AW Kautzer's Home Video/Streaming Reviews Home Video/Streaming

Blu-Ray Review: Scream Factory’s King Kong [1976] (Collector’s Edition)

King Kong

The 1976 King Kong has never looked or sounded as good as it does here.  Scream Factory has pulled out all the stops for this deluxe edition with two versions, two commentaries, and a treasure chest of extras.  

The Film(s) 

NOTE: The TV Version does include where the TV Commercial breaks would have been and at the split between Night one and Night two the Opening Credits do play as they would have on the Extended version and a six-minute recap of the firsts part of the story. 

One thing is for sure.  After one watches the 1976 King Kong, one wonders?  Is it good?  It is bad?  Is it high camp?  One thing is certain, Dino De Laurentiis and the cast and crew he put together put everything on the line for this one.  

Oil Executive Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) puts everything on the line for what he thinks is an oil-rich island in the south pacific.  Wilson purchase boat passes for his mercenary team of oil roughnecks.  Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) stows away hoping to find ecological discoveries much to the behest of Wilson and the crew.  It’s only when Dwan (Jessica Lange) appears on a lifeboat that strange things begin to occur.  What everyone thought was a simple oil strike is not anything of the sort.  Enter Kong, a giant gorilla who becomes infatuated with Dwan, in more than that chaste love.  Wilson seeing his Oil deposits evaporate plans on exploiting not only Kong but Dwan too. 

For all the ballyhoo that went into Lorenzo Semple Jr.’s statements that their Kong would be very different … it isn’t all that different.  The biggest additions and subtractions are sexuality and action.  It makes sense in the mid-1970s this would happen.   Turning up the sexuality in both Jack and Dwan’s relationship and even more between Kong and Dwan this is strictly by the numbers remake.  Seems like a no-brainer in this era.  Though the results are quite… wrong-headed.  Shots of Kong leering and literally fondling Dwan will make anyone uncomfortable and probably did in 1976.  

The theatrical cut of King Kong 1976 is a solid film with its emphasis on characters and their respective obsessions rather than adventure.  The Extended TV Cut (included on the second disc) double downs on that notion of character before adventure or kaiju style rumbles in the jungle.  There is only one Kong versus the animals of skull island.  Those wanting fights should look to Peter Jackson’s version as the Dino De Laurentiis version even in its Extended version is more about the characters, romance, and obsessions than adventures and fighting.  

Though once the film gets to New York City and Kong is let loose the extended version does feature more wanton destruction from Kong.  It should be noted that the theatrical cut retains all of the gore that was cut from the TV version.  That includes the Snake vs Kong fight that ends with Kong snapping the jaw of the Snake and his final fate atop the World Trade Center.  Though watching the Theatrical cut, one is reminded that the ending of the 1976 version was an almost Peckinpah style blood bath that would have never gotten a PG-13 today let alone a PG-rated that the film is stamped with.  

Whichever flavor you choose of the 1976 version it is sure to entertain and baffle in equal measure.  Extended by about 60-minutes (minus the 10-minutes of credits and previously seen edits) the TV Cut of Kong is the preferred version to this reviewer.  Even if the blood and gore are but from this version. 

The Transfer(s)

The transfer that Paramount has provided to Scream Factory is nothing short of beautiful.  The handsome image has a beautiful patina of grain that makes the transfers (both the theatrical and extended TV Cut) look like a great archival 35mm Print.  

NOTE: the extended TV version does include this following disclaimer.  

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 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 absence of separate dialogue, music and effect 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 elements – sound and picture.  We hope you enjoy this presentation of the longer cut of King Kong.

The Extras 

They include the following:

DISC ONE: THEATRICAL CUT 

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Ray Morton (Author Of KING KONG – THE HISTORY OF A MOVIE ICON)
  • Audio Commentary/Audio Interview with Special Makeup Effects Wizard Rick Baker
  • Something’s Haywire 
  • On The Top Of The World 
  • Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams 
  • There’s A Fog Bank Out There 
  • From Space To Apes 
  • When The Monkey Dies, Everybody Cries 
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Still Galleries – Posters, Lobby Cards, Behind-The-Scenes Photos

DISC TWO: EXTENDED TV BROADCAST CUT 

  • 2K Scan Of The Additional TV Footage From The Internegative
  • KING KONG Panel Discussion From The Aero Theater (2016)

DISC ONE:

The newly recorded commentary by history Ray Morton beginning with the opening shot being the first shot that begun the production in January 1976.  Morton’s commentary is chock-full of information.  Details include Producer of the original Merrinan C Cooper’s idea for the original Kong and how it was developed into the film, the release of the 1933 original, the success of the 1933 original and how it echoed through pop culture, critics, and future filmmakers, how Dino De Laurentiis eventually came on board to remake the original 1933, how the diaster movie craze informed on how they got Kong remade, how Lorenzo Semple Jr came on board and how the film adaptation was changed, a lawsuit that brewed between Paramount and Universal over the rights to remake, how the cast came together including Jeff Bridges, how other various stars were initially offered but turned down the lead female, how Jessica Lange was found and cast, how the rushed nature of the production informed on the schedule, what many of the cast and crew thought of De Laurentiis, the hiring of John Barry and his theme, the reworking of his theme to be turned into singles including one by Barry White, the pressure of making a release date and how they could not move it, the director’s temper and how it was handled, Semple’s claim that it was not intended to be camp, the work of Richard Kline, the interesting problems that occurred during production in Hawaii with the lack of infrastructure for a huge Hollywood Production, the massive sets and what it took to build them, the casual racism of the 1933 and the problematic issues inherently in the concept that include the 1976 film, the first appearance of Kong and how it was developed and shot, the use of a man in the suit for Kong that was done by Rick Baker, opting out of the time-consuming stop-motion VFX work because of time limitations, how Rick Baker was originally hired but initially turned down the Makeup FX work, how Carlo Rambaldi was hired to production, the complex nature and often tenuous relationship between Baker and Rambaldi and their FX work, Hampton Fancher hired and fired at one point to play Kong in the suit, the sexualization of Kong’s obsession of Dwan, the issue with the rushed production that effected editor Ralph Winter’s work, composer John Barry’s work and the optical work done, the publicity that began as the production started and lasted until the film’s premiere in December 1976, the promotional partners and items that were released in conjunction to the film, the production of the finale that was the last thing that was filmed, the ending, and much more.  Morton’s commentary track is a deep dive into the fascinating production and release of the 1976 remake.  

The second all-new commentary track is by Rick Baker.  The track hosted by Justin Beahm one of the producers of the disc for Shout Factory.  Beahm explains how the video interview turned into a massive interview about the making of the film.  Rather than cut down they’ve presented the interview as a commentary track by Baker.  The commentary track does include lulls but the sound of the film always is upped during these lulls. Details include how Baker came to love the original King Kong, his first foray into suit creation as a child because of King Kong, how he heard of the remake, how he came to work on the film, his first hearing of Carlo Rambaldi plan for a 40-foot mechanical gorilla that he dubs “the Italian genius”, the circumstances of his creation of the suit, the how’s and why’s having both himself and Rambaldi were a mixture for disaster, the truly horrifying experience of Baker had to go through for a body cast and head cast, how he created the molding for the face of Kong, the disaster of the building of the first suit, the contact lenses they used and the hassle and danger involved with these, the conditions that he worked under during the entire production, the lunacy involved with the filming of the World Trade Center ending being shot with squibs, his relationship with Richard Kline and director John Guillermin, his changing of his point of view about the film itself, some of the crazy stories from the FX shops and how it affected the production, how Baker got credit for his work that he honestly thought that he never work, the shock of how disorganized the production was as compared to his lower budget films he had been on, his meeting of Peter Jackson years later and the friendship that eventually filming a cameo in Jackson’s Kong, his retirement and why he did not want to move forward, the use of the giant robotic Kong, where the giant Kong ended up, and much more. Baker is a warm, interesting, and entertaining interview.  The amount of detail that he gives on his process, just like his books, is amazing and any fan or possible FX person is going to revel in. There is a layer of transparency and honesty that after close to 45-years can be had that maybe wouldn’t have any time earlier.  

On The Top Of The World (11:54)  An all-new interview with Assistant Director David McGiffert And Production Manager Brian Frankish.  The duo filmed together to discuss how they got involved in the film and the difficulties inherent in the rushed nature of the production.  The guys are very transparent about the production and how difficult it was, and some great anecdotes on the production itself.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos intercut into the interview. 

When The Monkey Dies, Everybody Cries (13:48) – An all-new interview with Production Assistants Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler. Filmed via Zoom the two discuss their respective jobs as PAs including Chernov post-graduating school living in a commune.  Details include just what they did as PA on the production (which included everything), their real job titles, working with Dino personally including walking and driving the legendary producer, a great discussion of the giant Kong, and much more.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos intercut into the interview. 

Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams (5:46)– An all-new interview with Sculptor Steve Varner.  Filmed via Zoom the sculptor discusses how he was hired, his work with Rambaldi, his work sculpting the hand, and much more.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos of the building of the giant Kong intercut into the interview. 

Something’s Haywire (5:52) – An all-new interview with Actor Jack O’Halloran.  The legendary character actor (he played one of the villains in Superman II) filmed via Zoom.  The actor discusses working with Jessica Lange, his dislike of director Guillermin, working with Bridges and Charles Grodin, and much more.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos intercut into the interview.

From Space To Apes (5:36)– An all-new interview with Photographic Effects Assistant Barry Nolan.  Nolan filmed via Zoom discusses how he went from Aerospace to Optical FX work in the 1970s.  Details include Kong being his first film, some of the advances he made along with the Video Assist module he created making compositing easier, and more.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos of the work being done intercut into the interview.

There’s A Fog Bank Out There (6:31) – An all-new interview with Second Unit Director William Kronick.  Kronick discusses just how difficult the shooting on-location in New York City, his perspective on how his unit achieved some of the FX work, how difficult the giant Kong scenes were, and more.  There are some great behind-the-scenes photos of their work intercut into the interview. 

Theatrical Trailer (5:02) – Two trailers with chapter stops between the two.   

TV Spots (3:36) – Seven different TV Spots all around 0:30 long.  

Radio Spots (1:35) – Three Radio Spots.  Cleverly Scream has designed a little video output graphic that shows the sound waves as the ads play.  

Still Galleries 

Movie Stills (7:26) – 45 color and black & white production photographs that include some great closeup shots of the FX and makeup work and of deleted scenes.  Unfortunately, there is no navigation with using the next or back chapter stops but one can let it run automatically, pause or fast forward through the gallery.  

Posters & Lobby Cards (8:53) – 89 lobby cards and posters that are from various different countries including some truly bizarre posters. Unfortunately, there is no navigation with using the next or back chapter stops but one can let it run automatically, pause or fast forward through the gallery.  

Behind-The-Scenes Photos (6:39) – 66 behind-the-scenes production photos, there are a few color photos intersperse between the black & white photos.  There is also appears to be some great FX comparison photos taken from a magazine.  Unfortunately, there is no navigation with using the next or back chapter stops but one can let it run automatically, pause or fast forward through the gallery. 

Newspaper Ads (3:58) – 39 various promotion clippings from newspapers, some are movie showtime listing, others are ads taken out thanking various cities, others are for advance screenings, etc. Unfortunately, there is no navigation with using the next or back chapter stops but one can let it run automatically, pause or fast forward through the gallery.  

DISC TWO:

Note: the disc has the ability to play the film in the two-part (two night) way the film debuted on television in its Extended Cut form.   

KING KONG Panel Discussion From The Aero Theater (68:45) – filmed for the 40th anniversary of the film in 2016.  Morton, who provided one of the commentaries on disc one, hosts guests Actor Jack O’Halloran, Cinematographer Richard Kline, Make-Up FX Rick Baker, and producer Martha De Laurentiis.  They discuss the entire production with some great anecdotes beginning with Dino’s reasons for getting involved with King Kong.  Most of the information discusses in the Q&A can be gotten from the other interviews and commentaries on the first disc.  I say most because there is some great anecdotes that are told that are worth watching the entire featurette. It is nice to see this added bonus. 

The Final Thought 

Scream Factory has put together an impressive set for 1976’s King Kong.  Highest Possible Recommendations!!! 

Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray of King Kong is out May 11th

%d bloggers like this: