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United Nations television reporter Eric Carter comments in a newscast on two items of unusual interest--first, mammoth icebergs are drifting toward Japan; second, scientists of the Pacific Pharmaceutical Company have discovered in the Solomon Islands some berries that produce a non-habit-forming narcotic. The scientists also find King Kong, who mysteriously appears during an electrical storm and kills a giant octopus. To boost a current advertising campaign, the company sends two men to capture the beast by drugging him with the narcotic. Meanwhile, the prehistoric monster Godzilla emerges from an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean, destroys a nuclear submarine, and heads toward Japan. King Kong awakens in captivity, senses the approaching enemy, and escapes from his captors. Nothing can stop the two creatures as they trample everything in their paths. They finally meet in combat atop Mount Fuji, and their battle creates an earthquake, sending them over a high cliff into the sea. Godzilla disappears, and King Kong moves on south.
King Kong vs. Godzilla/King Kong Escapes - King Kong Clones on a Double Bill on DVD!
In King Kong vs. Godzilla, Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), head of advertising for the Pacific Pharmaceuticals Company, dispatches two underlings, Sakurai (Tadao Takashima) and Kinsaburo (Yu Fujiki) to Faro Island to investigate the local legend of a monster-god, Kong. Tako wants Kong captured if it exists, believing a giant monster will be great publicity for the company. On the island, Sakurai and Kisaburo discover that Kong is indeed real and witness the giant gorilla battle an enormous octopus. Emerging victorious, Kong passes out after drinking some berry juice, allowing Pacific Pharmaceuticals to take him captive. Meanwhile, a U.S. nuclear submarine collides with an unusual iceberg, freeing the dreaded Godzilla. The radioactive reptile immediately heads for Japan, with all attempts to stop it proving futile. When Kong breaks free of his bonds and proceeds toward Tokyo, the Japanese military finds itself confronted with TWO giant monsters. A desperate plan is hatched: bring the two titans together in the hope they will fight and destroy each other-before they destroy Japan!
King Kong vs. Godzilla had its origins in a story by Willis O'Brien, the legendary stop-motion animator who brought the original King Kong to life. In the late 1950's, O'Brien, trying to develop film projects that would employ his animation skills, wrote a treatment called King Kong vs. Frankenstein. He sold the concept to producer John Beck, who promptly abandoned him. After a false start or two, Beck eventually partnered with Toho and Universal, and the project was reworked into a teaming of Kong and Godzilla.
Screenwriter Shinichi Sekizawa and director Ishiro Honda put their own unusual spin on the story, opting to play one of the major plot threads-Mr. Tako and his attempt to use Kong for publicity-as a broad satire on the world of advertising and corporate imperialism. Having made several kaiju (monster) films over the previous eight years, this was probably their attempt to find a fresh approach to familiar material. This does lead to some very funny, memorable scenes, the best being Sakurai and Kinsaburo winning over the Faro Island natives by cheerfully distributing cigarettes, even to young children. Unfortunately, the humor also generates some significant problems, since it is intercut with more conventional "serious" scenes dealing with the monsters and the military. At times, it feels as if two or three films completely different films have been spliced together-imagine going to see a double feature of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and War of the Gargantuas and discovering that the projectionist has mixed up the reels. The movie ultimately is hurt by the constant shifting of gears from satire to suspense.
Another flaw with the film are the special effects, which are inferior to those found in other Toho kaiju and science fiction films of the period. As many commentators have pointed out, the Kong suit is not merely one of the worst monster suits built by Eiji Tsuburaya's crew, it's one of the worst gorilla suits in the history of movies. With its stiff, expressionless face, mangy fur and shapeless body (you never feel that Kong has muscles under his skin), the suit is simply an embarrassment, like something slapped together by a group of suburban mothers for a junior high school skit. Godzilla fares better, although the suit built for this film has a peculiar, undersized head with eyes that are too close together and a flat brow. The film's most impressive monster is neither of the titular creatures, but rather the giant octopus that attacks the native village. A real octopus was used, and its slow, oozing movements are wonderfully effective. The scene is only hurt by some poor matte work, an issue that plagues the entire film. The miniature work is respectable if not outstanding. Fans will note the inclusion of two brief stop-motion shots in the film, probably included as an homage to the original King Kong.
King Kong vs. Godzilla was a huge hit in Japan upon its release. It was the first Godzilla film in seven years, and the first to feature color, widescreen and Perspecta stereo sound. When John Beck imported the film to the U.S. in 1963, he thought he could improve upon success and made several changes, all of them bad. Akira Ifukube's exciting score was almost completely removed and replaced with stock cues from Universal films like Creature From the Black Lagoon and Man-Made Monster. Although none of the new music improves on Ifukube's work, some of the music editing is reasonably effective; at other times the new music sounds out of place, particularly older cues recorded decades earlier.
The Japanese footage was, of course, dubbed into English. The English dubbing script is barely competent, packed with corny jokes to replace the more subtle humor in the original, and full of sloppy mistakes. One character asks another if they've heard about a plane crash, then points to a picture of a ship in the newspaper. Later, a character holds out a microphone while saying he needs to get a light reading. The U.S. version also adds a bit of nonsensical opening narration, with Les Tremayne reading a quote from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." It's a strange way to kick off a monster movie, especially since most Elizabethan scholars agree that the Bard was not referring to giant apes or mutant dinosaurs.
The worst damage Beck inflicted was in the editing. About 20 minutes or so of footage from the original Japanese cut was removed, including several scenes that introduce main characters. Apparently believing that western audiences needed to see some Americans in the cast, Beck shot new footage featuring Harry Holcombe as paleontologist Dr. Arnold Johnson, James Yagi as a Tokyo news correspondent and Michael Keith as United Nations newscaster Eric Carter. (How Beck managed to drag the name of the United Nations into this mess without causing an international incident is unknown.) In a series of news reports edited into the film, the new characters fill in narrative gaps caused by the removal of the Japanese footage, deliver dull exposition, talk about events we'd rather be watching and discuss various "scientific" theories about the monsters. The new footage is terrible and disrupts the flow of the film, but it is good for some unintended laughs. For example, shortly after referring to a children's book on dinosaurs to explain Godzilla's origins, Dr. Johnson holds up a marble and earnestly proclaims, "Godzilla has a brain about this size." He hands the marble to Carter, who stares at it with fascination for the rest of the scene. Johnson's scientific statements are so absurd that one half expects a plot twist in which police break into the studio, reveal him to be an escaped mental patient and drag him away as he babbles on about gorillas and dinosaurs being "instinctive rivals."
Unfortunately, Universal's DVD of King Kong vs. Godzilla includes only the U.S. cut. After many fine releases from Sony and Media Blasters featuring the original Japanese cuts of various Toho monster classics, this is extremely disappointing, although some fans who grew up with the American version will enjoy having it for reasons of nostalgia. On the positive side, Universal is presenting the film in widescreen (2.35 x 1) for the first time on U.S. home video. Since the original neg was conformed to the Japanese version, Universal probably had little to work with to make its transfer-perhaps nothing more than the original 40-year old interpositive used to create Beck's cut. Considering these limitations, the resulting 16 x 9 enhanced transfer is quite good, but not great. There's a lot of speckling in the image and some damage around some of the splice points, but color in the American scenes is reproduced quite well. The Japanese footage is slightly faded, with flatter contrast and more grain, but is still acceptable. The mono sound is fine. (Only the Japanese release featured Perspecta stereo.) There are no special features, not even Universal's exciting theatrical trailer, a mini-masterpiece of old-fashioned ballyhoo that probably had kids lining up around the block on opening weekend.
In King Kong Escapes, the crew of the submarine Explorer, including Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) and Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada), are forced to stop at Mondo Island to make repairs. On shore, a dinosaur menaces Susan until the legendary ape King Kong appears and defeats the creature in a fierce battle. Kong becomes fond of Susan and is reluctant to let her leave, but she persuades him to release her. The Explorer crew returns to New York and reports their findings to an astonished world. Meanwhile, at the North Pole, nefarious freelance villain Dr. Who (Eisei Amamato)-no relation to the Time Lord from Gallifrey-has constructed a giant robot Kong, Mechani-Kong, to mine the radioactive Element X for an unnamed foreign power, represented by the mysterious Madame X (Mie Hama). When the robot is unable to withstand the intense radiation, Who captures the real Kong and kidnaps Carl, Susan and Jiro to help him control the beast. Kong and our heroes manage to escape and make their way to Tokyo, but Dr. Who, unwilling to admit defeat, sends Mechani-Kong in pursuit. The mighty ape and his robot doppelganger square off in a climactic confrontation high atop Tokyo Tower.
Like King Kong vs. Godzilla, King Kong Escapes had an unusual genesis. In the mid-1960's, American animation company Rankin-Bass, best known for their many holiday specials (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, etc.), licensed the character of King Kong from RKO for a Saturday morning cartoon series. According to Arthur Rankin, RKO wanted a new live-action Kong movie made as part of the deal. Rankin-Bass, which had previously hired Japanese firms to execute the animation for many of their productions, partnered with Toho to produce the film. According to Steve Ryfle's Japan's Favorite Mon-star, Toho initially developed a script titled Operation Robinson Crusoe that Rankin-Bass rejected since it strayed too far from the animated series. Toho's second attempt at a script became King Kong Escapes, while Operation Robinson Crusoe was reworked and became Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster.
The final film is no classic, but it's a likeable juvenile adventure filled with elements sure to appeal to kids: a giant ape, a giant robot, dinosaurs, a submarine, a hovercraft, a square-jawed hero, a despicable villain and a damsel in distress. What more could any 7-year old want? Director Ishiro Honda keeps the pace lively, and composer Akira Ifukube contributes an effective score. The heroes are rather bland, but Eisei Amamoto (dubbed by Paul Frees in the U.S. version) and Mie Hama make a splendid pair of baddies.
The Kong suit here is a little better than the one in King Kong vs. Godzilla, with a slightly more expressive face and a more defined shape to the body. The gentler appearance is appropriate for his friendlier, more heroic role in this story. His arch-foe, Mechani-Kong, is rather endearing; he looks like a big cartoony toy instead of a menace. Gorosaurus, the Mondo Island dinosaur, is one of the best man-in-a-suit dinosaurs ever, but the less said about a sea serpent that makes a brief appearance, the better. Because Kong is not meant to be as large as most Toho monsters, the miniatures are built at a larger scale than usual and are generally effective, although the streets of Tokyo look unusually wide and empty.
As with King Kong vs. Godzilla, Universal's DVD of King Kong Escapes only includes the dubbed U.S. version, but since it did not suffer the wholesale butchery that the earlier film did, the results are not as disappointing. Only a few minutes of footage was trimmed, Ifukube's score was kept intact and American lead Rhodes Reason did dub his own voice. (One curious change in the U.S. version is that Arthur Rankin is listed as "Producer/Director" while Ishiro Honda is merely the Director "For Toho Productions." Rankin directed nothing in the film.) The 16 x 9 enhanced widescreen transfer is very attractive, with vivid color and good detail. There are no special features.
Although each film is packaged in its own case-with tacky cover art that positively screams "bargain bin" - King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes are sold only in a two-pack and are not available individually.
For more information about King Kong vs. Godzilla/King Kong Escapes, visit Universal. To order King Kong vs. Godzilla/King Kong Escapes, go to TCM Shopping.
by Gary Teetzel
King Kong vs. Godzilla/King Kong Escapes - King Kong Clones on a Double Bill on DVD!
Released in Japan in 1962 as King Kong tai Godzilla; running time: 99 min. The film was reedited, and some additional scenes featuring Michael Keith, James Yagi, and Harry Holcombe were interpolated, for the English language version.