[Scream Factory Blu-ray Review] 1976’s ‘KING KONG shakes a mighty fist on collector’s disc

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

KING KONG (1976)

Theatrical cut: Rated PG (more like PG-13 today), about 134 minutes.
Television cut: Not rated, about 182 minutes.
Available today on Blu-ray through Scream Factory.

It likely sounded like a fool’s errand back in the 1970s to take a beloved classic like 1933’s King Kong and remake it for a modern, more cynical age. But studios believed that audiences were ready for a larger-than-life, visual spectacle. So, in 1976, a new version of Kong was told with recognizable talents and new tech and effects.

The film is now available on Blu-ray for the first time in North America, thanks to Scream Factory.

45 years later, King Kong is goofier than you may remember. Stars Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange (making her feature-film debut) do their best to keep the narrative heartbeat going. Still, a hokey screenplay and uneven effects challenge it to some laughable levels. The love angle between Lange’s Dwan character and the mighty ape is a silly presentation—especially when the giant washes his blonde, palm-sized love interest in a waterfall and blows her dry with his hot breath as if they’re in some steamy romantic scene. You just have to roll with it.

No matter how wacky it gets, it’s entertaining—‘70s love tunes and all. Plus, it’s neat to see how the filmmakers tried to make their titular creature feel like he towers 40 feet above everyone and not so much like a stuntman in a monkey suit (a la Schlock). The way the movie builds tension, concentrating on Kong’s eyes and iconic yells, admittedly gives it some viewing power. 

The two-disc collector’s edition comes with the original theatrical release and a restored assembly cut that’s nearly an hour longer. [Cracks knuckles in preparation for getting technical.] The TV cut originally was shown in a 1:33:1 aspect ratio, but this release (as Scream Factory notes) expands the TV footage to 2:35:1. More information and content fill out the frame. You will see repeated shots and seemingly dropped audio (it’s not missing—it was never intended to be visible). The formerly cropped-and-adjusted images no longer appear like new shots. So, the blending of all the footage (which features extended sequences to replace various music cues and censored sexual suggestiveness and offensive language) is noticeable but not incredibly distracting. 

Picture-wise, the newly scanned TV footage looks the crispest. Grain levels fluctuate from moderate to heavy, depending on the shadows within the scene. Some nighttime sequences can get pretty fuzzy, and audio (provided in English 2.0 DTS-HD) doesn’t blend as well. What remains most intact is the color consistency. So, points there.

The back cover of the Blu-ray release may make it seem like this edition is light on extras, but there are a handful of interviews with various filmmakers and actor Jack O’Halloran. The stories about how director John Guillermin “could have been better” and how people tried to steal pieces of the giant Kong sculpture at the film’s final scene are fascinating. The virtual chats are pieced together with footage and production photos to avoid being mere lengthy Zoom calls. (Good pivot on Scream Factory’s part).

Overall, this collectible item is for longtime fans and those fascinated by the struggles of getting King Kong to the big screen again. This King Kong won’t dazzle like the original or some of the newer versions. But you’ll appreciate Scream Factory’s craftsmanship when creating this disc. The cover artwork (illustrated by artist Hugh Fleming) is exceptional and makes for a great conversational piece.

Grade: B

Complete Special Features:

DISC ONE: THEATRICAL CUT (2.35:1)

  • NEW Audio Commentary With Film Historian Ray Morton (Author Of KING KONG – THE HISTORY OF A MOVIE ICON)
  • NEW Audio Interview With Special Makeup Effects Wizard Rick Baker
  • NEW Something’s Haywire – An Interview With Actor Jack O’Halloran
  • NEW On The Top Of The World – An Interview With Assistant Director David McGiffert And Production Manager Brian Frankish
  • NEW Maybe In Their Wildest Dreams – An Interview With Sculptor Steve Varner
  • NEW There’s A Fog Bank Out There – An Interview With Second Unit Director William Kronick
  • NEW From Space To Apes – AnInterview With Photographic Effects Assistant Barry Nolan
  • NEW When The Monkey Dies, Everybody Cries – An Interview With Production Assistants Jeffrey Chernov And Scott Thaler
  • Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 And NEW Restored Theatrical DTS-HD 2.0 Stereo Track
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • TV Spots
  • Radio Spots
  • Still Galleries – Posters, Lobby Cards, Behind-The-Scenes Photos

DISC TWO: EXTENDED TV BROADCAST CUT (2.35:1)

  • NEW 2K Scan Of The Additional TV Footage From The Internegative
  • KING KONG Panel Discussion From The Aero Theater (2016)

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.