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

During the winter of 1976, you couldn’t escape the return of King Kong. Producer Dino De Laurentiis had gone out to produce the biggest indie budget film for the biggest star Hollywood had ever created. Kong was on the back of comic books. Posters of Kong straddling the World Trade Center towers while clutching Jessica Lange in one hand and a destroyed fighter get in the other papered towns. I still remember the poster being up for months in the window of a dry cleaner in Fayetteville, NC. The TV ads popped up on every show. The drink glasses were at Burger Chef. 7-Eleven had special Slurpee cups. Dino had to get everyone hyped up since Paramount was releasing the movie on 1,200 screens. This was in an era when a major film debuted on much less and built up over time. Jaws opened to only 409 screens. King Kong opened huge and wanted to stay there. King Kong: Collector’s Edition brings back those fond memories of 1976 when the giant ape dominated our lives.

Dino doesn’t give us a pure remake of the original. The ship that heads out to a mysterious island in the pacific for more than making an adventure movie. It’s the mid-70s and the Petrox Oil Company needs to find a new place to drill that won’t be part of the next OPEC oil embargo. Fred S. Wilson (Midnight Run‘s Charles Grodin) leads the mission with geologist Roy Bagley (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s René Auberjonois) as his main man. But there expedition gets two uninvited guests. First is Jack Prescott (The Big Lebowski’s Jeff Bridges). He’s a scientist who wants to see what’s really on the mysterious island. He’s heard stories of the roar of a great beast that lives there. He wants to investigate without doing any damage to the locals. The second person to arrive is Dwan (American Horror Story’s Jessica Lange). She floats up on a rescue boat after escaping from an exploding yacht. She would have been a victim if she didn’t want to avoid watching a movie on her doomed ship. She’s an actress and has no real rush to go anywhere so she enjoys her time on the oil company ship. She’s excited about seeing the mysterious island. What they see is on the island is a huge wall that must be holding something back. Near the gate, the natives performing a ritual with a man dressed as a gorilla and a woman prepared to be the bride of the ape. Because of the outsider intrusion, the locals decide they want Dwan to be their new bride of the mysterious Kong. They grab her off the ship and she meets the largest star on the silver screen.

King Kong updates the original. It takes it from showbiz to corporate politics. He’s brought to New York City to not be a Broadway sensation, but a massive marketing spokesperson. He is Madison Avenue and Wall Street gone wild. There’s a bit of weirdness when they cut between the giant robot at the unveiling and Rick Baker in the Kong suit. It’s a fun film after all these years.

There’s a misconception that Dino’s King Kong was a box office flop. The truth is the film made three times its budget at over $75 million. In today’s money would be around $350 million. Dino made even more money when NBC paid $19.5 million to run the film two times. That was nearly the budget right there. The ape paid off royally. Instead just running it as a Movie of the Week, Dino dug up nearly 45 extra minutes of footage so it could be a two night event like a miniseries. Did your parents let you stay up to see the bigger version of the film? After years of only being able to get the theatrical on DVD, it’s great to see the miniseries. There’s quite a bit of character action added back to the film. We see how Jack steals the identity of a ship member. There’s a bit more development between Jack and Dwan. The violence and language is toned down for TV. So you can watch both version and notice the changes.

King Kong Collector’s Edition brings together all that made the giant ape a sensation right before the Christmas of 1976. If you have memories of seeing Kong standing between the two towers of the World Trade Center, this is pure bliss on two Blu-rays. You might shed a tear or two when the monkey dies.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The 1080p scan really gets you to appreciate Rick Baker’s performance inside the ape suit. The mini-series is now all HD 2.35:1 anamorphic and not the 1.33:1 standard video that you watched on your parents’ TV in the rumpus room. The audio is DTS-HD MA stereo with the original theatrical mix for both the theatrical and the miniseries versions. The theatrical film has a 5.1 DTS MA Surround so you can hear Kong smashing up your living room. The movies are subtitled.

Audio Commentary with Rick Baker. The special effects legend and 7 time Oscar winner goes deep into his life with King Kong. This was supposed to be a video interview, but Rick went so deep and long, it’s best as an audio commentary. Baker is so eloquent as he recounts how he went from the ape creature in John Landis’ Schlock to King Kong in a few years. He was not a fan of the idea of the remake and wondered what idiot they’d put in an ape suit. He got the call.

Audio Commentary with Ray Morton, author of King Kong: History of a Movie Icon. He gives history, context and details about the production. He gives little details such as how much it cost Dino to borrow the ship. This is a fine way to understand so much about Kong.

On Top of the World (11:54) with Brian Frankish, production manager, and David McGriffert, assistant director, talking about the film. The production found itself going faster when Universal threatened to make their own King Kong film. McGriffert though he was just a location scout. They show off the storyboards for the film.

When the Monkey Dies Everybody Cries (13:48) reunites Jeffrey Chernov and Scott Thaler after being the Messengers on King Kong. They earned $150 a week for Dino. They talk of how they were all over the studio relaying messages since this was the pre-cell phone era. They talk about having to take King Kong to Italy for a theme park attraction.

Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams (5:36) sits down with sculptor Steve Varner. He talks about making the giant King Kong “robot.” He worked on the hand and the body. He worked in the cherry picker even though he had a fear of heights. There’s a few pictures of the creation. Rick Baker gets shown in the Kong suit. He talks about how the 40 foot robot wasn’t going to do much of the performing.

Something’s Haywire (5:52) catches up with actor Jack O’Halloran. He got his pick of five parts in the script. He went with the construction guy since he understood the role. He talks about getting to carry Jessica Lange around. He sensed she was a star. The shoot ran long. The Hawaii location was supposed to be 4 days. It lasted 34 days. He speaks of Jeff Bridge’s acting techniques.

From Space to Apes (5:36) gets photographic effects assistant Barry Nolan to let us know the visual tricks. He worked for Frank Van Der Veer (who also did Orca). Nolan worked in aerospace photographic effects. Kong was his first movie. He added a color TV system to a film camera so they could composite while shooting. He didn’t like the arrogance of director John Guillermin. He like Dino. He worked on King Kong Lives. He seems to be saying more about the sequel. Is this a hint that Scream Factory will give us King Kong Live: Collector’s Edition in the near future?

There’s a Fog Bank Out There (6:31) allows second unit director Bill Kronick recount his time with the ape. He came from documentaries. He talks about directing the screen tests for actresses wanting to be Dwan. He realized Lange was right for the role and got Dino and the director to notice her. He talks about making the fog work. He shot on the top of the World Trade Center for the effects shot. He breaks down how Kong broke down the wall.

Theatrical Trailers (5:02) has two trailers promising the cinematic event of our time.

Television Spots (3:36) lets us know what Kong will look like when he’s grabbing Dwan. They promise us “the most exciting motion picture event of all time” on December 17th.

Radio Spots (1:35) teases us with the 8th Wonder of the World arriving at a theater near you.

Movie Stills (7:26) are the color and black & white press photos.

Posters and Lobby Cards (8:53) includes international lobby cards, posters from around the world, press books, poster art, glasses, Viewmaster packages and the 8mm version.

Behind the Scenes (6:39) has police guarding Kong in front of the World Trade Center, the various effects in progress and the giant robot. You can always spot director John Guillermin with his pipe and stocking cap as if he’s cosplaying as a member of Jacques Cousteau’s crew.

Newspaper Ads (3:58) show the film was a hit that was heldover at major theaters. There’s ads for when it ran as 2 parts on NBC. They also have the ads for when it was double featured with Orca, Dino’s movie about a Killer Whale attacking at town. You can get both films on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

King Kong Panel From the Aero Theater in 2016 (68:45) is after a special screening in Los Angeles. Ray Morton hosts the panel. On the stage is actor Jack O’Halloran, director of photography Richard H. Kline, Rick Baker, Dino’s widow Martha De Laurentiis and Richard Kraft, who worked with composer John Barry. Martha says that Dino’s daughter having a King Kong poster on her wall is what inspired him to bring back the ape. Baker talks about how Hampton Fancher was hired to be the guy inside the Kong suit. You would remember him as the co-writer of Blade Runner.

Scream Factory presents King Kong: Collector’s Edition. Directed by John Guillermin. Screenplay by: Lorenzo Semple Jr. Starring: Jeff Bridges, Jessica Lange, Charles Grodin, John Randolph, René Auberjonois, Ed Lauter, Julius Harris & Jack O’Halloran. Running time: 134 minutes & 193 minutes. Boxset Contents: 2 movies on 2 Blu-rays. Rated: PG. Release Date: May 11, 2021.

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