#2: KING KONG (John Barry)

October 27, 2005
A thought by James Berardinelli

I am one of the few people who will admit to liking the 1976 version of King Kong. There are three reasons for this. It was the first movie I saw in an indoor movie theater and, as such, it left an imprint on the impressionable mind of a nine-year old boy. I enjoy the campy approach taken by the filmmakers - why not ham it up? Finally, there's the music, which outclasses every other aspect of the production. For King Kong, John Barry turned in one of the greatest scores that no one pays attention to.

If the movie had a better reputation, people wouldn't scoff when I write something like "this is arguably the most underrated score of all time." And it's not farfetched to say this is the best soundtrack composed by Barry - and I'm not forgetting Dances with Wolves (look a little farther down the list) or his numerous James Bond contributions. King Kong is majestic stuff. Don't believe me? Close your eyes while watching the movie (to block out the silly guy in the ape suit) and listen.

King Kong has a lush, romantic score. There are three basic moods. One, typified by "Maybe My Luck Has Changed," "Arrival on the Island," and "Arthusa," is light and playful. Another hints at danger, as in "The Opening," "Full Moon Domain," and "Breakout to Captivity." Finally, there are the percussive, warlike strains of "Incomprehensible Captivity," "Climb to Skull Island," and "The End is at Hand."

The soundtrack is difficult to find. It has been out of print for as long as I can remember. Copies show up every once in a while on E-bay. I bought my CD, an Italian import, in the early 1990s. The sound quality isn't great, and several of the tracks feature annoying sound effects (Kong roaring in "Breakout to Captivity," for example), but it contains all 13 tracks and appears to be legitimate (in other words, not pirated). Select cuts are available on a few of the many John Barry compilations. Most of these are variations of the main title theme ("The Opening") and/or the love theme ("Maybe My Luck Has Changed").

Feel free to hurl invectives, but I won't back down. King Kong is my second-favorite soundtrack, and it holds an honored place in my CD collection. I don't try to hide it from visitors. And I listen to it often (although not as often as I might if it was a superlative transfer). There's only one soundtrack that I prefer, and I'll get to that next. (One hint - unless you know me personally, you're unlikely to be able to guess it. In fact, even if you know me personally, you might be wrong.)