King Kong Lives DVD Review

There's a small but dedicated fan base for bad movies. These are not the type of movies that are actually terrible, just so incompetent, they become an absolute joy to watch for their sheer stupidity. That's King Kong Lives in a single sentence. This is a miserable film, and no honest critic is going to praise it. However, you know if you fall in this category, and if so, King Kong Lives is a necessity.

In a classic example of movie logic, King Kong managed to survive his fall from the World Trade Center in Dino De Laurentiis over-produced remake in 1976. Audiences are expected to believe that he has been kept alive for ten years, and now needs a blood transfusion for a heart transplant. Why he needs a mechanical heart is never really explained, and star Linda Hamilton contradicts herself by saying his heart is fine in the opening moments.

That's a fault of the screenwriters who have nothing to offer, even though one of them is Ronald Shusett who wrote the entire Alien series. The movie's tone varies from total camp to complete seriousness. In a desperate move, they've added a second Kong, a female (with breasts), who provides male Kong with necessary blood once she is captured. Kong's surgery, complete with oversized medical equipment, goes as planned. He escapes as he picks up the scent of the female being held a few miles down the road.

When they meet (predictably), the movie becomes a love story, with both the oversized gorillas and human characters. Neither relationship makes any sense. Seeing two men in ape suits flirt is hysterically funny, and that's where the movie takes an even more absurd turn. Though it's directed by John Guillermin (same director as the 1976 remake), this is a completely new special effects team, and Rick Baker fails to return to the suit. He wisely avoided the embarrassment.

It's a shame too, because the special effects crew puts on a decent effort, especially as far miniatures and the animatronic faces on the suits are concerned. They're quite expressive and completely wasted on cheesy smiles and "looks" as the animals begin their hideous courtship. Blue screen and the overused giant hands return, both just as ineffective as they were in 1976. The animalistic nature of Kong's roar in the remake (arguably one of the few positives about the remade creature) has also been changed, from a combination of multiple real sounds to a guy roaring into a microphone unconvincingly.

If you have never indulged in this "classic" and find yourself complaining about how poor the 1976 version turned out, this will change your mind. It's impossibly bad; yet so terrible it works as entertainment. It's dumb goofy fun, and the only place you'll ever bear witness to a giant monkey eating a drunken hick, and then pick his teeth (with the hick's hat stuck in-between). It's unforgettable, and for every conceivable pitiful reason possible. (* out of *****)

Fox has done a surprising job on this disc. The print is clean, even with all of the special effects shots that feature multiple elements. These tend to degrade quickly, but this print features very few shots with excessive damage. Grain is kept to a minimum, though a few scenes are bothersome. The color seems to have faded a little over the years as well. Still, it's far better than what the movie deserves regardless of the imperfections. (***)

Remixed into 5.1 for this release, King Kong Lives actually puts up a small fight in the audio department. Kong's footsteps provide a decent rumble in the LFE channel, but the explosions are lifeless. There are sporadic moments of separation, especially when the helicopters start flying around the sound field. There's not much in the way of rear speaker action. It's cleaner than the 2.0 stereo mix that's included. Dialogue seems faded comparatively. (***)

Extras are non-existent. Not even the trailer made it onto the disc, which was highly entertaining. It's amazing the team even found a way to market this. (No stars)

Sad as it is, this has been the last thing Kong fans have had on their mind for nearly 20 years. Hopefully, the upcoming Peter Jackson remake will change that. Until then, enjoy some cheap, embarrasing entertainment and feel pity for everyone involved.

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