Junkfood Cinema: King Kong (1976)

By  · Published on November 19th, 2010

Junkfood Cinema: King Kong (1976)

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema; try it with bacon! This is the weekly internet column that proves to within an inch of certainty that any idiot can be a writer. I take all the lessons I failed to learn in film school, warp them with demented abandon, and splatter the resulting abomination all over cyberspace. Who doesn’t like bad movies? If you are currently raising your hand, you should know that I cannot see you through the screen and you just look ridiculous. Everybody has one or two guilty pleasure films to which they subject their brains in full awareness of the film’s shortcomings. Personally I have a library of bad movies I love and I will examine one every Friday; giving the celebrated, if dubious, highlights as well as the technically existent flaws. In an effort to make this experience twice as unhealthy for you, I will also pair the film with a snack food item linked to the shenanigans in the film.

Last week saw the fall of a titan. For lovers of over-the-top, schlocky, or otherwise cheesy cinema, few names are spoken with more reverence than that of Dino De Laurentis. The guy is a legendary producer who had a Corman-like prolificacy. There is something incongruently grandiose about his productions that belie their actual budget or ultimate quality. In the short span of time that JFC has been in existence, two of his films have already been showcased: Danger: Diabolik and Flash Gordon. In honor of the passing of Dino, I have devoted the rest of November to his films. This week: King Kong (76).

What Makes It Bad?

This is actually a film that is almost universally regarded as a guilty pleasure. It is a modern retelling of one of the greatest American films of all time with apparently only a meager understanding of the original film. There are so many problems with this remake that I hardly know where to begin. Perhaps it’s best to start with the cast. The standout performance, for all the wrong reasons, is Charles Grodin. He plays the villainous oil company executive who spends most of the movie doing terrible impressions of a wide array of old world movie stars. At various points during the film he is failing to channel Paul Lynde, Jack Benny, and Jimmy Stewart. The film stars Jeff Bridges as the world’s most clairvoyant hippie. He’s a primate biologist who decides to stow away on a ship going to an uncharted island. No one has any idea what is on that island and yet a PRIMATE biologist feels he must be involved? Did his character read the script beforehand?

The film’s female lead deserves her own paragraph. While I’ve seen evidence that Jessica Lange is a decent actress, this is not her finest hour. Granted it was her first film but, much like Kong, she seems to have spent her entire life with little to no contact with actual humans. We get introduced to her as she explains to us that her name is Dwan because she wanted to make the name Dawn more memorable…by spelling it incorrectly? Most of her line deliveries make late-in-life Anna Nicole Smith seem sober (may she rest in peace). She is the single most irritating female character in recent memory, though my recent memory is clouded by Vodka shots and snorting lines of Pixie Stix.

The effects in this film don’t even warrant the clarifying adjective “special.” It’s very rare that a remake produced four decades after the original succeeds in making the effects in the original seem insurmountably superior. Instead of attempting to recreate the Harryhausen claymation that looked so amazing, they opted for man-in-suit nonsense mirrored only by the most average of Godzilla films. The bargain-basement blue screen leaves its stark outlines on every human actor as the film struggles to look low budget at best.

Why I Love It!

I have to admit my love for this movie is shaky at best and is really more based upon those involved in its production than the end result. Again, if Dino De Laurentiis has had a hand in a film at any stage of its development, rest assured I will be seeing it. He once again tackles a project with an ambition that far exceeds its practical grasp, but I applaud his testicular fortitude. If you get the feeling, while sitting through the “getting to know you” montage on the boat, that you watching a James Bond film, that is probably because the music in the King Kong was composed by John Barry. And as much as I hate the effects in this film, it is worth noting that Rick Baker contributed to the effects team. This was the biggest film he had worked on by this point in his career but thankfully his skills and ambitions evolved from there.

You have to admire a train wreck like the ’76 King Kong. Someone got the brilliant idea to strip away all the pesky glamor associated with Hollywood in the 30s and instead focus on the potential for making the film a parallel to the energy crisis of the 70s. Yup. The plot revolves around an oil company hoping to discover a massive strike on this mysterious island and then shifting their focus to bring Kong back to the states…as a marketing ploy to sell more gas?! So instead of unveiling Kong in a grand old theater like in the original, he is carted out in a cage shaped like a gas pump in order that he may be the new “tiger in your tank” that did such great things for Exxon. The movie fails so spectacularly that you can’t help but laugh.

Junkfood Pairing: Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey Ice Cream

The ice cream strong enough for an ape, but made for men? It’s a madhouse! Not only does this snack food allude to the central beast of this film, but the ingredients are strikingly poignant. It has a vanilla base that speaks the blandness of this remake, Jessica Lange is completely bananas, and Charles Grodin is certifiably nuts. So by poignant, I of course mean, if you turn off your brain these words will make sense!

Stop monkeying around and go read more Junkfood Cinema

Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.