King Kong Lives (1986)

Plot: Prodigious primate pursues paramour, precipitates panic.

We open with the climax of the ’76 King Kong. Kong is climbing one of the World Trade Towers. (Not a happy reminder.) Jessica Lange is slung over his shoulder, while Jeff Bridges’ hippie-haired visage looks on anxiously. As is they weren’t embarrassed enough with appearing in De Laurentiis’ first stab at the character. This film’s Kong was realized with the best ape-suit technology that millions of ’70s dollars could buy. Which means that he much more closely resembles Konga than his more personable stop-animated namesake. And prop hand technology obviously hasn’t improved much either.

The helicopter gunships appear and lay into Kong with gatling guns. Such armaments should shred him. And indeed the carnage is quite bloody and milked for all the supposed pathos it could generate. Jessica cries, squibs and bags of stage blood are set off in the ape suit, Kong eventually totters and falls. After, inevitably, one ‘copter flies too close and is swatted down, wobbling on a guide wire to its preplanned destruction. I was right in remembering that King Kong Lives sports far better special effects than Mighty Peking Man or A*P*E. What I didn’t remember is such much room that leaves for sucking. Which, it turns out, is really quite a lot.

After plummeting 110 stories Kong smashes into the pavement below. (I’m about to try science again here, so make sure to return later to read all the notes correcting me.) Think about the kinetic energy a multi-ton primate would generate while falling 1360 feet. If Kong is a regular gorilla squared in size — six by six feet tall, or 36 feet total, which is roughly correct – then the square/cube law dictates you’ve have to cube his mass. Thus if a gorilla weighs, say, 400 pounds (I think that’s about right), then Kong would weight 400 x 400 x 400 pounds. Which is…32,000 tons. OK, that can’t be right. Still, he’d mass a whole lot, and that should increase his velocity. I think. Of course, the square/cube law wouldn’t allow Kong to exist in his present form at all, so…

Don’t worry, my much smarter readers will fill in the blanks on this.

Even as a kid I thought it beyond silly that Kong would survive long enough to exchange a soulful glance with Lange, who last seen was still atop one of the towers. The premise for this film is geometrically more ludicrous. Which is that after all this Kong not only survived for another ten or fifteen minutes but went into a coma in which he’s now laid for ten solid years….

Which we know when we cut to a building, which is identified by onscreen text as “The Atlanta Institute, Georgia – Ten Years Later.” (Thanks for letting us know that the “Atlanta Institute” would be in Georgia, by the way. Yeesh!) Apparently the Atlantic Institute is a prestigious college, later identified as a rival of Harvard and Yale. This segue kicks off the opening credits, the first of which tells us the film is being presented by the not very aptly named “De Laurentiis Entertainment Group”.

We cut to an operational theater, only one scaled for 40-foot gorillas. Which, in fact, is what it contains. A lot of effort obviously was expended on making this ‘realistic,’ – a medical Dr. is later credited as the film’s Consultant – which only serves to make the results all the funnier. In following De Laurentiis’ unflagging belief that Kong would be a beloved figure to the viewing public, the music for this scene isn’t ominous. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s a swell of portentously ‘inspirational’ music greats Kong’s initial appearance onscreen. (We soon learn that the score was provided by composer John Scott. In case you’re wondering, no, he’s not great.)

The joint’s jumping. Seeming dozens of medical personal are running around, checking various monitors and so forth. As I looked around at all this activity, which apparently has been occurring over the entire previous decade, one question came to my mind: What HMO does Kong belong to and how do I join?

One figure walks into the typically large and overmanned Monitor Room. The surgical mask comes off and its *gasp* Linda Hamilton. (This is played as a big ‘star’ moment, although her name appearing in the credits a bit ago somewhat reduces our amazement.) It’s two years since The Terminator came out. She’s now cashing in her fame chips with the lead role here and the female lead in Black Moon Rising. One can imagine her distress, and why she retreated to TV’s Beauty and the Beast the following year.

Hamilton’s playing our heroine Dr. Amy Franklin. Here’s the situation. Kong, proving hardy indeed, has survived but been in a coma for ten years since, you know, the incident. It turns out that his only problem is that his heart has been damaged. (Why taking a mess of gatling gun fire and a fall of the World Trade Center would have this result, well, I guess I’m not a doctor.) The Atlantic Institute, aside from providing the facilities to keep Kong on life support all these years, has built him a giant mechanical heart. (!!!) Unfortunately, the years have taken a toll. Kong’s blood volume has dangerously diminished. This means the operation itself would kill him.

Dr. Franklin: “Only one thing can save Kong.”
Associate: “What’s that?”
Dr. Franklin, in ‘cool whisper’ voice: “A miracle!”


Dr. Franklin’s the experimental heart surgeon in charge of Kong’s medical care. When Hamilton made this film, she was twenty-eight or nine. I don’t know how long it takes to become a heart surgeon, especially while pursuing expertise in the field of on Kong-zoology. However, unless she’s a prodigy, joined the team a week ago the day after getting her various exotic degrees, I find her age rather suspect. Instead, the implication of various bits of dialog is that she’s been in charge of the medical end for at least a year. And it’s not just that Hamilton is only now approaching thirty, it’s that she’s a very young looking thirty.

After the “miracle” line, we cut to the scenic wilds of Borneo. Mitchell (no, not that Mitchell), a generic Indiana Jones-adventurer dude, is leading some burros through the jungle. After fording a river they pull up for a rest. Pulling up a bed of ferns, Mitchell settles down. Anyone acquainted with dinosaur movies will be unsurprised to learn he finds himself lying in a suddenly moving giant prop hand. Soon he’s running from a giant ape, one whose pendulous teats identify it as a female. Despite the higher budget this had over its fellows, this is still ‘achieved’ by intercutting shots of the actor ducking a big awkward prop hand on a boom with shots of a guy in an ape suit. Fortuitously, a group of native hunters pop up and riddle the ape with blow darts. It collapses, unconscious.

Soon the group at the Atlantic Institute is haggling with him over gaining custody of the ape. Dr. Ingersoll (head of the project) earlier complained that they’d spent seven meel-yun dollars on the artificial heart. Then factor in how many tens of millions must have been spent over the last ten years keeping him alive. Despite all this, and knowing that other universities are also bidding, Ingersoll’s initial offer is for $10,000. (!!) If a comatose giant ape requiring a heart transplant – and one as well boasting PR problems from having killed who knows how many people during his rampage in New York – was worth all this outlay, then a cherry one fresh from the jungle should be worth at least tens of millions of dollars. So Ingersoll might have well have opened things up by looking in his wallet and offering Mitchell a twenty.

Even so, they come to terms and Mitchell agrees to bring them the ape. The fact that the animal is female, however, sets off alarms bells for Amy. She warns that the presence of such may so stress out the recuperating Kong that his artificial ticker fails. Again, that this young woman is both a primate behavioral expert and a heart transplant specialist, at her tender years, seems more than a little unlikely.

Also, Amy, while primarily a surgeon, has reservations not fully shared by her associate Dr. Hughes. Despite the fact that Hughes is “Chief of Primate Research,” Amy will naturally prove correct whenever they disagree. Finally, Amy’s objections make no real sense. The Institute’s ability to secure the ape’s blood if someone else buys it seems uncertain, at best. Given this, buying the gorilla, female or no, seems the logical course. If they don’t get the blood for the transfusion, Kong will die anyway.

In any case, we now establish a tiresomely predictable pattern. Following a long line of dumbass superiors, Ingersoll will inevitably continue to reject any advice his various experts offer him. (Well, that Amy and later Mitchell offer him.) This, needless to say, constantly leads to disaster over and over again before the end of the movie.

Cut to a big cargo plane arriving in, presumably, Atlanta. The Press is swarming about. Oddly, though, there appear to be few if any military personnel, cops or even private security agents anywhere. Again, considering the mass destruction that occurred the last time one of these giant apes was brought into a major urban area, you’d think somebody along these lines would be on hand.

The cargo bay is opened. The secured Lady Kong, for so she’s dubbed, is freaked out by the din. Mitchell’s presence, however, calms her. (Imagine spending an entire trip from Borneo packed into a cargo area with a gigantic monkey. The stench would be unbelievable.) As she gazes lovingly upon him, we see that he’s her analog to Kong’s Jessica Lange. In one of the film’s few touches of successful wit, actor Brian Kerwin – yes, that’s right, the Brian Kerwin, of The Misadventures of Sheriff Lobo – brings to the role a full head of blond hair. Another is when she is further agitated by the flashbulbs of some Press morons who run right up the loading ramp.

These nods to the original film and the clichés it established is either successfully sly or boneheadedly literal. And as I listen to the purportedly clever japes Mitchell uses with the Press, I realized that perhaps I was perhaps being generous.

Press: “How did you get the ape from the Jungle?”
Mitchell: “I left a trail of bananas!”
[Appreciative Press laughter.]


Press: “Are you going to breed her?”
Mitchell: “You mean personally?”
[Appreciative Press laughter.]

Of the entire crowd of staff and reporters, only Amy treats him coolly. Because, you know, she suspects he cares more about Money than Science, or Lady Kong, or something. We also recognize that there’s supposed to be a spark between these two characters. This despite the fact that the actors cannot supply one themselves. Still, Mitchell then runs off to swat away the cameras on the landing ramp, noting “You’re dealing with a lady!” See, that shows his heart is in the right place.

Cut to the medical bay. Luckily, we now see that it’s so gigantic that a second huge ape can be strapped down next to their patient. (!!) This leads to the film’s most genuinely funny sequence, which is a drop-dead serious heart transplant operation performed on a 40-foot tall gorilla. For nearly seven straight minutes we watch an obvious studiously researched look at how somebody would go about such a thing. The scene is played with a complete lack of humor or irony, as if it were a Very Special episode of ER.

As I gazed upon the staff of dozens performing the operation, the gigantic hundred-gallon IV bag, the oversized surgical instruments, the metal hoses being used to suction off the blood, the huge sterilized rotary saw used to cut open Kong’s chest, the melon-sized cotton swabs, the gigantic grappling hook used to remove Kong’s car-sized heart, the artificial replacement swung in on cables…I could only reflect on how incredibly bizarre and wrongheaded this set-piece, obviously meant to invoke Close Encounters of the Third Kind-esque awe in the audience, was.

Of course, they don’t even have the courage of their conviction that this is inherently spellbinding stuff. So they toss in a contrived ’emergency.’ This occurs when one of the cables holding the artificial heart aloft snaps, followed by the main arterial clamp pulling loose. Luckily, though, Amy displays the Right Stuff and manages to (duh) complete the operation successfully.

Soon the college is partying in celebration of a successful effort. (Nothing’s easier than getting a bunch of college students to act as rowdy extras.) Gorilla masks and Tarzan outfits are worn. Various goofy signs are seen, including the grammar and continuity-defying and “YOU [HEART] KONG ME FAY.” I also found the ten year-old black kid waving the Confederate Flag a bit weird. We also see the warehouse acting as Lady Kong’s temporary digs. This, one wag reports, has been converted into “the world’s largest lady’s dressing room.”

We cut to a swank University party. One amusing toss away bit has Mitchell delivering a line about how Borneo and Kong Island may have one time been part of the same land mass. Yes, that would explain how thousands and thousands of years later, each would be home to exactly one giant gorilla. Everybody’s at the bash celebrating except Amy, because she’s a Serious Scientist. Of course, she’s spent three solid days worrying other her patient.

Cut to the medical chamber. An exhausted Amy is sleeping in the Monitor Room, which is being manned by two guys. I wouldn’t think that after the operation the staff would immediately be downsized from dozens to just two. But what do I know? Anyhoo, Kong starts to rouse and Amy is awakened. It turns out that he can scent Lady Kong in her warehouse a bare mile away. He reaction is immediate and frenetic, as — who’da thought? — Amy had predicted. Since the only thing securing him is lengths of chain attached to wrist manacles, he’s able to jump around quite a bit. (Good planning, there.) Well, that was a quick recovery.

Kong’s activity, though, results in him grabbing at his heart. (Either that, or he’s doing a tribute to Redd Foxx’s Fred Sanford.) Luckily, although ‘conveniently’ would be the more precise term, the only thing Kong hasn’t pulled out is his sedative feed. A switch is flipped and Kong immediately falls back to sleep. I’m not sure how they’d calibrate a dosage that would safely render a now alert but recuperating Kong instantly unconscious. I guess Amy’s just that good.

Lady Kong has a similar reaction, by the way. I’m not sure whether an awake gorilla gives off more mating scent, or whatever, than a sleeping one. Still, the active Kong affects her until he goes back to sleep.

Amy drives to the party to chastise her more frivolous peers for ignoring her brilliant insights. She reports Kong’s perilous condition and demands that Lady Kong be moved ASAP. One great line is “We hit him with enough Thorazine to kill a whale.” (Presumably we’re talking a pretty small whale here – Kong’s not that big.) Ingersoll confirms that Lady Kong’s permanent home can be readied in two days. The move will be made then.

There follows some stuff with Mitchell trying to express his interest in Our Heroine. At this stage of the picture, of course, she’s not interested. After all, he’s just some guy who sold Lady Kong for *shiver* Filthy Lucre. Before he can melt her heart he’ll have to demonstrate that he, like Amy, cares. He begins to make an impression, though, with the following sensitive remark: “If it means anything to you, I thought you were great in that operation.” (Of course he does, she successfully implanted a giant artificial heart in a four-story gorilla!) Still, Amy is touched at this revealing of his softer, feminine side. “It does,” she softly replies. Gaak!!

Cut to the operation to move Lady Kong. Despite the fact that they’ve had two days to get ready for this, the procedure is moronically planned. Basically, a still-conscious LK will be backup against the wall by a bunch of bulldozers (!), then enveloped in a cargo net. A concerned Mitchell notes that all the people and activity is spooking LK. (By the way, why is Mitchell still being allowed all this access, anyway?) “Leave it us,” Ingersoll fatally replies. “We know what we’re doing.” Gee, I wonder if it will prove they don’t know what they’re doing? Wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants?

LK’s cries of distress rouse her perspective suitor. You’d think they’d really have him doped up during this phase of things, but what do I know? Kong is momentarily represented by an animatronic doppelganger as blatantly phony as the one barely used in the first film. In fact, maybe it’s the same one. The one (!) security guard is tiresomely used for comic relief purposes. To my complete eye-rolling scorn, he proves unable to warn anyone because his belt radio won’t function. (!!) Hey, guy, they have these things called phones now.

Having learned his lesson, the first thing Kong does is remove his sedative line. (How he would figure out he should do so is left to our imaginations.) Once up, he easily snaps his chains, proving that ten years isn’t long enough for a major university to procure adequate restraints for their gigantic ape.

Back to the warehouse. For one glorious shot, LK’s lower torso is also represented by the laughably ersatz animatronic ape body. This stuff is gold, baby. The bulldozers move in to pin her against the wall. “Wait for the sedative to take effect!” Amy feels compelled to scream, perhaps because everyone but her and Mitchell is a complete and utter moron.

A security guy suggests using the tranquilizer guns. “I’m not shooting her,” Amy indignantly replies. First of all, since when is she in charge? Second, why not? Is it ‘mean’? “The doped food’s enough,” she argues. Which, clearly, it isn’t. Especially since the security guy points to the huge pile of uneaten produce right next to them and answers, “Not if she won’t eat it all.”

This is a nice moment, since it makes Amy look like a moron, too. This flick is a prime example of the Designated Hero(ine) trope. (And it’s about to become more of one.) Let’s recap. Amy has demanded that LK be moved. Working around the clock, they manage to speed the operation to do so up. Then she complains that they should wait until LK is properly sedated. This she needs to do because everyone else is too stupid to figure it out on their own. Only she doesn’t want to use dart guns to accomplish this when LK refuses to eat the drugged food they’ve provided her.

The cargo net is lowered and unfurled around LK. Since she’s still awake and frightened, though, she’s struggling against her bonds. “[The net] is cutting her to pieces!” Mitchell yells. Man, I find this stuff tiresome. Ingersoll is clearly being put forward as a hack because all he cares about is the prestige Kong and LK will bring to the university. After all, if he had any integrity he would be smarter and listen to Any and Mitchell more. That doesn’t really make sense, but it’s movie logic.

Yet on the other hand, he doesn’t seem to care if his multi-million dollars acquisitions are damaged or even killed. In other words, the heroes are the only people in the film who are in any way moral, caring and/or smart. And even when their actions are self-contradictory and stupid, like Amy’s calling for LK to be sedated but not by darts, we’re not supposed to judge her in any way. This kind of thing just gives me headaches.

Despite the fact that the operation is spinning out of control, Ingersoll orders it – against Amy’s pleas, of course – to go forward. What he doesn’t do, for internally mysteriously but exteriorly obvious reasons, is order the trank guns to be used. Word gets through, finally, that Kong is acting up. “The other monkey’s going apesh*t!” is one of the film’s typically lame attempts at humor.

Meanwhile, Kong is smashing his way out of his chamber’s unreinforced skylight. Good planning there again. Soon he crashes through the walls of the warehouse. Here we’re treated to one of the unintentionally funniest things I’ve ever seen. To a burst of sappy romantic music – no doubt entitled “The Love Theme from King Kong Lives” – Kong and LK pause to exchange tender ‘Gasp! You’re My Soulmate!‘ glances. Remember the first reunion of Bogart and Bergman’s in Rick’s Bar in Casablanca? It’s like that. Only instead of Bogart and Bergman the look is between two actors in monkey costumes.

Pandemonium breaks out, albeit in silly fashions and portrayed with bad special effects. The bluescreen shots in particular are pretty funny. Meanwhile, and seemingly nowhere near Kong, guys crash cars, flip pickup trucks (said vehicles naturally burst into flames), fall unmotivated from high places, all that sort of thing.

Reaching his special lady, he begins to tear the netting off her. One guy attempts to stop him by ramming Kong’s leg with the bladed edge of a bulldozer bucket. Kong angrily pushes the bulldozer over, whereupon it – are you sitting down – bursts into flames.

I know Kong’s big, but that should have crippled him. Instead, he doesn’t even limp afterwards. Then again, they weren’t even smart enough to give his ape costume a phony scar from the heart transplant surgery. Which, if you’re keeping track, occurred five whole days ago. This is the greatest surgical recovery in movie history! And I’m counting the time Shaft got machine gunned and led a commando raid a few hours later.

During this, by the way, Mitchell engages in various ‘heroic’ — we can tell form the music – criminal acts to protect the passionate primates from harm. One bulldozer driver he knocks unconscious by clubbing him unconscious. And when a team of guys begins to open fire with a truck-mounted .50 heavy machine gun (bye, bye, big monkeys), he crashes a jeep right into their vehicle. Such an impact probably would have killed at least one of the team, but since this is a movie they’re probably all OK. Of course, Mitchell won’t find himself in jail for any of these antics. Instead, he gets the thing where Ingersoll grabs his jacket lapels and yells, “We could have stopped them!!” and he shouts back, “You would have killed him!!

By the way, doesn’t this mean that Mitchell is morally responsible for every human death that occurs from here on out? Because that’s my take on things. This is getting right up there with the ‘heroes’ from Lost World: Jurassic Park.

In another hilarity-inducing moment, Kong sweeps LK up in his arms and romantically carries her to freedom. Remember when Clark Gable swept up Vivian Leigh and carried her off to bed in Gone With the Wind? It’s like that. Only instead of Gable and Leigh we’re watching two actors in monkey costumes.

By the way, this is the point where the film gets more tiresome than stupid. This is the reverse of the earlier ratio, although both qualities are readily apparent throughout the film. The difference is due to the introduction of Col. Nevitt, the Army commander in charge of recapturing/killing the escaped gorillas. Nevitt, played by actor John Aston (best known as bald cop Taggart from the Beverly Hills Cop series), is the cartoonish epitome of your typically insane, stupid and brutal movie military officer. We know this right off, when he’s introduced wearing sunglasses and with his character’s trademark fat stogie hanging from his mouth.

Mitchell is driving out to the remote mountain area where the gorillas are thought to be hiding. Again, how is it possible this guy’s not in jail? Suddenly Amy pulls up beside him in her SUV, honking and yelling for him to pull over. For no apparent reason – IITS – he ignores her, whereupon she forces his car off the road. (!!) Despite the fact that she almost just killed him, he doesn’t even mention her doing so. Instead, he’s all mad that she’s doing the same thing he is. (Because she’s the woman he secretly has come to love and all that.) Of course, he moments later jumps into her vehicle and they drive off together. His rental car is left on the side of the road – with the keys quite obviously left in it – but this is a movie so stuff like that doesn’t matter.

She hands him a road map. Because it’s ‘funny,’ she later points out he’s holding it upside down. Man, that’s a side-splitter there. On the other hand, it’s kind of stupid because he’s a professional explorer. Even so, it all goes to show that Amy is all spunky and his equal in every way and all that stuff. Then she mentions speaking to Nevitt. “He says he’ll shoot the first civilian that crosses his perimeter,” she reports. See what I was talking about earlier? Who the hell writes this stuff?

Cut to Nevitt. “Did you get a report on those damn civilians,” he asks. How does he even know what they’re up to? Of course, the reply should be, at least in Mitchell’s case, “He’s in jail, sir!” Instead, the underling reports that “the vehicle” has been traced and found to be Amy’s. “We think the man with her is that Mitchell character,” another adds.

Oh, now I get it. This is a blatant continuity error. In a bit, Amy and Mitchell will drive her truck through the army’s secured perimeter. (Of course, the soldiers will open fire on them – highly suspect – but prove unable to hit a damn thing in any case.) This would be when the military would become aware of their presence in the area. In other words, this scene with Nevitt should appear after they’ve done this, not before. Well, there goes that “Best Editing” Oscar.

“We should have no problem identifying the enemy,” Nevitt quips. “They’re approximately fifty feet tall and wearing their birthday suits!” Damn, somebody actually got paid to write this. Also, watch for when the enlisted soldiers trailing behind Nevitt snap out a returning salute when other troops salute their approaching party. That’s not how things work. The Colonel is the one being saluted, and he’d perform the returning salute, not the dogfaces behind him.

In a typical example of the movie’s lame ‘wit,’ we cut to a sign reading “Honeymoon Ridge.” This is where the gorillas are hiding. Ha. Ha. The fact that they’re on a miniature set is all too obvious, a situation that will remain constant throughout the rest of the picture. The reduced budget, compared to the ’76 film, is the undoubtedly the reason why this one is largely taking place in rural areas. Those miniature city sets are that much harder to pull off, and much more expensive.

If there comes a moment where you want to blow your brains out when watching this, it probably occurs here. We get a long and utterly gruesome comic sequence meant to show us the Kongs are jus’ plain folks. Kong is offering LK a bouquet of trees or something as a present. She reaches to take them, but to a painful burst of ‘comedy’ music she instead grabs up her own trees. Kong reacts grumpily to her playing hard to get and tosses the proffered trees down to the ground.

Then he searches in some rocks and finds a snake. In real life this is a common small garter snake. In scale, it’d have to be ten feet long or more. Are there many such snakes in the mountains of Georgia. Anyhoo, he offers her the snake, but being a girl she squeals and turns away, thinking it’s gross. (Cue comedy music again.)

Look, I didn’t write this crap. I mean, I wrote this crap. The stuff you’re reading. But not the happening-in-the-movie crap.

Seeking another gambit, Kong begins playing up his injured leg. LK dutifully comes over and, in a purportedly beautiful and tender sequence, ministers to his wound. During this, Kong performs the “casually stretched arm put around her shoulder” maneuver. She pretends to act offended, but… No, really. This all happens. I’m not making it up. Truly. Get a copy of the movie myself if you don’t believe. (What a price you’ll pay for your distrust in your fellow man, however.) Anyway, the courtship is a success and we end the scene with her acknowledging his manly — apely? — charms.

By the way, I just noticed that it’s Sunday, past 1:30 in the morning. To my horror, I’ve yet to have gotten into the film’s final hour. Meanwhile, I’m going to work in six hours, then returning home to finish this and get it posted for the announced Monday night deadline.

What kind of life is this? I admit, nobody told me to promise five ape movie reviews in one month, and a roundtable article, and a fall movie preview, and a Video Cheese issue for next weekend that I haven’t even started yet. (Like my fifth ape movie review.) Still, where’s the concern of my readers? “Ken,” you could say on the message board, “the schedule you’ve announced is too much for any one man!” Where’s even a single e-mail crying, “Take a week off, Ken! Don’t sacrifice yourself so that we can read eight articles in one month!” But do you? No. Stupid readers.

[Note: Author may be experiencing Bad Giant Ape Movie-related crankiness.]

Now we get the scene with Amy and Mitchell running the secured perimeter. As noted earlier, this is clearly out of sequence. Here follows another rote sequence. Amy drives through the forest like a crazy woman, Mitchell gets all pale-faced and sweaty. “I could have used you in Borneo,” he offers, “if I’d wanted an early death!” Ha. Ha. Anyway, they finally park, he grabs his camping stuff, and they move out. Amy, meanwhile, has a boom box-sized device in her backpack. (Apparently this pack was loaned her by Felix the Cat, given it’s size and all the stuff that will eventually come out of it.) This is a “cardiac monitoring unit.” When she gets close enough to Kong it’ll monitor his implanted heart. (!!)

They start to cross a ramshackle bridge, Amy slips off, Mitchell saves her, blah blah. See, this gives him a ‘hero’ moment, provides weight to their burgeoning romance and supposedly provides us with something ‘exciting’ to watch, etc. (I think you can guess how successfully they meet these goals.) Then they duck and hide from a helicopter, a bit so obviously ripped-off from Close Encounters that I winced. Then Any notices a bleeding cut on his arm, and tends to him. Moronically, this scene is meant to mirror the one earlier between Kong and LK. Yeah, wow, how artistic. By the way, Hamilton’s attempts here at heated glances are just sad.

She also has a line about how Mitchell is the only man in the area “not playing John Wayne.” First of all, that’s an ignorant line about John Wayne. Because the implication is that Mitchell’s the only guy who isn’t a kill-crazy maniac. Which is, of course, because all those other men are soldiers. This film might actually hate and misrepresent the military as much as any flick I’ve ever seen.

Oh, and no, they don’t mention the fact that all these John Waynes are cleaning up the mess caused by her and her associates. But then, if said associates – all men, of course – had only listened to Enlightened Amy all along, everything would be hunky-dory.

Proving to be a modern spunky gal, Amy begins to casually strip to change her wet clothes. (She hung in a river after falling through the bridge.) Mitchell, of course, turns away in comical red-faced embarrassment. Let’s see. So far, Amy’s modest pack has yielded the large monitor unit, a first aid kit – to dress Mitchell’s arm – and now a complete change of togs. Maybe later she’ll pull out her bassoon and gives him a little concert. Moreover, when she accessed the medical kit, she just reached into the pack and got it. However, she was shown placing the monitor unit in last. So she’s have to remove that every time she wanted to get something else.

During this Mitchell hears the Kongs in the distance. Wow. Our two heroes, on foot, have discovered the giant apes before all the troops searching the area in their jeeps and helicopters and stuff. What are the odds?

Cut to that night. Amy and Mitchell have just found the clearing where the two Kongs are prepared to bunk down for then night. This involves lots of snuggling, and I think we’re all supposed to be going, “Awwwww!” Instead, I was making that finger-down-your-throat noise. Amy gets the monitor box out. “Incredible!” she notes. “After all that exertion, his heart is actually stronger!” Yes, that is incredible. And stupid. Don’t forget stupid.

The Kong snuggly stuff continues. All I could do is wonder what the hell the two actors in the gorilla suits were thinking during all this. This is definitely one of those, “At least it’s show business!” moments. Amy and Mitchell look on glowingly at the ape’s displays of affection, helping us to ‘get’ how beautiful it all is. I especially like when LK started grooming Kong. Don’t you do this to find nits? I don’t think a 40-foot gorilla is going to be able to perform that chore.

Mitchell is given a little speech about how the two Kongs could live happily ever after if they could just get them to a reserve somewhere. Hamilton looks on adoringly during this, and we’re evidently supposed to understand that this is the moment when she gives him her heart. Awwwww! Of course, Amy was part of the team using Kong for an experimental subject, so her suddenly advocating the two being freed seems a little unmotivated. Whatever.

Luckily, despite Kong and LK’s kissy-face antics, we are spared the sight of them doing it. Instead, Amy and Mitchell break off to make camp. Amy pulls a canteen from the Magic TARDIS Backpack, but amazingly not a sleeping bag. Admittedly, that would have been just flat-out impossible, given the pack’s size. On the other hand, it means our Brilliant Heroine decided to play campout for who knows how many days without bringing a sleeping bag along.

Of course, Mitchell gives her his sleeping bag, which is inexplicably huge. As the two mime taking drinks from the obviously empty canteen, they shyly exchange “I like you!” glances. Later we see Mitchell huddling under his jacket, freezing his ass off. (Shouldn’t the darker side of feminism mean that if Amy’s such a dolt she came out here with no gear, that she’s the one who should be freezing her ass off.) Looking over, Amy flings open the bag with a come-hither look. She lays there offering herself sexually in a manner that would embarrass a presenting female mandrill. Now we learn why Mitchell’s sleeping bad was so huge: It’s so both actors could climb into it and preserve the film’s PG-13 rating.

King Kong Lives isn’t on DVD (yet – stranger things have happened, though*). So obviously I’m working off a video, which, of course, is pan and scanned. This means, naturally, that with the sides of the picture clipped off, the portion remaining is blown up larger to film the frame. Now, I can’t explain my reaction to the following scene in any rational way. Basically, their faces filling the screen in a tight shot, we watch the two suck each other’s face.

[*In fact, the film is now out on DVD. The March of Progress continues.]

For some reason, and this is the third time in two days I’ve attempted to watch this, this sight makes me start laughing uncontrollably. And I mean laughing. With all the other risible crap we’re subjected to here, why this in particular? Why the two leads making out instead of all the stuff with the ape suits and miniature sets?

I think it’s because while I expect not to buy the badly done ape stuff, I can’t deal with the fact of how unbelievable I find these two characters, that they’re in love, that they’re camping out here and rubbing their gooey lips all together – none of it. Did you see In the Mouth of Madness? One of my favorite moments involves Sam Neil’s relentlessly rational character. After keeping a hold of his sanity after seeing reality fall apart in all sorts of grotesque, horrifying fashions, he finally snaps when the agent of the Old Ones mentions that his favorite color is blue and, bam, Neil finds that everything has turned blue. In other words, this comparatively benign little straw of unreality broke his mind’s back. Ur, you know what I mean. Anyway, I think my reaction to this make-out scene is like that. All I know is, I just can’t watch this bit without bursting out in a fit of guffawing.

OK, three in the morning and fifty-odd minutes to go. Good night, folks. See you tomorrow.

Pop! Now it’s Monday afternoon, approaching 6:00. It’s like a time machine. Anyway, that deadline looms, so let’s get hopping. With apologies to The Matrix, it’s bullet time.

* Mitchell wakes up the next morning, entwined with Amy. He’s shocked, however, to find LK alone in her clearing. He wakes Amy to share the news.
* As her character throws aside the sleeping bad, Hamilton gives us one of the quickest and most cheesily pointless boobie shots in cinema history. Maybe this is why the film’s not out on DVD yet: Hamilton is blocking its release to avoid seeing this screencapped all over the Internet.
* Kong’s convenient absence allows for the military to show up and recapture LK. This is does by dropping sleeping gas on her from helicopters. (Why didn’t they pump this gas into the warehouse earlier, then?) This is followed by Nevitt’s ground troops. Frankly, for fighting this exact threat, I’d think you’d be better off with a couple of helicopter gunships. Guys armed with M16s aren’t really the optimal option here.
* Wow, that’s a bad projection shot!
* LK falls unconscious, cuing the appearance of a Huey transport ‘copter with a giant improvised hanging sling. This is introduced by having Nevitt bark, “Bring in the Big Bird!” Needless, to say this roused imaginative flights of (bored) fancy on my part. And if they could bring in Mr. Snuffleupigus, too, the film’s level of special effects would also vastly improved!
* Kong reappears and makes known his general disaffection with the current situation. Nevitt orders the male primate gassed. However, this has no effect. (Apparently because the script said something like, “But Kong remains unaffected by the gas, and…”)
* Although Nevitt is clearly meant to be the film’s villain, it’s worth noticing that he easily has cause here to order his troops to open fire and kill the enraged Kong. Instead, he orders he held back with a suppressing barrage of concussion grenades. This allows the Huey time to fly LK off, to a further burst of sappy music which invites us to feel Kong’s pain.
* Next Kong is drivin back by what appears to be the company’s lone flamethrower. This bunch sure has an esoteric range of weaponry. (Cue more really bad special effects.) You’d think Nevitt would try the gas again, since it worked like a charm on Lady Kong. Instead, he orders his men to begin pursuing the errant ape. Why? Got me.
* Kong heads up a hillside, which for some reason, we’re told, means he’s trapped. (Frankly, I don’t think Nevitt has the manpower necessary to cut off his escape, but that’s what we’re told.) For some reason I couldn’t quite figure out, Amy and Mitchell jump out and steal a strangely unguarded jeep. These guys are so going to jail. By the way, nobody notices them stealing the vehicle, nor apparently its absence.
* Suddenly a huge rainstorm kicks in out of nowhere. This is convenient because it forecloses using the ‘copters, which much return to base. Gee, too bad Nevitt didn’t use them before when it made so much sense.
* Kong tosses a foam boulder and smashes a toy jeep. This isn’t totally bad if you just scan it. But watch it again in slo-mo. It becomes readily apparent that all the ‘soldiers’ in the background are plastic, immovable dolls.
* Now Nevitt’s pissed and it’s up to Our Heroes to save Kong. However, they are captured by troops. “Hold it right there, buddy,” one soldier yells in a thick hillbilly accent. Because who else would be in the military if not hillbillies? Right?
* Mitchell and Amy are brought to Nevitt, who oddly doesn’t order them arrested and confined. Instead, he ignores their pleas that Kong, being cornered and all, by safely captured. Of course, Nevitt is now insane with bloodlust and orders that Kong be killed. This is completely unmotivated, unless you’re assuming that guys in the military wake up hoping to kill something that day. Which, apparently, is what everyone who made this movie assumed.
* Kong is trapped on the mountain. However, in a bit lamely stolen from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, he jumps from the peak into a raging mountain stream below. Given his body size and the amount of time he falls, the hill must have been at least four or five hundred feet tall. I wouldn’t think many mountain rivers would be deep enough to allow Kong to build up that much momentum and not crash into the river bottom. After all, if Kong only splashed down to twice his height, that’d require at least 80 to 100 feet of water for him not to smash himself to death or be crippled. Maybe the rain is meant to explain this, but c’mon, how many extra feet of water would result from ten minutes of even a torrid downfall?
* So Kong jumps and lands safely. However, he smacks his head into a projecting boulder – good thing he didn’t land there! – and sinks under the water. Soon a laughable amount of blood spreads through the water. “Not even your Kong can survive that,” Nevitt inevitably notes with satisfaction. Really. Would this be the Kong that was riddled with heavy machine gun fire and the then plummeted 110 stories onto pavement, and lived? And why would you have ‘copters patrol the river until the body showed up, just to be sure? Wouldn’t that seem like a good idea?
* Apparently the Army know has taken charge of LK and, if I’m following this right, is keeping her at the bottom of a retrofitted missile silo. (I think. None of this is explained.) Now assuming that the military would go to all the bother of capturing the beast instead of killing it, why would they then want its care on their hands? The natural thing to do would be to turn it back over to the Institute. (Who would certainly sue to reclaim their property anyway.) Anyhoo, Nevitt and his troops now seem to be stuck here guarding the gorilla, which I thought a tad unlikely. Of course, their security will prove to suck and Our Leads will pretty much infiltrate the place whenever they feel like.
* One of the two guards in the cell’s monitor room is actor Mike Starr. Jabootites will remember him as the guy who pours beer on an Eskimo and gets thrashed by Steven Seagal in On Deadly Ground. Because they are soldiers and this is their duty station, one wall is covered with nudie centerfolds. You know, I was a reservist in the Navy for six years in the ’80s, and I never once saw anything like that. These guys would get reamed as soon as any officer saw this.
* By the way, these guys are normal army mooks. Their red berets identify them as Army Airborne, meaning that these are elite, highly trained troops. Which makes their portrayal in this film all the more idiotic.
* Nevitt has apparently put the facility off-limit to civilians. (Especially ones who by all rights should be cooling their heels in the pokey.) Luckily, Dr. Hughes shows up with a writ “signed by the Secretary of Defense.” (!!) I don’t think Lt. Colonels who go around getting the Secretary of Defense involved in stuff is going to last long.
* Nevitt, of course, is pissed at this turn of events. He complains about having his butt stuck babysitting LK “since last summer.” (!!) “Well, you won’t get unstuck, Col., by disobeying orders,” Amy coolly replies. Sadly, I think we’re supposed to whoop here and do that “You go, girl!” thing.
* Amy and Hughes are shocked to see that LK looks all sad and sickly and stuff. They debate whether this is because she’s morning her dead mate. I’m no monkey expert, but my theory involves her spending the last how many months deep in a windowless concrete silo.
* Nevitt shrugs off LK’s state, saying she’s fine. “Is that your diagnosis?” Amy icily retorts. What’s hilarious is that after so attacking Nevitt for his lack of scientific expertise, we immediately get this exchange:

Dr. Hughes: “The female is grieving.”
Amy: “No. She feels something. Kong’s alive!”
Nevitt: “Don’t be ridiculous!”
Amy: “I feel it too!”

Wow, scientific superiority and female intuition. You go, girl!

* Nevitt gives them two minutes with LK and then orders them to leave. “Visiting hours are over, Ma’am. Permanently!” Guess it doesn’t matter how many orders they have signed by the Secretary of Defense.
* Despite Amy’s beliefs, Hughes remains convinced Kong is dead. “The Army covered every inch of the state,” he maintains. Uh…yeah.
* One reason he thinks Kong is dead is that he requires a “thousand pounds of protein a day.” (Which makes it odd that we never see either of the apes fed anything but fruits and veggies.) The answer, we soon learn, is that Kong has been hiding in the swamps – another really dubious miniature set — eating alligators. (!!) We know this because we see Kong pick up what is obviously a baby gator in long and medium shots – rounded snout, big baby eyes – and a full-grown specimen in close-ups.
* Let’s do some math. We know it’s been at least four months since his supposed death. (As indicated by dialog – it’s probably somewhat longer.) At a thousand pounds a day, that means Kong was consumed at least a 120,000 pounds, or sixty tons, of gators. Man, no wonder they’re on the endangered species list!
* By the way, we also see Kong carrying a string of half a dozen dead gators home for dinner. How many has he supposedly eaten already? Are gators really that plentiful?
* Mitchell has arrived back from Borneo, and is enraged to hear that LK is feeling poorly and also being sequestered by Nevitt. (Again, where’s he getting all this authority?) So he goes to the base. When the guard won’t let him in, he knocks the guy down and runs in the open gate. Good lord, how many felonies has this man committed in this movie? And why is the security so piss-poor? Why is the friggin’ gate open?!
* Speaking of, when the trained elite battle soldier allows Mitchell to knock him down and enter the base, he gets up and runs after him. Since he was the only guard there, this allows Amy to stroll in too. (!!) Man, it’s amazing we won the Cold War.
* Mitchell gets grabbed by interior guards and hit in the abdomen with a rifle stock. I think this is supposed to shock us, but by all rights they should have shot him. Also, yet again, why isn’t Mitchell sent to prison after this escapade? “Does your boyfriend want another?” the Mean Soldier asks the worried Amy. And, why yes, the soldier does have a thick Southern accent!
* Kong, who can hear LK’s lonely cries, can’t takes no more and heads back to get his Special Lady.
* On the way, though, he stops to, that’s right, peer in a living room skylight (?) at a hick couple preparing to make out. I think such a window scene is mandated by the Giant Apes’ union.
* Soon a low-grade panic break out and hillbillies are running all over the place. The only hillbilly who owns a gun, oddly, proves to be a nearly blind old man who nearly shoots some other hillbillies. Because only should a doofus would even (ick!) own a gun, I guess.
* Watch the ‘cool’ stunt where a dude and his girlfriend ride a motorcycle between Kong’s phony prop legs. Awesome excitement!
* Next up, a rip-off of the scene in Jaws where a bunch of drunks after the bounty on the shark dangerously overfill boats and generally act like rowdy hicks. Here a bunch of drunks after Kong dangerously overfill boats and generally act like rowdy hicks. Typical dialog: “I want that ape’s head on the hood of my pick-up!”
* Later that same party of hicks is waiting for Kong to arrive. Which he conveniently does, approaching through a gorge. Although these guys are otherwise played as complete drunken idiots, they’ve somehow set a trap so precisely calibrated that the Army Corps of Engineers would be envious. This involves (somehow) setting explosive charges high up – a hundred feet or more — on either side of the gorge. Kong walks by, the explosives are set off, and the resultant avalanche buries him right up to his neck.
* By the way, during the avalanche, Kong is angrily waving his arms over his head. However, the scene requires that they end up buried at his side. So when all is said and done, they are.
* The hicks celebrate by getting drunk and tormenting the trapped Kong before they kill him. One of their number tries to interfere with this and is beaten for his troubles. Eventually the head meanie removes a flaming stick with their campfire and grinds it into Kong’s face. (This, of course, will leave no scar.) An enraged Kong explodes of the rocks. Which is impossible. I don’t care how strong you are, when your buried in rocks up to your neck with your arms at your sides you don’t have any leverage. He then slays his tormentor, including the one who tried to aid him. One fellow is torn in half, the Big Meanie is eaten. Yes, it’s fun for the whole family.
* By the way, the effect when Kong eats the guy is technically better than the farmer getting eating in Reptilicus. Just not by as much as you’d think. The scene ends when Kong ‘comically’ picks his teeth and removes the guy’s ball cap.
* There’s more stuff with Kong’s heart and Amy magic monitor box, which along her to remote correct any problems it’s experiencing. (!!) Then, in perhaps the film’s worst effect – which is saying something – Kong rises over a hill before them. Knowing that a Kong movie requires a tragic end, Kong accidentally trods upon the Monitor. Now Amy is helpless to aid him. “His heart won’t last a day,” she expositories.
* Amy and Mitchell, tracking Kong, find the camp where the hicks had trapped him. They quickly deduce what happened. Mitchell then picks up a smoking piece of firewood, noting in a disgusted tone, “Then they had their fun with him.” He’s right, of course, but that’s a lot to get out of a piece of a campfire.
* Amy opines that now that Kong’s killed, the authorities will certainly kill him. That doesn’t really seem such a big threat, though, since his heart’s due to go on the fritz in the next twenty-four hours. Besides, what about all the people he killed in New York? In fact, why was the Institute ever allowed to keep him alive in the first place, much less revive him. Man, a bunch of lawyers are going to get rich on this one.
* Cut to Nevitt, leading his forces to get Kong. A Major rides up in a jeep and tells him that orders have arrived to capture Kong rather than kill him. (So much for Amy’s prediction.) Of course, all commanding officers in movies like this are insane loose cannons, so Nevitt pretends he never heard the orders. Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen to him?
* Look at the bluescreen effects when Amy and Mitchell are in that Piper Cub. Yikes!!
* Now it’s the comedy section of the film. (Unlike all the rest of it, I suppose.) First Kong’s trods upon a yuppie’s De Lorian. Yet another awful piece of miniature effects, by the way. Then a golfer hits a ball, and it flies up and smacks Kong on the bridge of his nose. The golfers run away. It’s funny. What I really wanted to see was Amy and Mitchell arrive on the scene. Mitchell would pick up a dropped golf club and angrily note “Then they had their fun with him.”
* There’s a dumb scene where Kong sneaks down a hill to spy on Nevitt’s forces. (Who are all facing the same way. Good way to guard your perimeter.) Well, ‘sneak’ might not be the right word, because although it’s nighttime, he clearly is directly in Nevitt’s line of sight. And forty to fifty feet tall. Eventually Nevitt does spot him. The two exchange looks like in a Sergio Leone duel. This is not played for laughs. Kong explodes up and tosses a lot of dust in the air. This shouldn’t matter, because all of Nevitt’s forces are pointed his way and their weapons’ orientation should have been locked in by now. But no, Kong escapes in the dust storm, and Nevitt’s face gets all cut up in the process. Oh, oh. This time it’s personal.
* Mitchell and Amy break into the silo – well, ok, they run through the open gate when no one’s looking – again — and physically overpower some of the elite troops. This is not the most believable section of the movie, which is saying something. At one point they use the tired old saw of the soldier who fails to react properly because he sees a pretty girl. Oh, brother.
* OK, again, Mitchell and Amy have broken into a secure military base and assaulted at least two military personnel. Consequences of these actions: None.
* Here’s the big final plot twist: Lady Kong’s pregnant. Yawn.
* Mitchell hits the switch that will raise LK to the surface. (And then what the hell is their plan? I know they’ve mentioned a preserve in Borneo, but how the hell are they going to get a forty-foot fugitive ape out of the country?
* A soldier hits the countermand switch and they are thwarted. However, Kong heroically shows up at the very last minute. Whatever. Let’s just get this over with. He tears through the reinforced missile silo lid, which is ludicrous. He also out muscles the humongous turbine engine that operates it, which is also moronic. Besides, the debris from the lid should have fallen on Amy and Mitchell and crushed them to death.
* Kong grabs his lady and they depart. LK has Mitchell in hand. Amy nonchalantly jumps into an army ‘deuce and a-half’, a two and a half ton truck, and follows them. (My friend Andrew Muchoney, a driver of heavy vehicles in the army, assures me she would not be able to drive this monster without elaborate training. Besides, they make the vehicle look like an automatic when it actually sports a complicated manual gearshift.) Plus Nevitt’s forces are approaching. The end draws near. Whoopee!!
* Cut to a hillbilly hoedown. Two old geezers drunks are used for purported comic relief. One says, “You never know who’s going to show up at one of these one these here family reunions.” The joke being that Kong and LK are in the background of the shot. Ha. Ha.
* LK goes into labor. She smashes down the walls of a barn to make a space for herself. Any arrives. Nevitt is right behind. He orders his men to open fire on Kong. Amy protests that they’ll hit LK. Maybe you shouldn’t have frickin’ bust her out of the silo then, moron.
* Kong protects LK with his own body, though. He sustains a whole load of .50 heavy machine fire, which would probably kill him right off.
* I’m so tired. Let’s end this. Here’s the Spectacular Climax: Kong miraculously lives long enough to route the soldiers, personally kill Nevitt – which we’re all meant to jump up and cheer at – and see his son born. The son is represented with the film’s worst ape costume, this one kept man-sized.
* I can’t overemphasize the level of schmaltz here, with everybody weeping at the tragedy of Kong’s death and the beauty of his last moments gazing upon his son. Kong both bleeds copiously and cries with joy (!), as Amy urges, “Reach for him, Kong! Reach for him!” Kong clasps him with his big fake prop hand, they exchange loving looks, Kong dies. Wife and baby keen in mourning. De Laurentiis obviously pulled out all the stops to bring about his famous prediction, “When’a Konk’a die, everybody a’cry.” Substitute ‘laugh’a their ass off’ for ‘a’cry’ and you’d be a lot closer.
* By the way, soldiers don’t stand around cherishing a special moment when their commanding officer’s just been killed. No way would any of the Kongs get out of here alive.
* Coda: LK and Little Kong safe in the jungles of Borneo. Little Kong swings on vines like Tarzan. He and Mom exchange some ‘just folks’ moments. We sigh, content that they are content. Or something.
* Then, blissfully, the movie ends. Soon, I will be safe in the arms of Morpheus.
* By the way, in the end credits the actors playing Kong and Lady Kong get top billing. (!!) Hamilton, the star of the piece, gets forth billing, after Brian Kerwin!

Want second opinions? Try:

* Liz Kingsley’s review at And You Call Yourself a Scientist!
* Our own Jessica Ritchey’s review at The Bad Movie Report. And those who want screencaps will find them there. (And now that I’ve done my piece, I can finally read Jessica’s.)

Summery: It’s suckarrific!

  • I could have sworn it was a Lamborghini. I really wanted one, when I was a kid. Btw, as a twelve year old, this was a blast in the theater and I still love it at 40! Seeing it as a plot point in The Big Hit really made me happy.