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King Kong Lives
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by Jack Sommersby

"The Third Time is Not Quite the Charm"
2 stars

Not nearly as bad as you may have heard, but it's not particularly memorable, either.

The elephantine producer Dino De Laurentiis was responsible the 1976 remake of the well-revered 1933 classic King Kong, and with his Wilmington, North Carolina-based DEG Studios he’s financed the sequel King Kong Lives, which takes place ten years later, and despite a few impressive moments it doesn’t quite work, mainly because it falls into some of the same trapdoors the previous version ran into. The movie opens with the final scene of the 1976 version, with Kong, atop the World Trade Center, machine-gunned down by a fleet of attack helicopters, and falling for what that movie presented as his death; this time, with the wounded Kong lying on the ground, the amplified sound of his heart beat dominates the soundtrack. We then segue to a fancy, well-funded university, the Atlanta Institute, where Kong has remained captive awaiting a plasma transfusion needed in the transplant of a three-million-dollar artificial heart to replace his waning one. With little to no hope of a matching donor of its species and size to be found, a “miracle” is what’s needed as stated by the lead scientist in charge, Dr. Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton); but lo and behold in the South American jungle an American adventurer, Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin), stumbles upon another giant-sized Kong, only this one is female, and Amy initially objects because she believes any kind of agitation brought on by the male Kong scenting a female will prove risky. But the higher-ups say yes, and so does the opportunistic Hank dreaming of a big payday for his once-in-a-lifetime find. And what should be one of the movie’s high points, the actual transfusion procedure, involving huge surgical instruments that could be used on a brontosaurus, is disappointingly flubbed -- there should be an outrageousness to it that would make it giddily enjoyable for all inquiring eyes, but the director, John Guillermin, who directed the previous Kong, doesn’t serve up the detailed shots the sequence cries out for. (Surely it’s PG-13 rating wouldn’t have been jeopardized with some explicitness.) The operation goes well, but what is the Institute to do with the female? She’s housed and shackled in a warehouse, but the one-mile distance from where the other Kong is situated proves not to be nearly enough distance, for the male still smell her, and he manages to break out of the containment facility and make his way to the female, whom he breaks out and disappears with into the Georgia/Kentucky wilderness. The military has been called in to lead in the hunt, with Amy and Mitch teaming together to locate the Kongs on their own, and Amy carrying with her a portable computer that can keep track of the male Kong’s heartbeat, which, despite the incredible physiological stress put upon it, has actually been strengthening throughout this ordeal. In a predictable parallel, the Kongs engage in a romantic interlude just as our heroes are, only the Kongs’ results in a pregnancy, with the female getting captured shortly thereafter and the male managing to escape into the densely wooded wilderness where it munches on delicacies such as a horde of alligators that sate its nutritional requirement of at least a half a ton of food a day.

King Kong Lives isn’t exactly the most imaginative of sequels, with a reliance on a standardized framework and limited characterizations that certainly don’t break any new ground. The military, led by the dastardly, machismo-fueled Lt. Col. Nevitt (Beverly Hills Cop’s John Ashton, in the first boo-hiss performance of his career), is cliché-ridden stuff that wouldn’t have played any better had De Laurentiis pissed on it -- he’s merely there to give us a one-dimensional villain who we hope will soon meet his maker, and is saddled with such inane lines like, “Take that hairy son of a bitch down!” And there are times when Guillermin is reluctant to give rise to the humorous aspects of the material, as if he’d been given strict orders not to introduce any potential irregularities into the formulaic equation. Still, a good deal of the time the director’s judgment is sound, and he serves up a few set pieces that go beyond one’s expectations. There’s a near-beautiful sequence where the male Kong, cornered by helicopters, jumps off a ravine to a deep river below where he winds up conking his head on a massive rock, which is presumed to be his demise; and when his mortally-wounded self has a final chance of seeing his newborn son right after his partner has given birth, it tactfully wrings tears and serves as the movie’s high point -- it won’t leave a dry eye in the theatre for those receptive to its unabashed emotionalism. The movie was shot in 2.35:1-aspect ratio J-D-C Scope, and several of the widescreen compositions are astute, with lucidly-clear foregrounds giving way to rear-projected backgrounds and lending an impressive sense of scope for something that cost a mere ten-million dollars (fourteen-million cheaper than the 1976 version); cinematographer Alec Mills goes beyond the call of duty, whose work is hard-edged yet lyrical, like a pop-up book designed by a virtuoso of a graphic designer. It also helps that Hamilton, who strutted her considerable stuff in The Terminator and Black Moon Rising, and Kerwin, who served up a multi-faceted portrait as Sally Field’s irresponsible ex-husband in Murphy’s Romance, make believable protagonists. Amy’s allegiance with her Kong and Hank’s with his discovery has a dramatic consistency that keeps the movie grounded. There’s even a nifty bit where one of four drunken hillbillies who’ve temporarily incapacitated the male Kong with a dynamite-caused rock avalanche takes exception to his buddies’ wanting to torture the beast with cinders from their campfire -- it has an uncommonly affecting human element that helps offset the awkwardness of the staging (miraculously, the huge rocks manage not to land on any of the humans who’re just a few feet away from Kong). But it’s the rigidity in sticking to a tired action-movie template that ultimately undermines King Kong Lives, and because Guillermin, a technically proficient but unexciting director (Shaft in Africa, The Towering Inferno), isn’t talented enough he can’t give the lackluster military-versus-Kong bits the robustness that they need to make up for the screenplay’s lack of surprise and wit. That extraordinary special-effects whiz Carlo Rambaldi (Alien) is on hand, but his fine work is wasted in this awe-uninspiring cinematic exercise that never really gets out of second gear.

The DVD certainly can't be faulted, for both the video and audio are quite excellent. Some special features would've been welcome, though.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26962&reviewer=327
originally posted: 06/01/15 15:12:36
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User Comments

5/18/14 Charles Tatum If this film's awfulness doesn't make you laugh out loud... 1 stars
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  19-Dec-1986 (PG-13)



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