Big Apes, Big Cynema

August 21, 2015

Written by Capt McNeely

Georgia Division ZADF Twitter: @ZADF_ORG


“When Jaws die, nobody cry . When my Kong die, everybody cry.” – Dino DeLaurentiis, producer

Younger viewers have almost no idea who legendary producer Dino DeLaurentiis was. Some saw him as the Italian forerunner of Michael Bay; creator of expensive, big budget, soulless films followed by similar producers like Alexander and Ilya Salkind, Peter Guber and Jon Peters, Jerry Bruckheimer as well as Dean Devlin and Roland Emmerich.  DeLaurentiis said this about his humble beginnings in film:

“After the war, there was no industry. We lost the war. We had our whole city destroyed. No money. No studio. No film. No camera. No equipment. We would shoot in the street. We had no actors. Nothing. But we wanted to do movies. And we did the best movies in the world. If you lived in a provincial town like Torre Annunziata, where there was nothing to do in the evening but go to the movies with your friends, the cinema was a world of fantasy. I had always been in love with it.

He emerged from post WW II Italy making low budget films with his eye on pictures of greater scale to eventually become a legend in the business, a man seen by many as greater than life…much like his movies.


A Man and His Monkey…Dino on set of King Kong, 1976


DeLaurentiis made some great films (Serpico, Three Days of the Condor, The Dead Zone, Ragtime, Lipstick) and also his share of cheese to outright dreadful films (King Kong, Orca, Hurricane, King Kong Lives, Flash Gordon, Barbarella, Amityville II & III, and the bankrupting 1984 Dune).

In an alleged argument between DeLaurentiis and producer Jon Peters, the two producers bantered over Peter’s A Star Is Born starring Barbra Streisand beating Dino’s 1976 King Kong remake at the boxoffice. Dino allegedly replied, “Maybe so, but your monkey can sing.”

A Man and His Monkey…

The 1976 King Kong is kind of fun to watch but blatant rip off of the source material did little to pay homage to the original. The 1976 remake of King Kong follows Cynema formula: big money, big sets, big actors…big deal. The production made a fuss over a life-size “robot” Kong that ended up being used for only seconds in the finished film.Watch carefully (fire up the pause button) you will see the mechanical ape looks NOTHING like Rick Bakers Oscar winning ape suit in the rest of the film.

Much of DeLaurentiis’s financing for KING KONG came from foreign pre-sales of the film—fueled by incessant (and, frankly, downright fraudulent) claims of how amazing his giant mechanical Kong would be.(


The poster lies: “The most exciting original motion picture…”

It’s not original, it’s a remake.

The poster depicts the immense ape straddling both towers of the World trade Center, holding Jessica Lange and crushing a fighter jet in his bare hands. Nothing like this happens in the film (there are no jets, period.). The poster is also painted with an emphasis on red, white and blue colors as the film was released during the nation’s bicentennial. Kong is an American monster, just as Godzilla is Japan’s.

“I no spend two, three million to do quick business. I spend 24 million on my Kong. I give them quality. I got here a great love story, a great adventure. And she rated PG. For everybody.”   – Dino DeLaurentiis

Big Budget Ed Wood?

Poor Ed Wood. All of his films’ budgets combined wouldn’t pay for the catering bill for King Kong. It packs its roster with big name stars Charles Grodin and Jeff Bridges. Jessica Lange still refuses to talk about the film (saying it pushed her into a year of acting lessons) and wanted her image removed from the flashback opening of King Kong Lives and who can blame her as she says to Kong with a straight face:

“You…chauvinist pig ape! What are you waiting for? You wanna eat me? Go ahead! Choke on me! [Pause] Oh, I didn’t mean that – honest I didn’t! Sometimes I get too physical. It’s a sign of insecurity, you know? Like when you knock down trees. Nice ape. Nice, sweet, nice, sweet, sweet monkey. You know, we’re going to be great friends. I’m a Libra. What sign are you? No, I know, don’t tell me: I bet you’re an Aries, aren’t you? Of course you are. I just know it. That’s just wonderful.

King Kong 1976 was not made to be a farce or send up. The script however was written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. most famous for writing the 1960’s Batman TV series. It boasted top line people in front and behind the cameras. It was made with the most serious of intentions to rival the original 1933 classic. Kong76 was considered a boxoffice disappointment, but this is not true. The film recouped its budget and made a profit. It would be two more years before Sequelmania officially took off with Jaws 2, then it would take twelve years, but DeLaurentiis would trot out his monkey one more time for a sequel that made the original look like a masterpiece. The writers of the sequel tell how they overcame the roadblock of Kong’s death in the 1976 film,

“One day we were sitting around in Dino’s office and Dino was saying how he’d love to do another Kong movie but he couldn’t figure out how to revive the story, since Kong, the last time we saw him, had fallen off the World Trade Center towers and was dead. Ron piped up, ‘That’s easy. Heart transplant.’ Dino cried, ‘Bravo!’ and that was it. We worked out a deal and he hired us to write it.


King Kong Stinks

King Kong Lives was Cynema strictly to see if people would get robbed again.The only difference this time around (the budget was big, stars not so big, etc.) was that this film was a study in animal cruelty. The film starts with the only true emotional scene out of the 1976 film–the bloody ending of Kong’s demise and then it quickly cuts to the cheese promising premise: Kong didn’t die that night! The critically injured ape was moved to a secret government base where a giant artificial heart the size of a bathysphere is lowered into his chest(!). (Click Here For Proof) You already read about a psychic shark. Now this. The writers of King Kong Lives recalled the reaction to their film when it was released,

“We…were sure we had a hit. Even after we’d seen the finished film, we were certain it was a blockbuster. We invited everyone we knew to the premiere, even rented out the joint next door for a post-triumph blowout. Get there early, we warned our friends, the place’ll be mobbed. Nobody showed. There was only one guy in the line beside our guests and he was muttering something about spare change. In the theater, our friends endured the movie in mute stupefaction. When the lights came up, they fled like cockroaches into the night. Next day came the review in Variety: “… Ronald Shusett and Steven Pressfield; we hope these are not their real names, for their parents sake.” When the first week’s grosses came in, the flick barely registered. Still I clung to hope. Maybe it’s only tanking in urban areas, maybe it’s playing better in the suburbs. I motored to an Edge City multiplex. A youth manned the popcorn booth. “How’s King Kong Lives?” I asked. He flashed thumbs down. “Miss it, man. It sucks.” “


Maybe the chopper guns didn’t kill him. Maybe Kong was tough after all, but how did he survive a 110story drop? Big ape or no big ape, nothing is surviving that; and don’t you think a new spine, skull and a hip replacement might be in order as well? Let’s not even address the fact that Kong has been comatose for ten years and those muscles would be like linguini (Giant ape physical therapy. Now there’s a movie). Then the film does a bait and switch: the rest of the movie is dedicated to the heroes finding a Lady Kong and hooking her up with The King while the US military hunts “America’s Biggest Hero and tortures him in a multitude of ways.  One particularly bad scene focuses on some rednecks that bury Kong up to his neck and play “you’re not so tough” with him until the eventual hilarity ensues. There’s no fun in watching an animal (fake or not) being abused and tortured for 90 minutes.


…the screenplay for King Kong Lives was not banged out by no-talent hacks or studio drones forced to “shine a turd” for their bosses. On the contrary, cowriters Stephan Pressfield and Ron Shusett did great work before and after King Kong Lives. (

The point was to ring what little dollars were left in Kong by doing whatever can be done to make audiences feel something for him and the movie. “Nobody cry when Kong die…” the sequel cynically played on audience sympathy to part them from their money and got over a million people (the author being one of them) to spend their money, yet it failed to regain its original budget. Stephen Pressfield had this to say about his boss,

His reputation was as a real philistine whose ideas routinely destroyed any good creative project he produced. But I found him to be a colorful charismatic figure, a bit intimidating but always fun. I was always conscious, whenever I was included in a meeting with him, that I was in the presence of the last of a breed. There were no more Dino DeLaurentiis’s coming down the pike.

Perhaps this last quote from buttons it up:

Another factor to ponder regarding the production of King Kong Lives was its odd timing. In 1986, there was no outcry or demand for any sort of Kong film, particularly another from DeLaurentiis and company. It was released to general indifference; I was in college during this period and never even considered going to see it. The bad poster and few TV ads that I saw made very clear that this was nothing to waste beer and Pop Tarts money on (I was in college, remember?). Clearly, DeLaurentiis needed to exploit his Kong rights while he still had them and plowed forward heedless of the public’s apathy.

If that isn’t Cynema, I don’t know what is.

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