• King Kong (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: May 11th, 2021.
    Director: John Guillermin
    Cast: Charles Grodin, Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lang, John Randolph, Rene Auberjonois, Julius Harris, Jack O'Halloran
    Year: 1976
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    King Kong – Movie Review:

    This 1976 take on the classic story, directed by John Guillermin for producer Dino De Laurentiis, begins when Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), the man in charge at Petrox Oil, puts together an expedition to head out to a newly discovered island in the South Pacific in search of gas reserves. What he doesn’t know but soon learns is that there’s a stowaway on his ship in the form of Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges). He’s a paleontologist who knows that their destination, Skull Island, is believed to still contain a very vibrant and unique ecosystem consisting not just of the flora and fauna you’d expect, but also, reportedly at least, some prehistoric beasts. Along for the ride is an actress named Dwan (Jessica Lange) whose career has seen better days. Rescued from a raft on the way to the island, she’s hoping her experiences on this trip will give her the break she needs to get things back on track.

    The expedition lands on the shore and soon enough make their way inland. Of course, it doesn’t take long Prescott to be proven right when the group come face to face with the island’s most famous resident, a giant ape referred to as Kong. Eventually the mammoth beast kidnaps Dwan leaving Prescott to save her. At the same time, Wilson sees an opportunity to make a whole lot of money. When he manages to get the ape into a trap, he brings Kong back to New York City by boat, where, after being put on display, he goes on a rampage…

    Nominated for two Oscars (and one of them for the effects work done by Carlo Rambaldi and Rick Baker), this take on King Kong works quite well. The cast are all fine in their respective role and do a decent enough job with what they’ve been given. Bridges in particular is quite likeable here, his character contrasts nicely with Grodin’s exceptionally greedy oil tycoon in interesting ways. Lange isn’t given as much to do dramatically as the other leads but she’s solid in her part and she plays the ‘beauty’ to Kong’s beast rather well, she’s absolutely gorgeous in this film.

    Really though, as you’d guess, the real reason to seek this film out is the effects work. King Kong and the other denizens of Skull Island get quite a bit of screen time in this picture, and it’s a blast seeing Kong take on some of the island’s other inhabitants (no dinosaurs unfortunately but we do get a pretty cool giant snake). Of course, in the latter half of the picture the big ape goes solo, at least as far as the monsters in the movie go. Once he’s in New York, all eyes are on him as he tears through various Manhattan landmarks and winds up atop the World Trade Center buildings for the picture’s big finish.

    This one doesn’t reinvent the wheel, it plays things fairly close to the 1933 original. If it doesn’t really improve on that film it stills manages to present a uniquely seventies feeling take on the classic story, complete with plenty of action and some excellent pre-CGI effects work.

    Note that Shout! Factory has also included the longer TV cut of the movie which runs three-hours-and-thirteen-minutes versus the theatrical cut at two-hours-and-fourteen-minutes. This version is split into 2 parts (same opening credits used for both parts) and features some interesting additional footage – roughly forty-five-minutes’ worth. It has a different opening with Bridges drinking at a bar before boarding the ship, a lot more footage on the ship (a scene on the ship where Joe and Boan play cards, a scene showing a crew member watching Dwan in the shower, the crew watching a movie), extensions to the fight between Kong and the snake (the scene isn't as gory in this version as it is in the theatrical cut), extensions to the scene where Kong smashes through the wall, various dialogue extensions, a scene where Wilson is fired after Kong's rampage, extensions to Kong attacking the train and hitting the power station, more footage with the military prepping their attack and more.

    King Kong – Blu-ray Review:

    Shout! Factory releases King Kong in a 2.35.1 widescreen transfer in AVC encoded 1080p high definition with the feature taking up 41.7GBs of space on the 50GB disc. Generally speaking, the picture quality here is good, improving quite a bit over past DVD editions of the film in terms of detail and color reproduction. There are a couple of spots (when fog gets heavy, explosions appear on screen or things get very dark), where some obvious compression artifacts pop up but otherwise there isn’t much to gripe about here at all. The image is always nice and clean, showing no noticeable print damage at all. This isn’t reference quality but it looks pretty nice.

    The TV cut on the second disc is features a ‘new 2K scan of the additional TV footage from the internegative.’ This version is presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 2.35.1, taking up 45.4GBS on the 50GB disc. Shout's version of the TV cut matches the original tape master from Paramount's vault but is transferred from film elements to provide a better picture.

    For the theatrical cut, the main audio option on the disc is an English language 24-bit DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, although the original theatrical track is also included in DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo. There are no alternate language options provided but optional English subtitles are provided. The 5.1 mix is solid, using the surround channels effectively during action scenes, while keeping most of the dialogue up front and center in the mix. No problems with any hiss or distortion to note here, and the levels are balanced well. The stereo track also sounds very good. It’s properly balanced with some nice channel separation, free of any hiss or distortion.

    The TV cut gets a DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo track in English with optional subtitles offered up in English. Quality of the track is comparable to the 2.0 track on disc one. That said, because Shout! presents the TV cut in 2.35.1, there are scenes where you'll notice people speaking with no dialogue to be heard. This is because when the film was cropped to 1.33.1 for TV broadcast, those characters weren't meant to be seen. It's isn't a flaw in the audio on the disc.

    Disc One:

    Extras start off with a new audio commentary with Film Historian Ray Morton (the author of King Kong: The History Of A Movie Icon), who very clearly knows his stuff. He gives us a history of the character of King Kong, talking about how the story came to be made in the thirties by RKO and offering up plenty of details about the original film's success and influence. As the track progresses, he covers Dino De Laurentiis’ career in Italy and his success in moving to the United States and producing pictures there, the influence of the seventies disaster movie craze on this picture, how the film wound up at Paramount, the locations that were used for the production, how the different cast members were chosen and details on their respective careers, why certain characters have so much exposition in this picture compared to others, the erotic aspects of the film (specifically the sacrifice scene), how De Laurentiis’ watch was stolen on set during the shoot, where miniatures were used as opposed to full scale props, how Rick Baker wound up playing Kong under the suit and problems that arose with the suit during development, the unusually sexual side to the relationship between Kong and Dwan (he does pull her top down in this version of the movie, briefly exposing her breasts!), the infamous giant snake scene, how certain scenes of the original serve as a metaphor for slavery and how this version handles those same scenes, how Lange refused to say a certain line that she considered to risqué only to have it removed from the script, staging the film's over-the-top New York City finale and loads more. Morton’s delivery is a little dry but the commentary is, regardless, excellent and packed with information and analysis.

    Shout! Factory also includes a host of new featurettes starting with an audio interview with special makeup effects man Rick Baker conducted by Justin Beahm. This was originally intended to be a video interview but quickly grew into what is almost a feature length look back at Baker's career and work on this film. He talks about how his dad got him into horror and monster movies, falling in love with King Kong after seeing it on TV as a kid, how he came to work on this feature, working with Guillerman and De Laurentiis, working with Jack Grossman who really did not speak kindly of the original film, how the producers wanted to make it a disaster movie more than a monster movie, the different ideas that people had to bring Kong to life in this movie, the resources that were at his disposal when it came time to make a gorilla suit, not using the conceptual art to create his suit, working with the different cast members in the production, doing some of the sculpting work for the film, problems that arose wit hthe first suit, how Guillerman talked him into playing Kong under the suit and how tough that was to do, working with Carlo Rimbaldi, how exhausted he was and how he couldn't see properly after shooting each day for nine months, problems with some of the hydraulics used in the movie, how getting a cold during the shoot made doing his job that much tougher, De Laurentiis' insistence on making a giant forty foot tall Kong and how hard that was to make, how the film's massive budget allowed the production to be very unorganized, losing five pounds in water weight during a single day in the suit, getting injured during a key scene and lots, lots more. This is, for all intents and purposes, a second commentary track. It runs pretty much the entire duration of the film and it's absolutely loaded with stories.

    Something’s Haywire is a new interview with Actor Jack O’Halloran that was recorded over video conferencing software that runs six-minutes. He speaks here about choosing his part of Joe Perko, relating to his character, really getting along with Jessica Lange, shooting in California, how he felt Guillerman could have been a better director, what it was like on location, enjoying his time in Hawaii, having to work long days, running into a honeymooning couple who were sleeping on the beach they were to shoot on, how he really liked working with Jeff Bridges and his method acting style, working alongside Grodin who he describes as very funny and quite a bit more.

    Up next is On The Top Of The World, a new interview with Assistant Director David McGiffert and Production Manager Brian Frankish. in this twelve-minute piece the two men talk about how Jack Grossberg brought the two of them on board the project, the massive size of the production, having to research boats, troubles with Universal around the time the movie was made, having to travel via helicopter for the first time during the shoot, working with the storyboards that were prepared for the shoot (two frames on each page), the complexity of working the hydraulics during the scenes where Kong goes on his rampage, some of the more dangerous aspects of being on set, working with director John Guillerman and lots more.

    In Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams we’re treated to an interview with Sculptor Steve Varner that runs six-minutes. Recorded over video conferencing software, it allows Varner to talk about how he came to work on the film, the different collaborators he worked with on the shoot, having to get over his fear of heights to work on the giant Kong, what he was personally responsible for creating, working with and getting along with Rick Baker, how some of the props were created, how the Italian crew members like Carlo Rambaldi did things very differently than the American guys did and how Baker wound up acting in the monkey suit.

    There’s A Fog Bank Out There spends some time with Second Unit Director William Kronick that clocks in at just under seven-minutes. Here Kronick talks about getting out of doing documentary work and moving into feature work, calling Guillerman who hired him the next day, directing scenes while Guillerman was doing screen tests for the female lead, De Laurentiis' input on the casting, casting Lange and how she screen tested, how a whole lot of people wound up throwing up on the boats, shooting the park scene on Fifth Avenue in New York near St. Patrick's Cathedral, dealing with some of the miniature effects, getting along with the cast and crew and the complexities and challenges of getting the New York finale to work.

    From Space To Apes interviews Photographic Effects Assistant Barry Nolan running six-minutes. In this piece, recorded over video conferencing software, Nolan talks about moving from the aerospace industry to the motion picture industry and being able to bring some of the technology from his aerospace job to his film jobs. He talks about redesigning a Mitchell camera and why he did this, what it was like on set, using chroma-key effects, doing composite work for many of the effects set pieces and how by today's standards many of the effects back then sucked. He also covers working with the 'arrogant' Guillerman, what it was like on set, tensions that existed between De Laurentiis and Guillerman and how he did a few pictures with De Laurentiis and always enjoyed working with him.

    Lastly, When The Monkey Dies, Everybody Cries interviews Production Assistants Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler. Here, over fourteen-minutes, the two men, interviewed over video conferencing software, talk about how they wound up working on the film in the first place. Chernov talks about having to Xerox and collate scripts, Thaler talks about leaving a commune where he was living to get into the film business and how his dad helped get him there. The interview also covers working with Guillermin and De Laurentiis, how much they were both able to learn during the production, how three P.A.'s had to share a two bedroom apartment during the shoot, travelling to Italy to show off the giant Kong for a show and how that went (it was quite an ordeal).

    Rounding out the extras on disc one are a theatrical trailer, a few TV spots, two-minutes of radio spots, TV commercials for a few Kong toys that were released around the same time as the feature, a trio of still galleries (posters, lobby cards and behind-the-scenes photos), menus and chapter selection.

    Disc Two:

    The only extra on the second disc is a King Kong Panel Discussion From The Aero Theater that was recorded in 2016. This runs an hour-and-nine-minutes and features Jack O'Halloran, DP Richard H. Kline, SFX man Rick Baker, Martha De Laurentiis and Richard Pratt (who worked with John Barry) moderated by Ray Morton. This is a really interesting discussion with Morton asking all the right questions. Martha De Laurentiis wasn’t directly involved with the film but she chimes in with some fun memories of Dino while the rest of the participants are able to relay some pretty great first hand stories about their work on the picture. There’s a lot of talk here about how they all first came on board, trepidation about getting involved with ‘an Italian who wants to remake King Kong,’ De Laurentiis’ tendency to go big or go home, the massive scale and budget behind the film, the complexity of the effects work, scoring the picture, what it was like on set and lots more. If the massive trove of extras on disc one didn’t scratch your itch for monkey movie trivia, then this certainly will.

    The twenty-two-minute Making Kong featurette that was included on the Umbrella Entertainment Blu-ray release is not included here, so hardcore Kong ’76 completists may want to hold onto that disc for that reason.

    King Kong – The Final Word:

    The 1976 version of King Kong has a bad reputation, but honestly the movie was and still is a whole lot of fun. It might not best the original but it offers up its own take on the classic story, some impressive set pieces, a solid cast and some seriously interesting, if clearly dated, effects work. Shout! Factory has knocked it out of the park with their two-disc special edition of the movie, presenting two fairly different cuts of the movie and a massive selection of very well put together supplements. The presentation is a strong one as well. This is pretty much the final word on the 1976 version of King Kong.

    Click on the images below for full sized King Kong Blu-ray screen caps!