Top critical review
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not great by any means, but worthless? nope...
on May 14, 2005
This was one of my favorite movies when I was a kid (I was 2 when it came out), and I was a little scared to watch it again, thanks to its reputation as a disaster.
However, I found the movie to be fairly good. I can certainly see why I loved it as a pre-teen. The decision to have Kong be so obviously infatuated with Jessica Lange is a strange one, for sure, and leads to a lot of scenes that involve Kong glaring at Lange and widening his eyes like the world's biggest pervert (literally, one supposes). He even tries to remove her top at one point, and while that may seem like a natural enough desire given the inescapable fact that Jessica Lange was, in 1976, hotter than broiled charcoal, I'm not sure it is believable from a ten-story-tall gorilla.
I always like seeing Jeff Bridges, and he's pretty good in this movie. Charles Grodin is pretty good, also, playing an oil prospector who will do anything to salvage his professional reputation. The music by John Barry is just what you'd expect from late-'70s Barry; that is, it sounds like James Bond music. Since I really like Barry Bond music (no baseball or steroid jokes, please), this is fine by me.
The special effects aren't too special by today's standards, but I've got to think that they were pretty fine in 1976. Keep in mind that this was before both "Star Wars" (which revolutionized effects in general) and "Superman" (which revolutionized blue screen effects specifically), and I think the blue screen and matte painting work looks good, considering. The gigantic Kong robot at the end is a piece a crap, though, and is wisely held to about half a second of screen time. The frequently employed huge robotic arm is better, although it moves very slowly, whereas the actor playing Kong moves with precisely the fluidity and grace that one would expect from a gorilla; hence, when the film cuts to the robot arm, it is extremely obvious.
Best of all, I was surprised to discover that the movie was actually about something. It works on two levels at once: (1) Kong as a metaphor for the environment, with his death as a metaphor for how industrial society was/is literally killing nature; and (2) Kong as a metaphor for post-'60s promiscuity.
That last one needs some explaining. Lange's character, Dwan (she changed it from Dawn to sound more distinctive; it sounds like she's getting called Juan for most of the movie, which makes me chuckle), is apparently a good-hearted but naive girl who runs about as wild as it's possible for a woman to run. She is shipwrecked at sea on her way to star in a movie in Hong Kong; the implication is that it's an, um, adult film. Dwan doesn't want anything to do with this, but the implication is that she's a wild enough girl that someone could justifiably THINK she would want to be in that sort of movie. I'm inferring a lot here, but I think the inferrances work.
Dwan's dilemma is choosing between "stardom" and Jack (Jeff Bridges); I see this as a choice between promiscuity and monogamy. Ultimately, she chooses stardom over Jack. Kong functions, then, as a stand-in for Dwan's libido, or instincts, or desires, or id, or whatever. At the end, when Kong meets his inevitable demise, Dwan all of a sudden wants very badly to be consoled by Jack, but standing between them is a sea of photgraphers, snapping away merrily at the hugest corpse on record while Dwan shouts Jack's name into the rising tide of voices.
The end of the film, unsurprisingly, is brutally sad, and in that sense, it is totally in keeping with the era in which it was made. Interestingly, the finale is similar to the finale of 1976's Oscar-winning "Rocky," in which Rocky is shouting for Adrian across a sea of photographers. The future is rosier for those two than it appears to be for Jack and Dwan, and that picture is more upbeat (and far better) than this one, but it's interesting to note, nonetheless.
The focus on Dwan's morality makes me wonder if the movie can be seen as anti-feminist. Since Jack isn't putting a great deal of pressure on Dwan to change - simply letting her know that they have a future if she DOES change - maybe it isn't. I'm no expert on the subject, but I know enough to be able to say that it's worth consideration. Either way, the movie serves nicely as a transition point between the promiscuity of the '60s and '70s and the more conservative (in image, at least) '80s.
This may all be giving too much credit to a movie that is not by any means a masterpiece. But I don't think it's a crapsterpiece, either. I'd happily buy a special edition if they ever issue one.
By the way, the picture and sound on this DVD are fairly good for a bare-bones release of a thirty-year-old movie.