HD DVD
For Fans Only
2 stars
Overall Grade
2 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
2.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3 Stars
Supplements
0 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
For Fans Only

King Kong (1976) (French Import)

Street Date:
May 20th, 2007
Reviewed by:
Peter Bracke
Review Date: 1
November 12th, 2007
Movie Release Year:
1976
Studio:
Studio Canal
Length:
134 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG
Release Country
France

Editor's Notes

This is a review of the French HD DVD release of 'King Kong (1976).' This movie has not been announced for release on either high-def disc format in the United States, although the domestic home entertainment rights are owned by Paramount Home Entertainment, which is currently supporting HD DVD only.

Note that this disc is not region-coded and will play in any HD DVD player -- for more information on importing HD DVD discs, click here

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

In 1975, Dino De Laurentiis -- the Barnum & Bailey of Hollywood -- announced he planned to bring the legendary tale of 'King Kong' back to the big screen, in a blockbuster of never-before-seen proportions, boasting tour de force special effects. Months and months of buzz (mounting budget problems, a never-ending shoot, on-set cast and crew clashes, etc.) only added to the near-mythic status of the film, which even the most hardened industry observers predicted would become the next 'Jaws' at the box office. Add in a huge marketing campaign by Paramount, and the prime holiday opening slot of Christmas 1976, and well, 'Kong' was gonna trample the record books as the biggest hit in history.

Needless to say, fate had other plans for the poor ape. Though it was technically a hit (earning its money back when it you count TV and video revenues), the 1976 version of 'King Kong' will always be remembered as a disaster of epic proportions. Critics carped, audiences yawned, and careers were (almost) destroyed -- stars Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange would spend years trying to live it down.

For my own part, I have to admit that I actually get a bit of a kick out of the film, as awful as it certainly is. Having said that, the cynicism of the movie is hard to forgive. Typical of much of shockmeister De Laurentiis' output in the '70s and '80s, he and his director John Guillerman seem to possess absolutely not one iota of the reverence for the classic tale -- certainly not the kind that Peter Jackson would eventually lavish on it in his big-budget, fawning 2005 update. Instead, the duo seems to regard Mr. Kong as nothing but a gigantic wrecking ball of cinematic excess. The big beast exists only as a marketable commodity to trout out for mass destruction -- and that he does, destroying one ludicrously bad model shot after another, all set to rumbling Dolby stereo.

The big selling point of 'Kong' in 1976 was, of course, the monster himself, and the then-"state of the art" effects that would bring him to life. De Laurentiis did at least have the foresight to hire wunderkind and future multiple Oscar-winner Rick Baker ('An American Werewolf in London,' 'The Nutty Professor') to re-imagine the iconic ape for the '70s. Unfortunately, even Baker just smiles wistfully when asked about 'Kong' today -- because it's obviously just a guy in a big gorilla suit, smashing toy trucks or growling in front of a giant blue screen. Though you can't really call lesser Baker "tacky," there is a charming quaintness about this teddy bear-Kong, enough that you almost want to look for the zipper.

'King Kong' also utterly fails to wring the required emotional pathos out of a story that has always dangled precariously on the edge of preposterousness. The dialogue scenes that are interspersed between the film's carnage range from merely laughable to cringe-inducing to camp of the highest order. Bridges (looking quite ape-like himself with one humongous hairy beard) and Lange are normally outstanding actors, but even they can't save some of the most dreadful dialogue ever heard in a major Hollywood motion picture of any era --

Dwan: How can I become a star because of... (dramatic pause) ...because of (another dramatic pause) ... because of someone who was stolen off that gorgeous island and locked up in that lousy oil tank!?
Fred Wilson: It's not "someone," it's an animal, a beast who tried to rape you! And before you cry a lot, you should ask the natives on that island what they thought of losing Kong.
Dwan: Actually, they'll miss him alot.
Fred Wilson: Like leprosy!

Okay, so this 1976 version of 'King Kong' is bad -- tragically bad, even. But as misguided and inept as it is, it it is also undeniably -- even deliriously -- entertaining. I'll even go out on a limb and say I prefer it to Jackson's over-inflated update, because if nothing else the 1976 'Kong' is at least not pretentious. It's like the American equivalent of all those old Japanese Godzilla movies -- it's utterly stupid, but at least it delivers the juvenile thrills you can only get watching a stuntman in latex destroying things while the beautiful chick screams for her life and military men fire missiles at the monster. Pure, unadulterated, unapologetic pulp, 'King Kong' may be impossible to defend -- but at the same time, it's awfully hard to hate.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'King Kong' received its long-delayed widescreen debut on standard-def DVD a few years back, and it was a surprisingly nice transfer. This first-ever high-def release of the film is also quite nice, proving that if nothing else, by spending a bit of money you really can shine up a monkey turd.

Minted from a well-preserved master, this 1080p/VC-1 encode (at 2.35:1 widescreen) looks far better than a 1976 film has any right to. I was particularly impressed by the consistent blacks, which almost never reveal any fading. Contrast is also slick, with a nice vibrancy to the image and only a few of the very darkest shots looking a bit flat. Colors are also very smooth and controlled, and fleshtones are generally spot-on. Granted, 'King Kong' does not have the vivid look of a modern film, but it's far more robust and clean than I anticipated.

Having said all that, this presentation is not without its problems. The source, though nicely restored, has a few bits of dirt and the odd speckle or two (though they're almost exclusively confined to special effects shots). Grain is also inconsistent, with the frequent matte and miniature shots suffering the worst, though even some dialogue scenes are fuzzy. Due to the dated nature of the effects, there is a lack of sharpness, although for the most part, the film boasts a very pleasing sense of depth. In short, a surprisingly strong showing for Mr. Kong.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

As is the case with most of Studio Canal's HD DVD imports, as soon as you pop the disc in you'll be greeted by a language pre-menu, where you must select from one of six options to customize the menus to your chosen dialect. However, there are only two actual soundtracks included on this disc -- a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/16-bit) and a French DTS-HD High-Resolution dub (also in 5.1 Surround, at encoded at 1.5mbps).

Alas, unlike the video, the audio can't overcome the dull dynamics of its now-dated source material. High-end, in particular, sounds clipped and a bit hard. The .1 LFE also doesn't deliver truly crunching low bass, so even with Kong stomping all over the place, my subwoofer never cranked.

Surrounds have a processed feel, suggesting that a good deal of artificial "bleed" was applied to key effects to boost the rears. Imaging is a bit phony, while discrete effects stand out so much that they tend to distract rather than blend in. On the bright side, the excellent score by John Barry (easily the best part of the entire film) is nicely rendered, with a fairly full-bodied feel and a hint of presence in the surrounds. Still, all in all 'King Kong' is hardly the kind of demo material most early adopters hope for.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

Aside from a promo montage of additional Studio Canal titles and the studio's standard video and audio test signals, there's nary a supplement to be found on this disc. For once, however, I can't lament the lack of extras, as there's never been a special edition release of 'King Kong' on any format. I suspect just about everyone involved with the movie would rather it just disappear from their resumes, so the chances of this 1976 version of 'King Kong' getting the red carpet treatment at any point in the near future seem pretty slim indeed.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

Needless to say, there are no HD DVD exclusives, either.

Final Thoughts

'King Kong' is a pretty bad remake, but it's also cheese-tastic, and if you're in the right frame of mind, I suspect you may have as much fun laughing at the movie as I did. This HD DVD import, meanwhile, is a mixed bag. The video transfer is surprisingly good, but the soundtrack can't overcome its dated origins and there is not a single supplement in sight. Given the high exchange rate (it's being sold for 34 euros at Amazon.fr, or roughly $50 US), this one's probably only worth a purchase for die-hard fans.

Technical Specs

  • HD DVD
  • HD-30 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/VC-1

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/16-bit)
  • French DTS-HD High-Resolution 5.1 Surround

Subtitles/Captions

  • English Subtitles
  • French Subtitles
  • German Subtitles
  • Danish Subtitles
  • Dutch Subtitles
  • Norwegian Subtitles
  • Finnish Subtitles

Supplements

  • None

Exclusive HD Content

  • None

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