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King Kong – Collector’s Edition (Blu-ray Review)

While not the most popular rendition for the 8th wonder of the world, not having the 1976 version of King Kong on Blu-ray (In the United States) has long been a bit of a glaring hole in cinematic history as represented by the current home video format. And fortunately, in this case, the wait is proving to be well worth it, as it is finally arriving in a boutique label release that gives it so much more than just a basic disc. Scream Factory has labored themselves with a load of new interviews, a restored extended TV cut and lots of really fun vintage marketing materials to make up a 2-Disc release for the Dino de Laurentis mega-budget picture. Perhaps, as always, this one may need another look or maybe it will have a new appreciation found when done sorting through the various bonus materials. This one hits the (likely virtual) shelves on May 11th (TODAY, as a I post this). It looks to be having some stock issues, but maye the paid Amazon Associates link below will be working so you can land yourself a copy of this very anticipated release.

Film

When a research ship is sent to explore an island thought to be rich in oil, paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) sneaks aboard, having heard strange rumors about the island. En route, the crew rescues Dwan (Jessica Lange), the sole survivor of a shipwreck. When they arrive, they find native people living in fear of a monster called Kong. The natives kidnap Dwan and sacrifice her to what turns out to be an enormous ape. Dwan is eventually rescued, and the ape captured for a gala exhibit.

The 1976 King Kong has long been a film I return to every once in a while. I’ve always wanted to enjoy it more than I end up by the end of it. There’s a sort of respect I have for this rather giant production, but its always come up short and felt a bit boring to me. For some reason, I always look forward to and accept another shot at it. For this new Blu-ray of the film, I decided to take in the extended television cut of the film and watch as I did Zack Snyder’s Justice League; watch it in segments via multiple sittings.

With this television cut and the episodic nature in which I viewed it, this was the most I’ve ever enjoyed the film (probably since I was a kid). There’s something relaxing about it in this lengthy form. I’m not an expert on the film to tell you what exactly was added or left to breathe. I just seemed to appreciate the conversations and dialogue between the characters a lot more and followed some of the motivations a little better. As a film, I’d make it a point to sit and take in a 2.25 whallop. Here I did four installments of about 50 minutes a piece, give or take. Its not a perfect film or even great or even budging a needle in my Kong rankings, but I happily have the appreciation and fondness of it at this time again. And possibly, I may even enjoy the theatrical version more now.

There are fun performances abound in the film as Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin are fun to watch square off. Grodin is particularly interesting to have here as he wasn’t in many big movies like this in his career (Maybe The Great Muppet Caper is his next “biggest” thing?). He’s a real presence and a good sneering mustached villain to play in here. Jessica Lange makes a stunning debut here with otherworldly attractiveness that can’t help but quiet a room upon her entry. Overlooked by that is a rather terrific debut performance that wasn’t appreciated at the time, but sincerely needs another look.

The film also decides to take a bit more modern (for its time) look at the time and cultivate it for relevancy rather than just straight remake the original. There’s some great social commentary on oil and the greedy people behind it. There’s some telling moments when its revealed the oil won’t be useable for 10,000 years and you really see its not oil and he pivots to taking Kong home. You find its power and elite class status that he really covets and he’ll be damned if he won’t do anything to achieve it. Mix in an adversary of the people in the form of a hippy in that of Jeff Bridges and the business or politicians caught in the in-between with Lange’s character. Its not even in a film that doesn’t quite always work, that its trying to also say something in addition to big set pieces and movie magic that attempt to wow.

King Kong 76 is a really interesting piece of cinema history and a notable landmark that often is overlooked due to its lukewarm reception (Though it was a high earner at the box office). The film at its time was about the furthest limits to push special effects, epic adventure cinema with many of the old ways and some new stuff being utilized. Just over 5 months later, Star Wars would arrive and change the landscape forever. Kong was the last big “tentpole” film before Star Wars happened. Technology and effects differences were quite a leap between the two, but de Laurentis film was still impressive. It had itself a lasting legacy and found itself iconic in its own right and was for a time immortalized in an awesome Universal Studios ride that I miss dearly.

Video

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: For this release of King Kong (1976) the only notes on the transfer are for the TV cut which has a 2K scan of the additional TV footage from the internegative. There is a disclaimer card that plays prior to the film warning of some of the things that were discovered when opening up the TV cuts 1.33:1 aspect to now fit the 2.35:1 theatrical ratio. Overall this is a pretty nice transfer, filmic with solid details abound. However, there is room for improvement, but this works out pretty fine.

Depth:  Depth of field is pretty decent and the transfer manages to give some good pushback and display the scope and scale of the film quite well. There’s good relations between the blue screen effects and characters/Kong that doesn’t feel too revealing and lets the effects hold up. Movement is smooth and cinematic with no issues revolving around motion distortions.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep but do feel a hair lighter, mostly due to carrying a bit of the more revealing grain. No real issues occur with masking any details on dark surfaces or shadows. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction:  While taking place in a tropical setting, colors stay pretty natural with some good greens and blues. With help from a contrasting nighttime setting, the big city stuff at the end helps colors to pop a bit better and reds are a standout in the final act.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent from opening credits to end credits. Facial textures and details are plenty good in close ups and most medium range shots.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

Audio

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA (Theatrical Only), English 2.0 Stereo DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: King Kong has a pretty nice, impacting 5.1 track that shows some good power in its action but also in the deep, beating nature of the score. As far as balance, vocals lay in a very audible spot at all times with good mixture with the effects and scoring. Its a pretty well thought out and engaging mix throughout all 5 channels. The stereo track also renders itself a solid listen as well.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: The subwoofer really embraces the deeper ends of the score and also handles Kong’s stomping and attacking quite well to go with good explosions. waves crashing, sabotage and engines roaring.

Surround Sound Presentation: All five channels do a pretty impressive job of filling out the room and submerging you into the movie. For a film of this age and nature, care was really given into the ambiance and playful nature of many of the scenes, with motion accuracy and distinct sounds given to rear channels.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp.

Extras

King Kong – Collector’s Edition is a 2-Disc set with each cut of the film receiving its own disc.

Disc 1 – Theatrical Cut

Audio Commentary

  • By Ray Morton
  • By Rick Baker

On Top Of The World (HD, 11:54) – Production manager Brian Frankish and assistant director David McGiffert together in a theater reflect on their journey with the film and some of the triumphs and dangers making the film. The effect where Grodin is stomped to death was going to be much more practical until McGiffert was almost seriously injured during a test run and decided to nix it and find other means.

When The Monkey Dies Everybody Cries (HD, 13:48) – Via a zoom call with a cool Kong hand graphic looking like its holding it up, production assistants Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler who were known as “messengers” in the credits back then, discuss how they made their way to Hollywood and go through all the weird odds and ends that happened to them during the production of the film. Plenty of Dino de Laurentis impressions are abound here.

Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams (HD, 5:36) – Sculptor Steve Varner share stories about the 40 foot Kong used in the movie and the giant hand as well as stuff about Carlo Rambaldi.

Something’s Haywire (HD, 5:52) – Actor Jack O’Halloran, via a beach background on his zoom call, reflects on the long shoot. Not a fan of director Guillerman and but full of praises for Jessica Lange.

From Space To Apes (HD, 5:36) – Photographic effects assistant Barry Nolan, formerly of aerospace before working on the movie, talks about blue screen/composite work. Also not really big on Guillerman.

There’s A Fog Bank Out There (HD, 6:31) – Second Unit Director Bill Kronick reflects on his work and being “stunned” upon seeing Jessica Lange and filming her the first time. And he shares plenty about shooting the fog bank scenes and the New York things he shot for the film.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 5:02) – Its actually 2 trailers.

Television Spots (HD, 3:36) 

Radio Spots (HD, 1:35)

Image Galleries

  • Movie Stills (HD, 7:26)
  • Posters and Lobby Cards (HD, 8:53)
  • Behind the Scenes (HD, 6:39)
  • Newspaper Ads (HD, 3:58)

Disc Credits (HD, :14)

Disc 2 – Extended TV Broadcast Cut

King Kong Panel Discussion From The Aero Theater (HD, 1:08:45) – 2016 panel discussion moderated by author Ray Morton and featuring Jack O’Halloran, Richard H. Kline, Rick Baker, Martha de Laurentis and Richard Kraft.

NBC Promos (HD, 3:52) – Hidden as an easter egg but really easy to find.

Summary

Scream Factory’s release and the TV cut of the 1976 King Kong have made this the most I’ve enjoyed watching the film over many decades. Their transfer is pretty good with equally enjoyable audio. There’s a lot of rich, brutally honest, bonus material to enjoy well after the fact as well. And I rather enjoyed a lot of the classic marketing materials, especially the NBC promos and bumps hidden on the 2nd disc. Sure, its a shame none of the A-listers were on here to tell their tale, but I think you get a rather outstanding picture of this production through the crew who brought this spectacle to life. A definite, easy pick up for King Kong fans and horror fans to have this piece of history in its best edition yet on your shelf.

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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