Color, 1976, 134 mins.

Directed by John Guillermin

Starring Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin, John Randolph, Rene Auberjonois, Julius Harris, Jack O'Halloran, John Agar / Written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. / Produced by Dino De Laurentiis / Music by John Barry / Cinematography by Gerald Hirschfeld

Letterboxed (2.35:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Format: DVD - Paramount (MSRP $29.95)

First of all, yes, it's simply embarrassing that this film made it out to DVD before the original 1933 version. And yes, it's flawed, often stupid, and represents Hollywood commercialism at its most blatant. (It's also easy to hate a movie that launched the film careers of Joe Piscopo and Corbin Bernsen.) That said, King Kong belongs to that group of films that imbedded themselves in an entire generation, yours truly included, who grew up on stuff like Battlestar Galactica, The Black Hole, Moonraker... you get the idea. Divorced from its cinematic origins, this Kong holds up pretty well, and it's still brainless fun. In fact, the first half, which follows the original fairly closely aside from the regrettable switch from documentary filmmakers to an oil expedition, still looks pretty good. The island atmosphere is beautifully captured, the actors do a capable job with their roles (including Jessica Lange, often unfairly maligned in her debut role). Unfortunately, Kong himself is somewhat less impressive, a mixture of Rick Baker's monkey man suit (helped by an uncredited Rob Bottin) and a brief, cheesy Carlo Rambaldi animatronic thingy that should have been left in the trash. Still, it's better than many of the Japanese stabs at the Kong myth and definitely miles ahead of the laughable U.S. sequel, King Kong Lives. Incidentally, the dead ape used here also turned up in Marco Ferreri's bizarre art film, Bye Bye Monkey.

An oil expedition ship for the Petrox company, led by the slimy Fred Wilson (Grodin in a rare villainous role), comes across a shipwreck survivor, the beautiful blonde Dwan (Lange - and no, that's not a typo). She strikes up a rapport with the resident anti-establishment guy, Jack Prescott (Bridges), but their relationship is cut short when the group arrives at a mysterious tropical island where Dwan is swept up and offered as a sacrifice to the mysterious god Kong. Of course, Kong turns out to be a giant ape who takes quite a liking to Dwan, but the big guy is ultimately captured and spirited off to New York for a public exhibition that goes disastrously awry. They rest, as they say, is history - or, as Dino says, "When monkey die, people cry."

Paramount has continued its schizophrenic DVD release pattern by giving King Kong a breathtaking new anamorphic transfer. Anybody used to seeing this back on the ABC Sunday Night at the Movies (which supposedly contained more footage, but I can't remember any) will be amazed by the shadowy, finely composed photography and crisp color schemes on display here, while the surprisingly rich 5.1 mix does full justice to John Barry's marvelous score (arguably the film's greatest asset - love those drums!). Paramount has done some hit and miss work in the past, but this one easily satisfies all around. Besides, if they can do this, hopefully The Keep, Danger: Diabolik, and Blood and Roses won't be far behind. We can all dream, can't we?

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