Release Date(s)1976 (May 11, 2021)
Studio(s)Paramount Pictures (Shout!/Scream Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A-
What seemed like heresy in 1976 eventually became a model for big budget studio remakes in the future: doing the same thing but with slightly different variables. The Dino De Laurentiis production of King Kong certainly follows that model. The characters have different names and come from different backgrounds and the film’s final minutes are in a different location, but it’s the same deal as last time. In the story, business tycoon Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) heads for a remote island where mass quantites of crude oil can be obtained, and stowaways Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) and Dwan (Jessica Lange) are along for the ride. Upon reaching the island, the natives take Dwan hostage and offer her as a sacrifice to Kong, and after the big guy falls in love with her (awkward), she escapes with the help of Jack. Realizing that the ape is worth more than the oil, Wilson manages to capture it and bring it back to civilization. Kong then cuts loose and snatches up Dwan again, climbing atop the World Trade Center, but with tragic consequences.
So a group of people wind up on an uncharted island, an oversized ape takes a woman hostage and must be rescued, the ape is caught and brought back to the real world, and the results are disastrous. Outside of Kong’s appearances in other Japanese monster movies, as well as the recent “Monsterverse,” the core storyline hasn't changed much. The effects are less charming than they were in 1933. They’re technically better since special effects technology had advanced in forty-three years, but a stop-motion character replaced by a man in a suit just doesn’t have the same impact. The characters are also less interesting. They’re no less thinly drawn, but there’s nothing appealing about them to make them worth rooting for. One certainly cannot argue that this version of King Kong’s greatest asset is its star attraction, driven by the design and execution of Carlo Rambaldi, Glen Robinson, and Rick Baker, but the final product is not as satisfying.
Scream Factory brings the 1976 version of King Kong to Blu-ray for the first time in the US in a 2-Disc Collector’s Edition package. We’ve previously reviewed the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray release of the film, which used a very dated high definition master. Shout! Factory doesn’t provide details as to which master they've used for this release, but it’s clearly a fresher and healthier scan of the material. Grain levels are moderate to heavy with higher levels of detail, particularly in the shadows. Saturation offers a variety of hues from boat-bound blues and whites to the greens and browns of jungle foliage to the vibrant New York City enivronments, particularly during the big Kong show towards the end of the film. Blacks are a tad too bright at times, but solid contrast levels manage to keep things bright without appearing washed out. The visual effects are the film’s biggest visible flaw, and the higher the definition, the more they stand out, as they do here. It’s also a stable image with only mild white speckling and occasional lines leftover. Minor flaws aside, it’s difficult to imagine the film looking any better outside of an Ultra HD presentation with a wider color gamut and deeper black levels.
The audio is included in English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-MA Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. The stereo track is a newly-restored version of the original theatrcial audio. The 5.1 mix gives the film’s sound a bit more life, particularly in the surrounding speakers. John Barry’s score opens up nicely with added depth and clarity. Sound effects generally have a thin, dated quality to them, though occasional low frequency moments do occur, mainly during Kong’s roars and footsteps. The 2.0 track is spaced a bit wider than the 5.1, but doesn’t have nearly as much impact when it comes to the score. Dialogue exchanges on both tracks are mostly discernible, fighting for dominance a bit during the more cacophonous scenes. Both tracks are clean and free of any major leftover aural debris other than mild distortion.
The following extras are included on both discs:
(DISC ONE: THEATRICAL VERSION)
- Audio Commentary with Ray Morton
- Audio Commentary with Rick Baker and Justin Beahm
- On Top of the World (HD – 11:54)
- When the Monkey Dies Everybody Cries (HD – 13:48)
- Maybe in Their Wildest Dreams (HD – 5:36)
- Something’s Haywire (HD – 5:52)
- From Space to Apes (HD – 5:36)
- There’s a Fog Bank Out There (HD – 6:31)
- Theatrical Trailers (HD – 2 in all – 5:02)
- TV Spots (HD – 7 in all – 3:36)
- Radio Spots (HD – 3 in all – 1:35)
- Movie Stills Image Gallery (HD – 101 – 7:26)
- Posters and Lobby Cards Image Gallery (HD – 20 in all – 8:53)
- Behind the Scenes Image Gallery (HD – 91 in all – 6:39)
- Newspaper Ads Image Gallery (HD – 53 in all - 3:58)
- Disc Credits (HD – :14)
- Easter Eggs (Upsampled SD – 3 in all – 1:36)
In the first audio commentary with author Ray Morton, he discusses various facts about the film while watching it. In the second, moderator Justin Beahm interviews make-up and special effects technician Rick Baker and he speaks about his involvement with the film in full. The former commentary is a tad dull and the latter commentary is choppy, leaving long gaps of silence early on, but both provide a wealth of information if you stick with them. On Top of the World features an interview with production manager Brian Frankish and assistant director David McGiffert. They discuss how Brian brought David onto the project, the difficulties in making the production work on location, the film’s storyboards (with stills as well), working on the backlot and puppeting Kong, taking over for first unit, and their thoughts on the finished film. When the Monkey Dies Everybody Cries features production assistants Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler. They speak about how they got involved with the film, bicycling supplies, stories about Dino De Laurentiis, additional information about the oversized Kong puppet, and their reflections on the experience. Maybe in Their Wildest Dreams features sculptor Steve Varner. He speaks about being hired on the film, working with Rick Baker, and sculpting Kong. Something’s Haywire features actor Jack O’Halloran. He talks about how he related to the part, working with Jessica Lange, difficulties working with John Guillerman, shooting on location, working with Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin, and his thoughts on the film. From Space to Apes features photographic effects assistant Barry Nolan. He discusses using photographic technology on the film and analyzes the results, working with John Guillerman and Dino De Laurentiis, and doing the sequel years later. There’s a Fog Bank Out There features second unit director Bill Kronick. He speaks about getting the job, shooting the screen tests, difficulties shooting on the water and around New York City, and shooting Kong scenes.
In addition, there are 2 theatrical trailers, 7 TV spots, and 3 radio spots. The image galleries contain a total of 265 behind-the-scenes stills, promotional stills, posters, lobby cards, and newspaper ads. There are also three Easter eggs to be found. Pressing right when Disc Credits is highlighted will reveal a tiny version of Kong on the screen, which when selected will take you to three items in a row: a commercial for Mego King Kong drinking straws, the King Kong ride at Universal Studios, and Burger Chef King Kong drinking glasses.
(DISC TWO: TELEVISION VERSION)
- King Kong: Night One (HD – 95:24)
- King Kong: Night Two (HD – 97:27)
- King Kong Panel Discussion (HD – 68:45)
- Easter Eggs (Upsampled SD – 3 in all – 3:52)
The film was shown on TV three times on NBC: in September 1978, November 1980, and March 1983. This version added extra footage back in, but also replaced various music cues and censored sexual suggestive material and offensive language. Since the film was shown over the course of two nights, you have the option here of watching each night separately, or all at once. The final running time is 193:21, extending the film by nearly an hour (with recap footage and opening credits for each night).
The text that opens this version states: “When the TV version of King Kong was created, the editor reused some shots, which wasn’t noticeable on TV since the film was cropped to a 1.33 aspect ratio. We chose to present the film in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio and to not crop these scenes. Consequently, you’ll notice a few sequences where characters speak but there is no dialogue. The audio isn’t missing—they weren’t meant to be visible. There are other instances where audio sync is loose, but in the absense of separate dialogue, music, and effects tracks, these areas could not be adjusted. Our new version matches the original tape master from the TV broadcast in Paramount’s vaults. We used the best available element—sound and picture. We hope you enjoy this presentation of the longer cut of King Kong.”
This version utilizes the same master as the theatrical cut, but for footage exclusive to the TV version, a 2K scan of the film’s internegative has been used to complete it. Visually, there’s a nice blend, but the newly-scanned footage is clearly superior. Either way, there’s a consistency in color and contrast that normally hides the differing footage. The audio is provided in English 2.0 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a mixed bag, as one might expect, and doesn’t blend nearly as successfully. It’s an otherwise pleasant presentation.
The Panel Discussion footage was taken at the Aero Theater in Santa Monica, California on December 10, 2016 for the film’s 40th anniversary. It features Jack O’Halloran, director of photography Richard H. Kline, Rick Baker, Martha de Laurentiis, talent agent Richard Kraft, and Ray Morton acting as moderator. The Easter eggs can be found by pressing right when Subtitles is highlighted. Doing so will reveal a small Kong again and selecting it will take you to three segments from NBC: Sunday Night at the Movies and NBC: The Sunday Big Event, including openings and commercial intros and outros for the film’s three TV airings. Not carried over from the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray is the brief Making Kong featurette, which features film critic and journalist Richard Cline and monster movie journalist M.J. Simpson speaking about the history of Kong films up to that point in time. The two discs are housed in a blue amaray case with reversible artwork—new artwork on one side by Hugh Fleming and the original theatrical artwork on the other. Everything is tucked away inside a slipcover featuring the same new artwork.
King Kong 1976 definitely has merit. It’s perceived to have been a misstep or a total mess by many. It’s not as mysterious, enthralling, or endearing as the original film, nor the problematical 2005 remake. Yet somehow, there’s still something oddly charming about it. Scream Factory’s Collector’s Edition release is the definitive version to own, bar none, besting all previous releases. For those who’ve stuck with the old Paramount DVD until now, your wait for an upgrade is over.
- Tim Salmons