Oil man Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin) is setting out on his latest expedition and this one he is sure is going to be big. He has planned a trip to a mysterious fog bank in the ocean around Indonesia, because from his research he has worked out there must be a large island there - and a great source of oil. What he does not know is that paleontologist Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges) has stowed away onboard as he wants to ensure that there is no environmental damage being committed, but what they don't count on is finding a young woman adrift in a life raft...
And that young woman was Jessica Lange making her debut in this, what was planned to be one of the biggest blockbusters of all time. It certainly cost a lot of money, at any rate, but it wasn't long before this Dino De Laurentiis production was receiving some brickbats not only from the critics, but the public as well. This was largely down to the film taking a classic, which had justifiably been called a fairy tale for the twentieth century, and exposing its outrageous storyline as something incredibly stupid. You didn't come away from this in awe, you come away thinking, "aw, no!"
One of the problems is that Lorenzo Semple Jr's script saddles Lange with one of the most grating female leads of the decade, a beautiful woman sure, but also a complete moron - how can we feel any of the giant ape's depth of emotion when the object of his affection is such a shallow character. The reason she has been adrift is because the yacht she was on blew up and she managed to get to the raft after being on deck. Why was she on deck when eveyone else was below? Because they were watching Deep Throat and she didn't want to see it: this is the film's idea of humour. As if that wasn't bad enough, she introduces herself as Dwan, which she considers a more interesting spelling of Dawn.
As this was made in the seventies, it has one of the concerns of the era to the fore, no, not porno movies, but the environment. Our hero Jack is a green campaigner out to spoil weaselly Wilson's endeavours to secure oil wealth beyond his wildest dreams and the creature of the title embodied the nobility of mother nature and how it was exploited by humanity. Once we get to the island, things are considerably less action packed than the original, without the abundance of dangerous wildlife Jack and the sailors might have met when they go after Dwan when she is kidnapped by Kong; in fact, there is but one monster menace, and that is the world's least convincing rubber snake.
This King Kong owes more to the disaster movies of the day than it does any retelling of a modern myth, so Kong is that force of nature which places us in peril, only this time it's our own fault for allowing it to happen - even Jack takes the oil dollar when it comes to taking Kong from his island back to be put on display in New York, although he does have second thoughts. We're not supposed to be scared of this Kong, impressed by him yes, but this is no horror movie like its predecessor was, so with De Laurentiis' influence the massive ape is a tragic hero intended to leave the audience in tears. Alas, tears of laughter might have been their best bet, for this looks ridiculous, with the star a combination of a forty foot robot that didn't work properly and Rick Baker in an ape suit which the credits are curiously reluctant to admit to. There are signs this was intended to be a spoof along the way, but if true the lasting effect is of watching someone laughing at their own jokes for over two hours until the emotional switch in the last ten minutes. Music by John Barry.