Title: King Kong (1976)
Release Date: May 11, 2021
Price: $28.43 Buy on Amazon
Shout! Factory has released a Region A Blu-ray edition of the 1976 film King Kong for the first time. The 2-disc Blu-ray Collector’s Edition includes both the 134-minute theatrical and extended 182-minute TV version of the film that adds more footage but removes some material from not suited for television. The TV version features improved video from a new 2k scan of the additional footage. Both versions are presented in 1080p at 2.35:1 aspect ratio. However, because the television version was originally cropped to 1.33:1, there are some instances when characters appear to be speaking but there no dialogue. That is because those characters were cropped out of the frame on the original TV broadcasts. It’s also worth noting Shout! matched this TV cut from Paramount’s original tape master for television.
A slate in the television version from Shout! states:
When the TV version of King Kong was created, the editor reused some shots, which wasn’t noticeable on TV since the film was cropped to a 1.33 aspect ratio. We chose to present the film in its 2.35:1 aspect ratio and to not crop these scenes. Consequently, you’ll notice a few sequences where characters speak but there is no dialogue. The audio isn’t missing – they weren’t meant to be visible. There are other instances where audio sync is loose, but in the absence of separate dialogue, music and effects tracks, these areas could not be adjusted.
Our new version matches the original tape master from the TV broadcast in Paramount’s vaults. We used the best available elements – sound and picture. We hope you enjoy this presentation of the longer cut of King Kong.
King Kong (1976) continues the long tradition of feature films that started with the 1933 film King Kong (originally titled “The Beast”) that was conceived by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. This movie is considered a remake of the original, and was followed by King Kong Lives (1986), a goofy sequel in which Kong is brought back to life with an artificial heart and blood transfusion from “Lady Kong.”
In the 1976 version of King Kong our favorite “Eighth Wonder of the World” is captured from a mysterious island in the Indian Ocean and brought to New York City in order to make up for failed oil prospects. There, Kong escapes his shackles when trying to defend the beautiful Dwan (Jessica Lange) — the human woman who was offered as a sacrifice on his native island.
The plot of King Kong (1976) is pretty much the same as the 1933 version as well as Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). However, it is the only King Kong movie to feature the World Trade Center [insert moment of silence here) instead of the Empire State Building from which Kong was shot down in the original 1933 movie. As you would guess, over the period of 43 years from the first movie special effects and miniatures in moviemaking improved significantly (as did the size of Kong). And, during the 29 years between 1976 and 2005 digital effects completely changed what was possible in film.
It was interesting revisiting the theatrical version which really does seem like a movie as opposed to the 182-minute version that feels more like a drawn-out, made-for-TV movie, albeit with “big screen” ambitions. As it were, everything about King Kong shouts “big screen” especially in the wide shots when scale is used to illustrate the size of Kong to the size of humans.
King Kong (1976) was produced by Dino De Laurentiis and directed by John Guillermin. The cast includes Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and Jessica Lange starring in her first feature film.
King Kong has a very large grain structure, but it doesn’t affect the sharpness which, overall for a film that is over 40 years old holds up well. Video resolution is 1080p at 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and played at best around 34Mbps (40Mbps is the max bit rate on Blu-ray) while hovering in the 20s for many scenes.
On Blu-ray the film is a vast improvement over any current digital streaming of the movie (see a comparison below of the opening boat scene at sunset), which is completely flat and lacking in color depth. There will likely be an upgrade to the digital versions of the film at some point, either premiering on Paramount+ or upgraded on digital services.
One view that is worth hitting the Pause button is when Dwan passes through a natural coastal arch and discovers the waterfall. The shot from beyond Dwan is one where contrast and detail are critical. Previous SD versions do not do this scene justice but the Blu-ray reveals beach and fog behind the arch with a good range of light to dark (there’s a good story about using a fog machine in the extras). Low quality imagery would either blow out the bright values of the sky or darken the natural stone arch to the point where it just reads like a cave.
There is obvious overlaying of the imagery to make some scenes possible. For example, the scene where Jack Prescott and crew members attempt to cross a log in search of Dwan was all shot on Hollywood sets was masterfully put together for the time, but by today’s standards look like magazine collage work. There is some beauty, however, found in the craftsmanship as seen in the shot of Dwan in the hand of Kong (see the closeup above for details).
The Blu-ray edition of King Kong (1976) includes DTS-HD 5.1 audio as well as a newly restored Theatrical DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Track. Overall the quality of the audio is good for dialogue and music but there are some moments when screams (mainly from Dwan) are distorted instead of crisp.
The scene when the island natives keep chanting “Kong, Kong, Kong” may have you doing the same after watching and the mix was very good considering the amount of elements in that particular moment. Gunshots and drums sound just about like any other 70s from the time period like James Bond and other action flicks.
When Kong reaches the city and wreaks havoc the audio mixes get more complicated and those scenes probably had to do with King Kong being nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound. At the tail end of the movie (do we need to insert a spoiler for this? OK. SPOILER ALERT) when Kong is supposedly taking his last breaths you can hear the beat of his giant-sized heart until it stops. It’s an appropriate ending for the sad tale of man’s dominance over nature.
Jeff Bridges stands out in this movie (other than Kong himself) as the lead character and hero and probably saves the movie from a casting disaster. Jessica Lange, if you consider it was her first feature role, is fine as the damsel in distress. However, Charles Grodin is absolutely ridiculous as Fred Wilson and you wonder why director John Guillermin didn’t have him tone it down a bit. Still though, for fans of this genre King Kong (1976) does a good job of creating empathy for the giant who, in the theatrical version, comes off as a bit of a pervert (reference the “undressing” scene that was removed from the TV version) but you nevertheless can’t stop crying for through much of the second half of the film.