Classic Intel: King Kong Lives - DVD Review

With the original film reaching its 80th birthday this year, Ben has set out on a journey to a land that time forgot, watching all of the King Kong films along the way.

'Kong has never looked less impressive, with the man-in-a-gorilla-suit factor worse than ever.'

1976’s King Kong remake, whilst never as successful as the 1933 original, at least can be seen as respectful to the legacy of Kong’s first cinematic outing. Sadly the same can’t be said for 1986’s King Kong Lives, which essentially takes a giant-ape-sized dump over much of what made the original film so successful.

A direct sequel to his 1976 remake, John Guillermin returns to direct again here, but begins making mistakes almost immediately. None of the Kong cast of ‘76 are back, of which Guillermin poignantly reminds you by starting King Kong Lives with clips from the final moments of the previous film. Linda Hamilton is the only name of interest here, mainly due to King Kong Lives appearing only two years after Hamilton’s iconic turn in The Terminator. Despite the actress’ efforts she never gets anywhere near her success battling cyborgs from the future, ending up as the best performer of a bad bunch. The rest of the cast are barely worth a mention.

With ten years to rectify the special effects problems which were such a core failing in Guillermin’s 1976 picture, you would think that Kong would be a more impressive presence here. But somehow, despite a sizeable budget, the effects here are notably worse. Kong has never looked less impressive, with the man-in-a-gorilla-suit factor worse than ever. The suit itself could have been taken from any grubby fancy dress shop rack. And what’s more, with the introduction of “Lady Kong”, there are now two unconvincing giant gorillas to besmirch the stop-motion charm of the 1933 original.

Despite the poor acting and crummy special effects, the story is undeniably King Kong Lives’ weakest feature. After a somewhat intriguing opening scenario, involving a comatose Kong needing a blood transfusion in order for an artificial heart to be transplanted into him, things quickly become laughable. Adventurer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) happens upon Lady Kong with the same ease you might find your car keys down the side of the sofa, and characters make one unbelievably stupid decision after another to further the largely directionless plot. We’re even “treated” to Kong’s courtship of Lady Kong on a mountainside, which is either meant to be touching or funny, but is just awful. By the time Kong is being pursued - and even momentarily captured - by drunken redneck hunters, you won’t know who to feel more insulted for: you as the viewer, or Kong as the humiliated screen icon.

King Kong Lives is an undeniably bad film; but far more than that, it’s a film which shows no respect for its much-loved source material. The fact that Kong here survives his famous fall at the end of the original film removes the poignant and poetic message of this climax. The introduction of a giant ape love interest shows an insulting lack of understanding of why Kong’s infatuation with a human woman is such a powerful image. King Kong Lives is a completely unnecessary film, hollow of message and dull of narrative, that comprehensively fails to justify its existence from start to finish.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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