Tag King Kong

Son of Kong, The (1933)

The Son of Kong (1933)

SEE! The cannibals! The earthquake! The sea serpent! The fighting monsters of ages past!

After King Kong’s rampage through New York, filmmaker Carl Denham is counting the cost. Penniless and faced with numerous lawsuits served against him, he is approached by Captain Engelhorn, the captain of the ship of that brought Kong to New York and who is also facing charges, with an offer that the two men flee to avoid their inevitable prison sentences. After attempting to make money by shipping cargo around the Dutch East Indies on Engelhorn’s ship, they bump into Norwegian Nils Helstrom who originally sold Denham the map to Skull Island. He convinces them that there is great treasure hidden on the island and together they set sail to find it. But when they get there, they discover an ape that they believe is the son of King Kong.

 

After the phenomenal success of King Kong in 1933, a sequel was rushed into production. But Ernest B. Schoedsack was told that he would have a lower budget and would be only given six months to make the film so that it would be ready for release by Christmas…in the same year! That’s a harsh production schedule for any fantasy film to adhere to given the amount of painstakingly-detailed stop-motion animation shots on display, let alone the sequel to one of cinema’s titanic classics. And let’s face it, no sequel was ever going to be able to top the original for sheer spectacle.

Not many people are aware that King Kong spawned a sequel based around his offspring (the whereabouts of Mrs Kong have never been revealed but I hope she didn’t bolt on them both!) but The Son of Kong deals with just that. It’s hardly a lesser remake of the original like many a sequel is, though it shares many similarities once Denham and co. arrive on Skull Island by putting the human characters in danger from hungry beasts. This one goes off on its own tangent a little more thanks to Kong Jr. only being about twice the height of a normal man and not a giant ape. Plus it doesn’t end up back in New York but history repeating itself twice would have been a stretch too far.

The story picks up a few weeks after the events of the original, with distraught and disgraced Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) being the main character now – neither Fay Wray or Bruce Cabot return to their roles. Armstrong said that this was his favourite film out of the two as it gave Denham more character to play with. He’s right – he’s no longer a maverick producer with visions of dollar signs running through his brain but a man broken by tragedy. The responsibility that Denham bears for Kong’s death weighs heavy on him throughout the film and his sombre apology to Kong Jr. is rather heart-warming in its sincerity. Denham truly feels remorse for what happened and Armstrong is able to channel that to good success, even if there are few moments when the old Denham tries to break out. Frank Reicher resuming his role as Captain Engelhorn also adds some continuity to the film’s links with the original. However Fay Wray’s replacement, Helen Mack, doesn’t play a pivotal role in the film and has blatantly been cast as a damsel-in-distress for the sake of casting. Beauty did not kill the beast in this one.

But apart from Denham traversing a nice character arc between this and the original, The Son of Kong is clearly a rushed production which doesn’t deliver anything like the qualities of King Kong. It’s only a little over sixty minutes long and it takes the characters nearly half of the film to arrive on the island. Whilst the film eventually picks up pace when it gets to the island, things pick up too late and they’re over way too quickly to leave any lasting impression. Once on the island, the handful of human characters are put in peril with the island native beastly inhabitants desperate to make a meal out of them. And Kong Jr. is on hand to save the day.

Kong Jr looks alright to say that the animation was rushed along in six months by Willis O’Brien. He doesn’t have the same awe and majesty about him that his dad did and his less-than-imposing height and albino look does more to appeal to children than anything. The animation isn’t as complicated as it was before but O’Brien understands the need to give Kong Jr. the same sort of quirky mannerisms that his father had to add personality and humanity to the character. It’s hard not to warm to Kong Jr. in a way that we couldn’t with his father and it adds more emotional impact to the teary-eyed finale which was never going to top the infamous ascent to the top of the Empire State Building but does a good job of doing the best it can with the circumstances. The lasting impression that Kong Jr. makes on the audience is surprising given how little he’s on the screen but he’s a credit to the stop motion animation of Willis O’Brien. If only Denham and his gang had arrived on the island a little earlier in the film to give the film more of an overall impression.

 

More friendly in tone and approach than its predecessor, it can’t compete for spectacle or horror with King Kong but, like the infant ape on the screen, The Son of Kong is hard not to feel some affection for. It’s blatantly a missed opportunity however and it would have been interesting to see how much better it could have been had everyone been given a year or two to make it.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

King Kong (1933)

King Kong (1933)

A Monster of Creation’s Dawn Breaks Loose in Our World Today!

Producer Carl Denham and his film crew head off to an uncharted Pacific island to finish shooting a movie amongst the superstitious natives who worship a huge gorilla named Kong. What they don’t realise is that Kong is real and the gigantic beast abducts lead actress Ann Darrow after she is offered up as a sacrifice. Setting off in pursuit of her through the perilous jungle, Denham realises that there would be more money to be made if they could capture Kong alive and put him on show in New York.

 

What can anyone say about King Kong that hasn’t already been said? Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles ever made, King Kong has stood the test of time as an iconic, landmark film in history. Everyone knows the story. Everyone knows how it pans out. Even if you haven’t seen the original, the two remakes, countless imitations and numerous spoofs and references will have mapped out the film from start to finish. I suppose the attraction of watching King Kong nowadays is to become a part of history by immersing yourself in a film that transcends time.

I think people forget when this was made whenever they launch into criticism. King Kong was made in 1933, right in the middle of the Great Depression and only six years before the start of the Second World War. Countries were broke. People were penniless. It’s amazing to ponder the mindset of anyone trying to make something as grand and as spectacular as this during that time given how much of a financial risk it would be. Even the limited technologies available to filmmakers back then failed to deter Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack from attempting to break the mould and make a film that would be like nothing else that had come before. One can only imagine the reaction of being alive in the 30s and being used to the sort of films that were being made back then only to be confronted with King Kong on the big screen. The cultural impact is just too immense to even consider.

The likes of cutting-edge effects-driven spectacles such as Jurassic Park and more recently Avatar have rivalled King Kong‘s screen impact for newer generations but never topped it. There is just something awe-inspiring about the way in which this was all put together back in the 30s – a real labour of love for the cast and crew. Sadly, there is no question that King Kong has dated. From the Orientalist caricatures of the indigenous natives to the 30s fashions and the chauvinist sense of place that men and women both held in films right to the crackling sound and speeded-up action sequences, King Kong has seen its best days long, long gone. The acting by the three leads is of the old school ‘larger than life’ mould where they’re not so much as portraying characters but blustering through theatrical dialogue with all of the determination of a Renaissance dramatist. The script is full of schmaltzy old fashioned macho hero/damsel-in-distress nonsense but given the time period, it’s all perfectly acceptable.

Willis O’Brien deserves a lot of the credit for the success of King Kong. His legendary stop-motion special effects still hold up extraordinarily well today, turning Kong from a special effect into a fully-fledged character. Kong is invested with more heart and soul than 90% of human characters in every other film made. His mannerisms, expertly rendered by O’Brien, such as rubbing his eyes, shaking his head or pounding his fist instil the monster with a scary sense of humanity. He may be a thirty-foot ape but that still doesn’t stop the audience from immediately warming to him and eventually feeling sorry for him when he’s treat the way he is by mankind. The infamous, surprisingly poignant ending, atop the Empire State Building must rank as one of cinema’s greatest climaxes, both tragic and awe-inspiring at the same time. Equally as impressive is the fight between Kong and a T-Rex which finishes up with Kong breaking the jaw of the dinosaur in a show of raw, brute strength. To today’s audiences, the special effects will seem ‘fake’ but suspension of disbelief isn’t hard when the film is this good. O’Brien’s landmark effects paved the way for the likes of Ray Harryhausen to go further in pushing the boundaries of technology and in turn he influenced the next generation of artists like Spielberg, Jackson and Cameron. No King Kong, no cinema as we know it today.

The beauty with King Kong is that it’s not just visually impressive but it tells one hell of a story. People forget how well it plays out, full of thrilling action scenes, heart-stopping chases and romantic sub-plots. The build-up to Kong’s first sighting is skilfully manipulated. The dangerous trek through the jungle, featuring all manner of dinosaurs to pick off the crew, is as exciting as it is scary. Anywhere between thirty and forty of the crew are killed off during the film which is pretty horrific by today’s standards, let alone the 30s!

King Kong also saw the first time that an orchestral score was used to enhance the images on screen rather than have stock music run randomly alongside it without any sort of presence or purpose. Max Steiner’s score for King Kong saw the introduction of leitmotifs, where one recurring piece of music would be attached to an idea, person or place, saw its birth here. These ‘theme tunes’ could be sped up, slowed down or slightly altered given what was happening on-screen – think of the Imperial March theme from The Empire Strikes Back and how that was re-used in different forms across the series, or the shark’s theme in Jaws which was slowed down or sped up depending on the situation. It is a pivotal ingredient that we take for granted in film nowadays but something which saw its genesis back in 1933.

 

I could go on forever about King Kong and haven’t even scratched the surface in regards to the relationship between ‘beauty and the beast’ which led to the film’s most famous quote. I can’t say that it’s one of my favourite films because it’s not. But there’s no denying just how big of an accomplishment this film was and how much of an industry-defining impact it had. Still one of the biggest cinematic spectacles of all time, King Kong is quite simply put one of the greatest films ever made. It truly is the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World.’

 

 ★★★★★★★★★★ 

 

 

King Kong Escapes (1967)

King Kong Escapes (1967)

The fate of the world hangs in the the balance as KING KONG fights the KING KONG ROBOT!

An evil dictator and his terrorist group build a huge robot called MechaKong so that it can dig out a rare mineral which they will use to make nuclear bombs. When the robot fails there is only one thing to do: bring in the real thing. They kidnap King Kong, still alive on Kong Island, and have him dig for the mineral instead. But he escapes and they send Mechakong out to destroy him. The battle that ensues threatens to destroy Tokyo and the whole of Japan.

 

After Toho had spent way too much money on securing the rights to the King of the Jungle, it became apparent that they had little in store for him once they cast him in the biggest monster showdown ever. After rushing through the titanic battle with Godzilla and ending the film rather weakly (with no outright winner), Kong peaked too early in his Japanese career. Once you’ve fought Godzilla, what else is there to do?

It took five years for Toho to get this sequel out after the success of King Kong Vs Godzilla. In the meantime, they’d prepared a story for Kong but it ended up becoming a Godzilla film – that of Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. So when a studio thinks that a giant ape and a huge lobster battling each other isn’t going to cut it, what other monster is there for Kong to fight? Well they used the good old standby of the monster fighting his mechanical doppelganger. Hey it worked for Godzilla later in his career, why not Kong?

King Kong looks to have really hit the bottle since his last outing. There’s no comparing the Toho men-in-suits version with the classic Willis O’Brien stop motion model but there’s comparing this suit with the one he was stuck with in King Kong Vs Godzilla. And the difference is staggering. Toho look like they locked him up for years and let the moths do their worst on him. He looks in really bad condition and I’d swear you can see bits of him crumbling in some scenes. He’s got a stupid perma-grin on his face, even when he’s getting his ass kicked and his goofy teeth stick out for a mile. MechaKong looks the part though, or at least as much as a mechanical ape could look. The fact that they’re both human in form means that at least they can grapple with each other and use their arms and legs. Some of Toho’s monsters lacked arms or a decent range of movement so fights were limited and a bit dull. Here they do look like two guys bashing the hell out of each other in fancy dress.

Kong gets to battle his mechanical doppleganger in numerous scenes, none of which are particularly memorable save for the finale in which they both climb atop the Tokyo Tower. In fact the best fight scene comes when Kong does battle with Gorosaurus on the island. It may smack of unoriginality – I mean Kong fights a T-Rex in pretty much every movie he’s been in. But at least Gorosaurus gives him a good fight, with a nifty kangaroo-like kick. The T-Rex suit looks pretty good too.

The rest of the film is just bonkers. There’s a sub-standard James Bond-style vibe going on with the terrorist corporation trying to build nuclear bombs with the mysterious Element X. They’ve got a secret Antarctic base and have their own private army. Dr Who does a lot of killing – he is a 100% certified psycho in here – and he’d give some Bond villains a run for their money. Actor Eisei Amamoto has a lot of fun in the role and wears a cape and funny hat whilst delivering some clunky dialogue like “the world is ours.” It’s a bit weird that Toho didn’t have a clue that England had their own, infinitely more famous Doctor Who back in 1963 and there’s probably a lawsuit lost in limbo somewhere along the line. Mie Hama plays Madame X, a mysterious agent who negotiates with Dr Who and is from an unnamed country. The script goes to great lengths to avoiding naming the country but it’s blatantly obvious it’s meant to be China or North Korea. Hama more famously portrayed Kissy Suzuki in classic Bond film You Only Live Twice so there is more than one Bond connection to this kaiju film.

 

King Kong Escapes is the big ape’s worst day at the cinema by a long shot and he’s had some real stinkers. He probably wished he’d have stayed dead at the end of the 1933 original now. There’s some daft fun in the fight scenes but it’s more likely because you feel sorry for the state of King Kong himself rather than any emotional attachment to this film.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

King Kong Vs Godzilla (1962)

King Kong Vs Godzilla (1962)

The motion picture screen beckons you to adventure that thrills the emotions with shock and terror!

The glacier in which Godzilla was imprisoned in 1955 is involved in a collision with a submarine, freeing the giant monster to to wreak havoc on Japan again. At the same time, an expedition on a remote island searching for huge berries, said to have miracle cure properties, comes across the giant ape named King Kong. He is captured and transported to Japan where he is to be used as an advertisement for the health effects of the berries. But with Godzilla destroying everything in his path, Kong escapes captivity and it is only a matter of time before the two giant monsters would meet in a fight to the death.

 

Cinema’s two biggest monsters going head-to-head in a fight to the death is a mouth-watering prospect but it was inevitable that somewhere along the line, King Kong Vs Godzilla was going to end up disappointing everyone involved. Godzilla had already attacked Japan in two previous films and it was obvious that the studio was short on ideas as to what the big monster could do. So for his third outing, Toho had acquired the rights to use King Kong (I have no idea how they managed to do that) and decided to pit the most iconic monsters of their age against each other. It was a trend which would dominate the remainder of the Godzilla series for the rest of its original run as Toho continually thrust new enemies into the path of the Big G. So judging by the title you’d expect this to be a classic. But like many of today’s top billed boxing fights, the end result is a letdown.

Arguably the most painful sight of the proceedings is that of King Kong himself. Far from the mighty, ferocious stop motion creature he was back in 1933, Kong is now simply a man in a moth-ridden monkey suit. It’s really sad to see how badly Toho messed up on the design, with his constant cheesy smile and static facial features being a far cry from the superb animation of Willis O’Brien. Toho were never going to go down the same route of special effects but the difference in quality is staggering. Godzilla looks exactly the same as he has always done and the suit is hardly the worst of the bunch – he still retains plenty of aggression in his face. But I bet even Godzilla would be laughing at how far Kong had fallen. It’s the first time that both monsters appeared in colour too which would make Kong’s appearance all the more ridiculous.

Having said this, when the two monsters finally start duking it out, the fight is pretty decent. There’s plenty of up-close-and-personal bashing and Kong even tries to ram a tree down Godzilla’s throat during one moment (in a homage to Kong fighting the T-Rex back in 1933). Godzilla keeps trying to use his tail as a weapon too (a practice he’d later perfect for the 70s tag-team monster fests). The distinctive roars of the two monsters are also put to good use during the battle so we know who is in pain and who is taunting at any given moment. Contrary to some reviews, the Japanese version didn’t have Godzilla winning, nor did the American version have Kong win. Both versions feature Kong swimming off into the distance which can be interpreted as him being victorious or him running away from Godzilla, therefore forfeiting the fight.

Like many of the early Toho films, there’s not a great deal of monster action during the first half. Both Godzilla and Kong do appear but in a film called King Kong Vs Godzilla, I’d expect a few more fights and less of both monsters pratting around doing their own thing. Kong does what he usually does and that is lurk around remote tropical islands playing hide and seek with the local tribe and occasionally battling other giant monsters (he fights a giant octopus which looks like he’s grappling with a wet plastic bag). And Godzilla does what he always does and that’s smash Japan to pieces whilst the army feebly attempt to stop him. It’s the same stuff they do in their individual films so why they’re doing the same thing here is beyond me. It’s just padding to avoid the two meeting until the very end.

There’s also a lot of human story hanging around and most of the early action is done by the human cast. They take up the biggest chunk of the film’s running time as they either try and stop Godzilla or barter with the natives on Kong Island. And by action, I mean talking. Apparently a lot of the dialogue was cut from the film and characterisation was ruined but let’s face it, who cares about characters in a film like this – I want to see giant monsters smashing each other to pieces. King Kong Vs Godzilla is almost finished before it finally delivers these goods and you’ll either feel cheated that you’ve had to wait so long for such a short fight or you’ll be over the moon that you’ve seen two of cinema’s iconic monsters rolling around on the floor like kids fighting in a playground. This change in tone also marked a swift change in the direction that the Godzilla films were to take. Originally very melodramatic with serious messages about atomic weapons, King Kong Vs Godzilla comes off more like a comic book come to life. Out with the realism and in with the humour, which would begin to dwarf the series right until the end of the 70s.

 

Stick with the terrible first half and you’ll be treated to a titanic tussle between the two biggest monsters in film history. King Kong Vs Godzilla does have lots wrong with it but in the end we’re only watching this for the fight and it don’t disappoint….well for 1962 it doesn’t disappoint. I’d be calling the fraud squad if this was passed off in today’s market place.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆