythic, larger-than-life qualities of the original with idiotic characters and campy approach."
The movie's success and notoriety helped launch the career of Jessica Lange, although she reportedly received some negative publicity regarding her debut performance that, according to film reviewer Marshall Fine, "almost destroyed her career". Although Lange won the Golden Globe for Best Acting Debut in a Motion Picture - Female for Kong, she did not appear in another film for three years and spent that time training intensively in acting.
King Kong found new and sustained life on television. NBC bought the rights to air the movie and it was a ratings success. NBC paid De Laurentiis $19.5 million for the rights to two showings over five years; the highest amount any network had ever paid for a film at that time. This led De Laurentiis Entertainment Group to make a sequel called King Kong Lives (1986), starring Linda Hamilton. Unlike the 1976 remake, the sequel was a commercial failure.
The film received three Academy Award nominations and won one.
- Winner Best Visual Effects (Carlo Rambaldi, Glen Robinson, Frank Van der Veer), shared with Logan's Run (1976).
- Nominee Best Cinematography (Richard H. Kline)
- Nominee Best Sound (Harry W. Tetrick, William McCaughey, Aaron Rochin and Jack Solomon).
- Bahrenburg, Bruce (1976). The Making of Dino De Laurentiis' King Kong. New York: Pocket Books. ISBNÂ 067180796X.Â
- King Kong at the Internet Movie Database
- King Kong at AllMovie
- King Kong at Box Office Mojo
- King Kong at Rotten Tomatoes
- Story of the classic 1976 promotional posters