Friday, 23 September 2016

King Kong vs Godzilla (1962)

King Kong vs Godzilla dates from 1962 and by this time the idea had taken root that one giant monster was not enough. Godzilla was a huge box-office drawcard but pitting him against other equally formidable monsters was obviously going to be the way to make sure audiences kept buying tickets. Having Godzilla battling King Kong must have seemed like a surefire winner. Toho Studio managed to secure the rights to use King Kong and King Kong vs Godzilla was the result.

Mysterious weather events in the Arctic are causing enough concern for the UN to send their latest submarine to investigate. They run into big trouble and then they see Godzilla emerging from inside a huge ice floe (in one of the movie’s most effective scenes).

It is a well-known scientific fact that dinosaurs, like salmon, always return to their birthplace and since Godzilla-like fossils have been discovered in Japan it is clear that Japan is where Godzilla will be heading.

Meanwhile a Japanese pharmaceutical company has despatched a scientist to a remote Pacific island to secure supplies of a new wonder drug called soma which is found only in berries that grow only on this one island. The company is also looking for a major publicity attraction so reports of a giant monster on the island make the island even more interesting to them - this monster could be a great sales gimmick.

The monster is of course King Kong. Capturing him is surprisingly easy - soma sends him to sleep. The giant ape is towed to Japan on a raft.

Now the Japanese have two giant monsters to contend with. This is especially tricky since each monster has different strengths and weaknesses. Dinosaurs hate electricity but as everyone knows electricity makes giant apes stronger. A barrier of high tension wires carrying a million volts should be able to keep Godzilla at bay but when King Kong reaches the barrier it not only fails to stop him, it makes him much more powerful. Tokyo is, once again, in deadly peril.

There seems to be only one solution. It is a well-established scientific fact that for millions of years dinosaurs and giant apes were natural enemies. If they can be brought together they might, with luck, destroy each other. Transporting King Kong to the scene of the epic battle presents a challenge but an ingenious employee of the aforementioned pharmaceutical company has the answer to that - he has invented a super-strong cable so all they need to do is to send the ape to sleep and then he can be easily transported by balloon! This provides a scene with the kind of inspired lunacy that makes Japanese monster movies so appealing.

The stage is set but which monster will prove to be the stronger, and will the battle of the monsters really save Tokyo from destruction? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Ishirô Honda is once again in the director’s chair and there’s plenty of insanely silly but thoroughly enjoyable action. The monsters are everything one could hope for but it has to be said that King Kong tends to steal the picture. This ape has star quality. He’s also the best actor in the movie. The special effects are often terrible but they’re terrible in a fun way. Lots of toy trains get stomped! The effects might be crude but there are plenty of them. Kong is actually portrayed by a guy in a gorilla suit rather than with stop-motion. This will disappoint stop-motion fans but it works well enough.

The plot is totally mad and this film really goes overboard on the comic relief. It’s also breathtakingly (although very amusingly) politically incorrect.

The American version (which is the one I’m reviewing here) cut quite a few scenes and replaced them with dull talky scenes shot in Hollywood. I’m told the Japanese version is a lot better and I can well believe it.

The Region 4 DVD from Siren is a two-movie disc, pairing this one with the original Godzilla as the Godzilla Double Feature volume 1. It’s one of the worst DVD presentations I have ever come across. Even Alpha Video have never released anything quite this bad. The transfers are horrible, there’s massive print damage and both movies are (very badly) pan-and-scanned. It’s a disgraceful effort. Luckily it was a rental - I’d have hated to have paid to own this dismal DVD.

King Kong vs Godzilla tries to be a light-hearted romp of a monster movie and it succeeds reasonably well (and probably succeeded a lot better before American studio execs made their ham-fisted attempts to Americanise it). It’s worth a look but you would undoubtedly be well advised to seek out the Japanese version.


tom jones said...

Have you seen the sort-of sequel, King Kong Escapes, one of the all-time camp classics?

dfordoom said...

No, I haven't seen King Kong Escapes. I'll have to keep a lookout for it.