In 1975, director Dino De Laurentiis had just signed a deal with RKO to produce a remake of King Kong. Around that time, Universal Studios was already planning their own remake titled The Legend of King Kong and Universal claimed that they and RKO had an oral agreement. RKO denied any such claim and Universal sued Paramount and RKO. By producing their own remake, Universal was hoping that it would pressure Paramount and Dino De Laurentiis into giving up on making their own version of King Kong.
The Legend of King Kong had Bo Goldman to write the screenplay and Joseph Sargent to direct. Jim Danforth was also brought on to the project for special effects work and wanted to produce the film using stop-motion, but Universal was worried that stop-motion would be too expensive and decided to produce the movie with a man in a suit like in King Kong vs Godzilla or King Kong Escapes. Universal even intended to follow the original movie very closely with the same characters, monsters, general plot of the movie, and setting the movie in 1933.
The judge ultimately in favor of Paramount ruling they did, in fact, have the rights to produce a remake of King Kong and RKO had exclusive rights to the 1933 film. However, the judge also ruled that the rights to the character belonged to Merian C. Cooper, which was transferred to his son, Richard, which was then sold to Universal. Even though Universal owned the rights to the character, they were forced to abandon the production of The Legend of King Kong and allowed Paramount to continue production. King Kong would be released on December 17, 1976.
After Paramount's rights to King Kong expired, Universal wanted to start production on their own remake of King Kong with a target release date set for 1998 and directed by Peter Jackson. Peter Jackson was immediately on board since he was a fan of King Kong, but at the same time he was already working on other projects such as The Frighteners and The Lord of the Rings movies. Also, there were two other monster movies being released in 1998: GODZILLA and Mighty Joe Young. So the project was shelved by January 1997.
Once Peter Jackson was finished making Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, Universal approached him again asking if he was still interested in making King Kong and Jackson immediately signed on board again. This time, Universal's King Kong remake would officially get released on December 5, 2005.
Based on the concept art, I can sort of see where Universal was going with The Legend of King Kong, but if they had continued then I think it would not be as well made as the 2005 remake. If you look at Paramount's movie you can see some of the special effects techniques they used were similar to what Universal had planned. As much as I love that Kong was a guy in a suit harking back to the classic Godzilla movies, this technique has not aged as well in my opinion. Also, by the time the 90's rolled around, CGI was still new and not quite perfected yet. So it was more of a blessing for Universal to have waited to release their own movie in 2005 rather than in 1976 or 1998.
There is an apparent rumor that the movie Deep Rising (another monster movie that was released in 1998) was suppose to cross over with the unmade King Kong (98) remake to start a new King Kong franchise. This rumor is based on the ending of the movie [Deep Rising] where the survivors of a cruise liner found themselves beached on an unknown volcanic island (assumed to be Skull Island) and they hear a loud roar (assumed to be King Kong) coming from deep within the jungle. While I do see the connection, I think that ending in Deep Rising is more of a nod to King Kong than a confirmation of a planned King Kong movie series.
I want to know of your thoughts on Universal's attempts to remake King Kong. Do you think Universal did better by waiting for the right time or do you wish that The Legend of King Kong was made rather than Paramount's remake? Let me know in the comments on your thoughts on The Legend of King Kong. Make sure to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Minds, MeWe, and Gab to stay up to date for more news, reviews, and discussions.