I’m not against contemporizing “King Kong,” but director John Guillermin shows us how to take a very simple concept like “King Kong” and completely botch it from minute one. It’s not like “King Kong” has a complex story. It’s a fairly exciting adventure about a giant monster, the woman he loves, and New York being torn to shreds by this out of place animal. Apart from being utterly abysmal, “King Kong” is also way too long, with a premise retrofitted for the seventies that stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. For a movie about a giant ape climbing the Twin Towers, it’s sad that the whole plot to get King Kong in to New York is the most far fetched element I had difficulty buying in to.
“King Kong” almost seems to change the more interesting aspects of the original film while keeping the minute details that seem to make this remake all the more goofier and campier. Why didn’t Kong just climb over the giant wall built to keep him in his island if he can climb the Twin Towers? Why build a giant wall with a door he can walk in and out of? Why did the natives worship Kong when there were other giant animals lurking about? And in a time where cinema had just about improved, why did the producers subject us to a two hour movie featuring a man in a monkey suit? And the monkey suit is only part of the problem with the special effects. We’re also subjected to awful green screen, bad animatronics, and a really blatant puppet of Kong mid-way.
Rather than following a filmmaker exploiting young actresses, we now center on a ship in the ocean run by an oil company seeking a new island in the South Pacific to exploit for oil. They’re interrupted by Jack Prescott, a wildlife loving paleontologist, who warns them about an island where a mythical beast lurks, prompting conflict among the crew. Miraculously, the beautiful Dwan washes alongside the crew, and is saved by them. The survivor of a sunken cruise ship, she tags along with the ship, and shockingly becomes the heroine, despite being the most obnoxious character ever put to film. Despite Jessica Lange’s absolute beauty, her protagonist is an irritating, shallow, manipulative, and downright stupid tart whose entire presence inspires pure hatred the minute she explains that she changed her name from Dawn to Dwan just to be unique.
The idea anyone in this film is seduced by her is mind blowing, but surely enough every man is drawn to her; Specifically King Kong, who kidnaps her when she’s captured by the natives as a sacrifice. Even when manipulated by her in to the ship and kidnapped to become a hostage in New York, he still loves her, even if the audience will likely be rooting for her slow and painful death. The mere attraction to her will make you doubt the intelligence and common sense of every character. This includes Jeff Bridge’s character Jack Preston, who goes out of his way to save Dwan who, even when being chased by Kong and watching a whole train of people being demolished, begs him to stop and buy her a drink at a bar. “King Kong” almost has the right idea, setting the premise in modern times, using the Twin Towers as a modern juggernaut in place of the Empire State Building, and dwelling on the idea of Kong being an exploited wild animal falling victim to man, but in the end none of it is exciting, and I truly wanted Dwan to die instead of Kong.