King Kong: The myth updated
A very hairy Bridges meets a very lovely Lange
As I mentioned in my previous hub, the 1933 classic "King Kong" was not based on any sort of previous work. That's exactly why I chose the King Kong franchise as an example of remakes and redos. When two movies are based off of a preexisting book (see my hub about the two versions of Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) they're both simply taking different paths of adaptation.
However, remaking one movie into a completely new one is different.
The first one already works as a movie (hopefully). Do you add anything to it? If so, what? Do you take anything out? What aspects do you update and what aspects do you leave the same?
In 1976 Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin, and Rene Auberjonois starred in an updated adaptation of the classic "Kong". In general, it wasn't as well received as the original, but that's not that unusual. When the original is successfull and well-liked enough to inspire others to redo it, there will also be a significant fanbase to deal with.
Again, in case you've been in some sort of decades-long coma, King Kong tells the story of a group of Americans who land on a mysterious island with a mysterious native people who seem to worship and fear a mysterious giant monkey through some kind of mysterious ritual where they mysteriously offer a mysterious woman as a mysterious sacrifice of mysterious mystery. The sacrificial offering in question, Dwan (Jessica Lange), gets taken by the ape while a Primate Anthropologist named Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) chases her down and rescues her. The ape gets ape-napped, yadda-yadda-yadda, shoot out atop a tall building and a bit of an ape-splat.
There are differences, however.
In the original, the expedition was being made by a film crew in search of an exotic location shoot. This time, it's an oil-drilling expedition lead by Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin). Rather than hiring an actress the night before leaving, they discover Dwan adrift on a raft after her yacht exploded. And, most prominently, rather than climbing the Empire State Building in the final showdown, Kong climbs the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
What do these changes say about this remake?
The setting has been updated. It's likely that the movie makers decided that it wasn't particularly realistic to show a modern film crew going to such dangerous lengths for a movie. However, for a cynical population, it would be quite fitting to portray an evil petrolium corporation out to drill into virgin land and ending up by capturing a unique specimin of cryptozoology. And since the expedition didn't need an actress, they needed a new way to explain the presence of the lovely young actress on the ship.
Another thing that stands out to me is the fact that there are no dinosaurs on the island. There's no revisiting of that iconic scene of Kong fighting a T-Rex. There's still a large snake, but the dinosaurs had apparently all died out since 1933.
Which leads me to the final confrontation. When the venue of the showdown was shifted away from the Empire State Building, it ruffled the feathers of lots of people. I understand that employees of the Empire State Building protested the change by picketing the 102nd floor of the Empire State Building in monkey suits. However, as an adaptation of the original, it makes perfect sense.
The original movie came out in 1933. At that time, the Empire State Building was two years new and widely known as the tallest building in the world. That record, in fact, was held until 1972 when the North Tower of the World Trade Center was completed. It would make sense for a modernization of the original story to change locations accordingly.
But what did they add to this version?
The biggest thing that jumps out at you is the Dwan/Kong relationship. (I guess their celebrity couple name would be Kwong or something?) There is considerably more screentime devoted to Kong and his little meat doll. You get to see him be protective of and gentle with her. A bit possessive but there's definite fascination. And at the end, we even get to see her scream to the ape not to put her down for fear that the attackers would fire on him once he sets her down.
In the original, the audience ends up feeling for Kong at the end, but the girl, Ann Darrow (Fay Wray), always seems to prefer screaming for her own life rather than his.
But more importantly, the ape himself. He is both more menacing and more sympathetic at the same time. Largely, this is due to a combination of suit work and color rather than stop-motion and black-and-white. Now I respect the work that goes into that kind of special effect, and the results that they achieved in that movie, but there is definitely something visceral in seeing this new ape.
In the end, though, for me, the movie doesn't some across as quite the classic that the original was. And for that I point to the ending.
While Kong is being shot at, there is significant blood and gore spurting out of the torso of the ape. And in color. You're left with a rather unsetling image of violence against a rather sympathetic animal.
The story is largely the same as in the original, but the closer characterization of the ape becomes a double-edged sword in this case. In the end, I was just left feeling a bit ... dirty. Sure, you're meant to feel sympathy for the beast, but this just felt mean spirited to me. It's kind of hard to overlook.
So while the movie is well made and I do enjoy it on a certain level, my final score ends up definitely being influenced by that final feeling that the movie left me with. And, fair or not, that's quite common and something movie makers really need to be aware of. A bad ending can really pull a movie down.
So for me, I give this one 6 / 10.
King Kong is rated PG because the PG-13 rating didn't exist at the time. It has a little bit of language, veiled nudity, a very brief ... *ahem* ... wardrobe malfunction between Jessica Lange and Kong, as well as violence and a certain level of gore.
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