King Kong appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Plenty of problems emerged in this unsatisfying transfer.
Sharpness was adequate at best and usually not even that good. The movie suffered from a lot of soft shots, a factor exacerbated by some notable edge haloes. The flick could appear acceptably distinctive, but it usually seemed less defined than I’d like. I noticed mild examples of moiré effects and jagged edges. The print used was in moderately bad shape, as it suffered from a lot of speckles as well as some scratches, hairs and spots. Grain could be heavy, and the movie often took on a murky appearance.
Colors were fairly subdued, as the film went with a pretty flat palette, and they often looked drab. The tones tended to be too heavy and they rarely felt natural and vivid. One scene that used heavy red light easily looked the worst in this regard. Black levels were muddy and inky, and many low-light shots seemed too dense and thick. This wasn’t a good presentation, so it only merited a “D+”.
Matters don’t improve much with the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. One the positive side, Kong offered a reasonably impressive soundstage for a movie from the mid-Seventies. The surrounds provided some good reinforcement of the information from the front. I noted no split surround usage, but the general ambience they gave seemed beneficial.
The stereo effects from the front were inconsistent but often adequately separated. The imaging was strange at times; some dialogue came from the correct left or right channel - or a spot between the center and the side - but occasionally a sound that should be closer to the center went farther to the side than something else. It's hard to explain, but the localization of sound sometimes seemed incorrect. John Barry's score received effective usage and balanced nicely between the front channels, with some support from the rears as well. While it's got some peculiarities, I had to give the track credit for effort, since most films of its era don't attempt such ambitious audio.
Unfortunately, the quality often showed significant flaws. The score sounded good, I must admit. The music boasted nice range and definition, as the score came across with nice fidelity. Effects also featured good bass response during louder moments; for instance, Kong’s footsteps provided the expected oomph.
Otherwise, the track disappointed. Distortion was the main problem. Speech often sounded rough and edgy, and effects showed the same problems. They were usually crackly and shrill, especially as the film progressed. Its first half wasn’t too bad, but once the action scenes occurred – and most of them were in the final hour – the audio went downhill in a hurry. Between the good reproduction of the score and the ambitious – if erratic – soundscape, the audio merited a “C-“. It’s a definite disappointment, though, as the distortion made it borderline unlistenable at times.
King Kong boasts almost no supplements. We see its absurdly positive trailer - one that declares Kong to be the most stunning movie of all time. Considering that it wasn't even the best movie entitled King Kong, that's an ever-so-slight stretch.
Nostalgic factors make me want to like 1976’s King Kong, but all the goofy sentiment in the world won’t turn it into a good film. Oh, this Kong could’ve been worse – as the same filmmakers proved with 1985’s dreadful sequel King Kong Lives - but the flick nonetheless doesn’t hold up well.
And neither does this DVD. It suffers from generally poor picture and audio, and it also lacks substantial supplements. Even with a cheap list price of $12.99, avoid this flawed release.