It may sound odd in a world where we have films like Tron: Legacy, but once upon a time it was not standard procedure to make a sequel to box office disappointments starring Jeff Bridges long after anyone would reasonably be expected to still give a shit. And yet, Tron was not the first film to get a sequel that tens of people were clamoring for.
The ten year gap between Dino de Laurentiis unleashing his con-game remake of King Kong (which was sold to audiences on the strength of a full-scale robot it's fairly clear even Dino knew was never going to actually be anything but worthless) and the sequel to it that nobody wanted should tell a potential viewer something right off the bat. Either Dino (and the previous film's director, the late John Guillermin) was just that invested in the plan but couldn't convince anyone else to be, or he was waiting for the bad word of mouth to die down in the hopes that audiences would suddenly decide they wanted to see another King Kong movie from him.
Sure, this was well before the internet could make the fallacy of that plan immediately obvious, but it's still rather like Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich deciding to release "Godzilla's Spawn" in 2008, while changing nothing about what everyone hated the first time around. If it was clear that the first time around nobody liked what you had to offer and you just barely made anything that could be considered a profit, why would you assume anything would be different ten years later?
Well, such pedestrian concerns were clearly beneath Dino de Laurentiis. And thus, his King Kong got a second chance to win nobody over.
The film begins by refreshing your memory of how the last film ended. This means we get to watch a mercifully truncated version of Kong climbing the World Trade Center, being gorily shot to pieces by military helicopters, and plunging off the towers to his completely unambiguous death. Bizarrely, de Laurentiis sprung for permission to use footage of Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange from this sequence, despite how irrelevant they will prove to the film at hand, but didn't bother to spring for John Barry's score--one of the only things that worked in the previous film. They're also using a completely different sound effect for Kong's roar that sounds like a guy going "Raarrrgh! Graarrr!", which is kind of a shame as I always loved that particular stock monster roar used in the first film.
We then roll the opening credits and the title card has always amused me, because a film like this needs a ludicrous, over the top title card to really sell the ridiculous concept. Instead, the title card doesn't stand out at all from the rest of the credits and if a title card could be bored, this one is.
|"King Kong Lives. Whatever. Yawn."|
Kong has been in a coma for the past ten years. (At a cost of $7 million, which seems low even in 1986 dollars, honestly) They've been preparing an artificial heart to replace his real heart--you know, the one turned into salsa by those helicopters--but the process took too long. If it had been ready a year earlier, it would be okay but his blood has deteriorated too much. The great ape is now dying and without a transfusion, replacing his heart will kill him. Trouble is, no animal on earth can serve as a suitable donor for Kong. Franklin, a tear in her eye, explains that the only thing that can save him is a miracle.
Okay, so the film is absolutely ridiculous already and it's not even ten minutes in. Unless Kong has some heretofore unknown Wolverine-like healing ability, there is no way he was shot hundreds of times and fell 1400 feet to the ground without rupturing every organ in his body and breaking every bone. And somehow he survived for 9 years in a coma with a shredded heart with no problem, but now he's going to die because one more year was too much? And why exactly has anyone been putting so many resources into reviving a giant ape in the first place? And to what end?
Better strap in, folks, it's about to get even bumpier, because we're about to get Dr. Franklin's miracle.
Somewhere in a rain forest, Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) is leading a pack of mules. They pass by a macaw and he talks about jaguars before gently tossing a boa constrictor aside, but we'll later find out he's in Borneo--so this must be the movie that the makers of Anacondas: The Hunt For The Blood Orchid used as research. At any rate, he attempts to take a nap on some comfy leaves...only to discover there's a giant ape hand under them. Based on the angle when we see the ape it's attached to, Mitchell somehow overlooked a 40-foot ape crouched in front of him.
|"I am not a chair, you puny rodent!"|
Now, a quick aside here: the movie briefly tries to explain away Lady Kong in Borneo by saying that Borneo and Kong's Island were once a part of the same landmass. That's absolute nonsense, of course. Even if it were, how long ago would it have separated? Unless Kongs can live for thousands or millions of years, somebody would have seen a breeding population of gigantic apes in Borneo. You can get away this on an uncharted island or even a plateau, but it does not work on an actual landmass.
Mitchell negotiates a deal with the Atlanta Institute, over the objections of Franklin when she hears that the ape is female. She is concerned that the female's presence will ruin Kong's chance of recovery after the surgery, but without Lady Kong they don't have the plasma they need. So Ingersoll makes the deal and Lady Kong is flown to Atlanta in a plane that is clearly too small to hold her. Seeing how Mitchell calms Lady Kong after they land, one of the technicians in the plane jokes, "You better be careful, I think that little lady has a crush on you."
As Mitchell addresses the swarming reporters, Franklin mocks his silly hat from afar. Now, Linda Hamilton is kind of sleepwalking though a lot of this movie, but she actually makes that line work. And then Ingersoll makes a comment about how having two giant apes will prove the eminence of the "Atlantic Institute." That's right, the movie has already forgotten the damn name of its fictional institute. Mitchell and Franklin get the expected "they dislike each other but set your watch for when they start banging" introduction, before Mitchell chases some reporters away from Lady Kong, haranguing them for disrespecting a lady. Hence, Lady Kong.
Well, Mitchell is later unhappy with the fact that, after drawing blood from Lady Kong, the Institute just stuck her in a warehouse, but he's assured that she will be moved to an enclosure they're building as soon as possible. (Um, so if there wasn't already an enclosure set up, what were they gonna do with Kong if they had saved him, then?) And then the heart surgery scene takes place, and it's hard to know whether to admire or mock the level of effort the filmmakers went into when planning the sequence out. Instead of a scalpel, Franklin uses a buzzsaw to cut Kong open. Her team have enormous forceps to hold him open and his heart is removed by crane before another crane provides the new artificial heart. There's some minor tension when the crane breaks but the operation is a success.
Cut to the next day as a rowdy crowd outside the Institute celebrates the successful operation on a giant ape. There's people in gorilla masks, a "You Kong, Me Fay" banner (which makes no sense, diagetically), and a young black kid waving a Confederate flag around excitedly. Jesus. A reporter then explains that until the enclosure for Lady Kong can be completed, the warehouse behind him has been converted "into the world's largest ladies' dressing room." That...that's not...oh, forget it.
Well, apparently dressing rooms in the 1980s were a lot kinkier, because inside we see Lady Kong is chained to one wall with a bunch of food piled beside her. That night, while Mitchell attends a party, Franklin stays by Kong's side--so she's there when he wakes up. Almost immediately, he smells Lady Kong and tries to unhook himself from all the wires and electrodes to break out and reach her. This almost causes his new heart to fail--cue a guy in an ape suit clutching his chest--and Kong has to be knocked out for his own safety.
And a brief word about the Kong suit in this film: I don't actually recall if the suit was new, like Lady Kong's, or if they got the Rick Baker suit out of storage. However, it sure looks like someone took the suit from the first film and melted the mask a little before using it.
|"Dur, who, me?"|
Astoundingly, this fool-proof plan is going awry when a Lou Costello-style security guard who is clearly not paid enough gets the honor of witnessing Kong wake up, immediately break his chains, and then smash his way out of the skylight. The guard radios in to the warehouse before fleeing the scene, as Kong strides right on over. He smashes right through the warehouse wall and, in a "you've got to be shitting me" moment, Kong and Lady Kong's eyes meet while tender romantic music plays. No, I'm not making this up.
As Kong strides through the warehouse toward Lady kong, all manner of hell breaks loose. Rather like the scene where the military is fighting Ebirah at the refinery in Godzilla: Final Wars, there are a bunch of cars and pick-up trucks driving wildly around the inside of the warehouse (!) and crashing into stuff. Kong tears Lady Kong out of the net--hilariously causing a car to roll over lightly and promptly explode--and they make eyes at each other again. Dear God.
|Goddamn it, another Gerard Butler romantic comedy? Oh, sorry, my mistake.|
For some reason, Kong's path makes him walk right through a transformer but I guess electricity must make him stronger like in King Kong vs. Godzilla, because he doesn't even notice as he continues carrying his mate into the countryside. Also, despite Ingersoll angrily yelling at Mitchell for keeping them from stopping Kong--to which Mitchell counters, melodramatically, that they would have killed Kong--no official charges will come against Mitchell despite the fact they obviously should.
In fact, the next day Franklin runs Mitchell off the road so she can talk him into joining her in her truck instead of his car to go find the apes. We also learn a military convoy has been tasked with tracking and recapturing the apes, under the command of Lt. Col. Archie Nevitt (John Ashton), and holy crap does this guy hate apes. Though he seems almost reasonable at first, talking about the plan to gas the apes to recapture them--but you can already see the revulsion in his eyes. There also seems to be a bit of an editing gaffe here because Nevitt asks about two civilians who broke through his perimeter, and he means Franklin and Mitchell--except they haven't crossed his perimeter yet.
Meanwhile, ugh, at "Honeymoon Ridge" the apes are romancing each other. Lady Kong playfully steals his tree branches, he taunts her with a live snake that would have to be a loose ten-foot python based on the scale of the animal in the suit actor's hand. They cuddle as Lady Kong tends to his wounded leg, and then Kong tries to pull a Licepick and Chill on her. Only after this do we see Franklin and Mitchell break through the military perimeter in pursuit of the apes. They end up having to continue on foot after losing the soldiers they drive past.
Seeing a metallic box, Mitchell asks if it's Franklin's makeup kit--lighten up with the blatant sexism, movie--and she explains it's a portable cardiac monitor for Kong's heart that can remotely adjust any functions as necessary to keep him healthy. Crossing a rickety wooden bridge over a waterfall, Frankling almost goes over the edge when the bridge breaks but when Mitchell hauls her in her only concern is for the cardiac kit. Until she notices that Mitchell cut his arm, that is, whereupon she tends to his wound so they can grow ever so much closer to banging.
They find Kong and Lady Kong by nightfall, To Franklin's amazed delight, Kong's heart is getting stronger. Mitchell, watching the apes cuddle, then realizes that they could save the apes by transporting them to Kong Island or Borneo--they'd just need the money for a reserve. The two then find a spot to camp for the night, but unfortunately Mitchell has the only sleeping bag. Being a gentleman, I guess, he tries to pitifully cover himself with a blanket while she comfortably sleeps in the sleeping bag. However, sensing that the bang timer has gone off, she decides to invite him in to the sleeping bag...
No, I have no idea why she needed to make him freeze first.
|Boy, if I had a nickel for every time this happened when I went camping, I'd...have to actually go camping.|
The gas oddly does not knock Kong out the way it did his mate, so Nevitt orders concussion grenades be used until Lady Kong is airlifted away. Kong watches helplessly as sad music plays--and then a squadron of flamethrowers goes after Kong. So, wait, why is Nevitt cool with capturing one gorilla but wants to kill the other? Did his wife leave him for that handsome gorilla in Japan? At any rate, a storm starts to kick up as Kong flees up a nearby peak with the army in pursuit. Mitchell and Franklin steal a jeep to follow.
As Nevitt calls the helicopters back, lest they be lost due to the wind, Kong throws a boulder and crushes one jeep--after the soldiers dive out to safety--in an effect that looks like it was borrowed from A*P*E. Sadly, Kong will not be giving anyone the finger. Mitchell and Franklin are captured just as movie lightning and sheets of rain roll in. Kong is trapped at the top of a cliff over a raging river. And I do have to give this movie credit--its optical composite shots don't look nearly as shitty as its predecessor's. At any rate, Nevitt gives the other to shoot Kong dead. However, Kong leaps from the cliff in a bit that is accomplished via an actual stuntman in a gorilla suit leaping off a very high ledge. So, kudos to that guy.
The raging river sweeps Kong away, and he bashes headfirst into a rock, Blood fills the water as Nevitt observes that not even Kong can survive that. Sure, he survived being shot to pieces and plunging off the tallest building in the world, but a little head wound will surely do him in. Indeed, the cardiac unit flatlines as Franklin and Mitchell despair...
An undisclosed amount of time later--dialogue later says it's been "since last summer"--we see Lady Kong is being held in what appears to be a missile silo. Food is regularly dumped in to her, but the film sadly doesn't address where the massive amounts of ape shit are going. Also of note is that one of the base guards watching her is played by Mike Starr. Franklin and her colleague finally gets a written authorization from the Secretary of Defense to see Lady Kong, and we learn that Mitchell is in Borneo.
Reluctantly, Nevitt allows her to see Lady Kong. Glancing at the moaning gorilla, Franklin declares that Lady Kong senses that Kong is alive. Franklin says she feels it, too, when Nevitt scoffs, so he angrily cuts their visit short. Franklin's colleague points out that Kong would have been found by now, and for that matter where would he find a source of protein sufficient to sustain him?
Well, we get our answer in an obvious miniature swamp at night as Kong grabs a baby caiman--which morphs into an adult alligator in close-up--and snaps it in two before eating it. Look, would it really have been that hard to make a rubber alligator? The difference between an adult alligator and a baby caiman is incredibly obvious. They're different shapes and colors.
|King Kong and The Sewer Gator, coming this Fall on Fox!|
Mitchell arrives in Atlanta and greets Franklin with the news that he has secured a preserve in Borneo for only $1.3 million. Franklin has to break the news of how awful Lady Kong's captivity is to him, including that she isn't eating or sleeping and they aren't being allowed to see her. Mitchell demands they try to see her right then, but that just ends up getting Mitchell a rifle butt to the stomach when he tries to rush the guards.
Well, Lady Kong's howls finally bring Kong out of the swamp to rescue her. He first wanders into a town, peers into a window at a couple making out, and then causes a "comedic" panic amongst the town folk as they flee in all directions and Kong confusedly wanders onward. This triggers the expected posses of rednecks eager to take Kong down. Meanwhile, Mitchell and Franklin fly into the countryside in a single engine plane to follow Kong's trail. They land and head out on foot.
So the pair are just too far away to witness what happens when Kong bumbles into an ambush set up by a group of redneck hunters in a ravine. The hunters dynamite the walls of the ravine and bury Kong up to his neck. They take pictures with the ape, but then decide to have a little fun with him--starting with trying to feed him booze. One of the hunters wisely objects that if they're gonna kill Kong then they should do it, but they shouldn't torment him. In fact, he draws his rifle on the others when they grab logs from their fire--but he's quickly disarmed and they foolishly go ahead with poking Kong in the face with their makeshift torches.
You guessed it, Kong bursts up out of the rocks. Two of the hunters are killed instantly, including the guy who was very much anti-Kong-torture. Kong easily grabs one of the others and snaps him in two. The leader of the hunters almost escapes up the cliff face, but Kong knocks him down--and eats him. Kong then pulls the guy's baseball cap out of his teeth, which as a kid I thought was supposed to be an internal organ for some reason. He then walks away, but clutches his chest in pain--the exertion having damaged his artificial heart, apparently.
|"No, God, please, no!I don't know who killed your organ grinder, I swear!"|
Of course, I love the idea that Kong killing four people will mean that he's going to be put down by the military--but the military didn't object to bringing him back after he killed easily dozens of people in New York ten years earlier.
Well, the military does roll out the next day, with Nevitt eagerly leading the offensive. A major tries to inform Nevitt that he's still being ordered by the General in charge to capture, not kill. Nevitt orders the major to pretend that the channel the orders are coming in on is malfunctioning. Yeah, you show that gorilla what happens to home wreckers!
Mitchell and Franklin fly over a town that is desperately evacuating as Kong charges through it. Komedy ensues as Kong stomps on an expensive car and gets hit with a golf ball on a golf course. So I guess only part of the town evacuated. Mitchell and Franklin fly over the military units waiting for Kong and then land next to Lady Kong's silo. Somehow the entire day has passed, because Mitchell declares it will be dark soon and they can get in then.
Indeed, night falls shortly and somehow Kong manages to walk right through the squads waiting for him, unharmed, by tossing up a lot of dust. I'm sorry, dust screen or not, he's still 40 damn feet tall. He is nearly impossible to miss. He tosses a few vehicles around, including Nevitt's, before continuing on his way. Nevitt hops aboard an armored transport and orders them to pursue.
Meanwhile, Mitchell and Franklin manage to get past the outside guards. They then knock out the inside guards after using Franklin's beauty as the most obvious and ridiculous bait this side of having her just show up nude. Seeing Lady Kong's distended belly, Mitchell is horrified. However, Franklin points out that this isn't because of her mistreatment--she's pregnant! The pair climb into the silo with her and activate the elevator and open the hatch at the top. Here we see the beach ball moon again, but this time it is definitely obvious.
Unfortunately, Mike Starr wakes up and stops the elevator and begins to close the hatch. Lady Kong panics and then grabs Mitchell so he can play Fay Wray for a bit. Then Kong grabs the hatch doors and tears them open--hilariously, when Kong then pulls Lady Kong up out of the silo, you can see the "moon" wobble behind him. Mitchell is carried along since Lady Kong won't let go of him, and Franklin climbs out of the silo and steals an army truck, just ahead of the oncoming squads of soldiers.
Kong and Lady Kong crash a barn dance that turns out to be a family reunion, because nothing is funnier than hicks, right? Mitchell gets set down just as Franklin pulls up, and then Lady Kong falls onto the barn and goes into labor--just as the military arrives. Despite Franklin's desperate pleas that they'll hit Lady Kong, Nevitt orders his men to open fire. Kong is once again blasted to pieces, but he gives almost as good as he gets and punches several vehicles into fireballs, before grabbing Nevitt's vehicle and tossing him into a convenient nearby cemetery.
Nevitt doesn't give up, though, and tries to kill Kong with his side arm--only to be fist-smashed into a grave. Having killed his adversary, Kong now collapses beside the barn and, hilariously, we are given to interpret this as his heart giving out. Yeah, being shot full of holes was no big deal--it was that shoddy heart of his.
|"Those bullets...would be...no problem...if only...I had eaten...less bacon."|
The music and acting all try to convince you that this is sad and triumphant as Kong reaches for his mutant offspring, but even as a father now this does nothing for me. I'm too distracted by how silly the Baby Kong is--the little monster even has a full mouth of teeth! Anyway, Kong touches his freak of a son and then dies. Thus, one could argue, rendering the title of the movie a stupid lie!
Cut to Borneo, where Baby Kong swings on vines like Tarzan and his mom smiles at him. They smile at each other. The way the masks contort in order to smile renders it creepy. The End.
|"Look, I had a long day of fighting dinosaurs and swatting planes--can we just cuddle tonight?"|
"You were with that tiny blonde again, weren't you? You pig!"
However, I don't want to sell this film short. It is absolutely bonkers in just about every way it can be. I mean, try to imagine the thought process that saw someone decide that what the world needed was a romantic comedy starring giant gorillas facing off against rednecks. I don't know what I expected out of a movie called King Kong Lives when I rented this as a kid, but it sure as hell was not that.
It's especially strange when you consider that this film posits a King Kong that is an out and out hero. Even its original tagline is "America's biggest hero is back..and he is not happy." The thing is, nobody thinks of King Kong as a hero. I mean outside of King Kong Escapes and the cartoon it's based on, up to this point Kong had never been a full on good guy. Sure, in King Kong vs. Godzilla he's the "good" monster, but he's still considered a menace and does way more damage than Godzilla. (Which we'll address at a later date) And in the previous film, even though we are supposed to sympathize with the beast, Kong still stomps on innocent civilians, deliberately kills Charles Grodin, roughly throws a woman who is not Jessica Lange onto the ground and then drops a train on her, before going on to kill several soldiers and destroy at least one helicopter during his last stand at the World Trade Center.
We sympathize with Kong, even in the original film, because he is a wild animal who was ripped from his home against his will and ran wild in a world he doesn't understand. He's put down because there's no other options and he causes a lot of destruction and death in his wake. He doesn't do it out of malice, he's just an animal. Yet, here, Kong is anthropomorphised to a ridiculous degree. It actually has the odd effect of making him less sympathetic because it's so ludicrous.
Suddenly Kong is exceedingly gentle unless he is provoked by a direct attack. And, indeed, until the final military battle the film takes ridiculous pains to make sure Kong doesn't kill any of the soldiers attacking him. It doesn't really fit his character and the lengths they go to try and make us root for Kong ring inauthentic every step of the way.
However, while I can fault the film for its attempt to humanize its giant gorilla star, I can't fault it for the amount of giant gorilla action it features. This film has easily the highest ratio of Kong and/or Lady Kong scenes of any King Kong film. And unlike its predecessor, I can forgive it for not featuring a single dinosaur. Now, of course, that doesn't mean the Kong action is necessarily good, just because there's a lot of it. For one thing, there's the fact that the military battles are all fairly perfunctory, and in order for Kong to have any chance of winning the military never even rolls out actual tanks for him to fight.
I do have to give the film credit for trying to have its giant apes do a lot of their walking in actual ape fashion, full on knuckle walking and all. And as I said, the optical effects are a lot more consistent then the previous film, but they're still not always great. However, holy hell is the miniature work in this film often awful. Just look at the inexplicable decision to use a small live snake and a live baby caiman to indicate full grown animals that would look nothing like that. Then there's the pitiful dolls that stand in for humans in any shot with the suits carrying humans.
So the effects are a mixed bag, usually skirting the edge between competent and bad. The story is ludicrous and usually wildly misguided. The music is not awful but sure is bizarre since it fits the film's intent but the intent is bizarre. The acting is pretty uniformly unimpressive--from the normally charismatic Linda Hamilton delivering most of her dialogue with a sleepy disinterest to John Ashton's scenery chewing human villain. Nobody stands out as exceptionally bad, but the overall performances make the previous film look like a full company tour de force.
In the end there is no question that this is an awful film. It's honestly hard to say if it's worse than its predecessor, however, since they're both astounding failures in their own ways. It definitely does its damnedest to try being worse, though.
That does not mean that I hate this film, though. Far from it. This film is a glorious piece of shit. King Kong Lives is one of the ideal examples of a "good-bad" movie. For this film fails on multiple levels, over and over, and yet even when you've seen it multiple times--as I have--you can still find a new way to be surprised and entertained by its idiocy all over again.
Everyone needs to see this movie, frankly. It's that terrible.
Today's review brought to you by the letter K! Hit the banner above to see what the other Celluloid Zeroes chose for K!
If you're going to do a movie review and act like you know anything about it at all, then the least you could do is some actual research for it if you weren't around for the original movie's release. Contrary to popular opinion and misdirected animosity, King Kong '76 was a huge box office success that people actually loved. The critics were the ones who mostly panned it but the fans made it a hit.ReplyDelete
It's true that DeLaurentis overhyped the film, especially "the robot" that was supposed to do all the Kong scenes (and barely got a few seconds of awkward screen time), but all that does not make for the incorrect, revisionist history that the '76 Kong was a failure.
Now "King Kong Lives" on the other hand was an absolute disaster and a complete waste of film and money. The best thing to come from Kong Lives was a one line review I read, from Rolling Stone I believe, which stated "King Kong Lives!.... and the audience dies!".