Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
King Kong Lives is a picture nobody wanted, produced by a company that more often than not
didn't have a clue. When Dino De Laurentiis was given an honorary Oscar in 2001 it must have been
for the quality of his handshake. The series of film clips shown to honor his career was
embarrassing; there was precious little
there to recommend him after the Federico Fellini years. The White Buffalo? Spare me.
Linda Hamilton and Brian Kerwin are victimized by an unusually inept script that takes the Kong
of Dino's terrible 1976 remake and turns him into a real monkey. He and his new Borneo babe Lady
Kong practically set up housekeeping like Ricky and Lucy. Their romance is paralleled by the
tacky coupling of an intrepid adventurer and an experimental heart surgeon, the kind that
transplants 200 lb. monkey pumps.
Let the humiliation begin.
Surgeon Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton) sees little hope of bringing King Kong out
of his coma (sustained after a fall from the World Trade Center) because there's no source of
blood plasma available to keep him going while she replaces his heart with a giant artificial
pump. But adventurer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) just happens to find and capture a
female giant gorilla who has all the hemoglobin Kong needs. The operation is a great success, but the
officials ignore Amy's advice to remove Lady Kong from the vicinity: Kong revives, gets one sniff
of her scent from a mile away, and rips himself free of his ICU to go 'a courtin'. Soon the
two love monkeys are hiding out in the forested hills from the trigger-happy Army, while
Amy and Hank try to stay close so she can monitor Kong's new heart with a remote adjusting device.
Perhaps the most painful thing about King Kong Lives is that it's not a cheap show. The effects
are very good for pre-CGI work, excellent in fact, with great miniature settings, vehicles, tanks
and buildings, while Carlo Rambaldi's twin ape suits are even better than Rick Baker's a decade
before. This is not a budget movie, and it's almost traumatic that all this craft and talent
was expended in the service of a film that you'd think no studio fool would ever spend a nickel on.
De Laurentiis' King Kong was an artless lump that trashed the giant ape's reputation and
that of the Academy as well; a lot of reforms in how Special Effects Oscars are nominated and
awarded were initiated after Dino more or less promoted awards for his film. King Kong Lives
starts off with a weird kick, reprising the previous finale atop the World Trade Center.
The story and screenplay are beneath ridicule. The scientists dispense far too sober exposition
that's rushed to get to the good stuff. Hamilton and Kerwin are each allotted about twenty seconds
for character development, and spend the rest of the time dishing out sub-Indiana Jones smart talk.
There are plenty of 'humorous' lines, but nothing remotely funny. The nadir of
'new-woman' screenwriting comes when all of Mitchell's pickup lines fail, until he praises her surgical
skill. She perks up with a, "Do you really think so?" look. That's the dramatic high point.
The Kongs are just a peace-loving couple, anthropomorphosed about two degrees shy of being characters
in a Chuck Jones cartoon. He's still fascinated by the moon; they exchange little gifts and act like
housebroken, civilized newlyweds. Rambaldi's excellent animatronic masks come up with weird, very
non-ape smiles, grimaces and growls. It's all technically adept and insultingly silly.
There's no subtext whatsoever here. The Army general makes his tanks charge with tough-guy orders
and alternates between capture efforts and maximum firepower attacks without rhyme or reason. Kong
was already riddled with machine gun bullets in the traumatic end of the first film. He fell
from the tower as well but apparently has healed all 902 broken bones in his body. An hour after
open heart surgery, he's a stompin' and a fightin' like new, although the loss of his cardio-monitor
dooms him when Amy can no longer regulate his artificial heart. It was all an excuse anyway, to motivate
the couple to chase Kong through the forest.
Another nadir of taste occurs when the two monsters bed down for the night, while Amy
invites Hank into her sleeping bag for the evening. It's pretty awful in every respect.
The movie has a bittersweet, inane ending that gives Kong a chance for a grab at our heartstrings.
Lady Kong bears him a son (boy that was fast, and she didn't even look pregnant) who is also
behaving like a teenager minutes after his birth. The entire enterprise winds up as if nobody gave a
damn except Dino, who must have been busy paying the bills.
There's a lot of good old-fashioned effects work here, but the cumulative result is a film
that's no better than the Japanese War of the Gargantuas with its brown and green monkey
men on an endless wrestling match amid cardboard landscapes. King Kong Lives cost probably 50
times more and surely made half as much money back.
Fox's DVD of King Kong Lives looks splendid - why do all the loser movies have perfect
elements and excellent transfers? - and has a robust soundtrack that may entertain you for minutes
at a time, until you remember you can do something more fun, like balance your checkbook. There's a Dolby
digital track. The packaging doesn't list the aspect ratio, but it's a full-width 2:35 to one.
Why is Fox putting this out, while The Innocents languishes somewhere?
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
King Kong Lives rates:
Movie: Poor but excellent production values
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 15, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson