16 August 2012

FANTASTIC DINOSAURS: King Kong vs. Godzilla

[Welcome to the return of The Rambling of a Minnesota Geek's project to watch every and all movies from the trailer-compilation video Fantastic Dinosaurs of the Movies. My goal is to locate and view all the films that were trailed in the video, and review 'em as honestly as I can. I love me monster movies, and I love me dinosaur movies, and this allows me the opportunity to visit some classic oldies of the sci-fi/monster genre. There's gonna be some winners, and undoubtedly some clunkers, but that's part of the excitement, innit? Enjoy 'em, mateys!]


proudly presents

King Kong vs. Godzilla

There are two movies that general audiences typically associate to Godzilla: [1], that piece-of-garbage-Godzilla-in-Name-Only American translation GODZILLA from 1998 that was both a blessing and a curse to North American Godzilla fans, and [2] King Kong vs. Godzilla, arguably the most widely known piece of giant monster entertainment and has thoroughly placed itself into mainstream pop culture. Similar to [1], this is a good and bad thing. On the level of good, this is a damn fine entertaining flick with plenty of monster vs. monster action, and on that level, will definitely entice younger viewers to pursue more Godzilla productions (fingers crossed), and is overall a well made movie. Downside: there's a high probability that folks will tune into this movie and this movie only, thinking that this is all Godzilla is and leave it at that.

Off the heels of its recent 50th Anniversary (as of August 11th), I thought it appropriate to breathe new life into this Minnesota Geek feature with this little gem. In the simplest of histories, based purely off my memory, how King Kong vs. Godzilla came to be is a result of this: Willis O'Brien really wanting to bring back King Kong, and proposed a concept called King Kong vs. Frankenstein, with the intent of realizing it himself via stop motion animation, the same technique that O'Brien received a few accolades for with his 1933 production. Apparently, no dice. American producer John Beck got his hands on the proposal and shopped it around, still with O'Brien on board but who, it seems, wasn't very "in" with the meetings. Eventually Beck brought the project to the attention of Toho Studios, and a joint production was initiated. Dropped was the idea of Frankenstein's monster as the co-villain (although the Monster later shows up in a Toho production titled Frankenstein Conquers the World), and instead Toho inserted their own monster into the mix: Godzilla. Premiering in 1954, Toho's Godzilla was a behemoth both in physical appearance and in profits, so much so that within five months the sequel, Godzilla Raids Again, landed in cinemas in '55, but that didn't go over so well. It was one of those obvious rushed productions. Thus, Toho looked at this as a opportunity to bring back their ace in the hole. With Beck and O'Brien seemingly having no involvement in this production whatsoever, Toho did what they did and Beck was handed the final product. Instead of stop motion there was the more cost-effective special effect of suitmation, with King Kong now a man in a rubber suit and extendable arms. The original 1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla still had a underlying sense of satire that translated well into the Americanized version, but a lot of the seriousness of the script was lost by Beck's meddling. Through Beck, King Kong vs. Godzilla received an extensive overhaul, with newly filmed scenes inserted into the narrative, over twenty minutes of the original movie lost, and the dialogue essentially rewritten. No other film in the history of Godzilla productions, with the sole exception of the original 1954 film, has been manipulated/changed as much as this one. 

*Also, just to note: the score has nearly entirely been exercised from the Japanese version. Composer Akira Ifukube's work only remains in the Faro Island dance/worship, otherwise the film cobbles together cues from several other prominent science fiction titles. Most recognizably, tuned ears will be greeted with Creature from the Black Lagoon more than once. Hell, far too often. And this is a huge shame, as Ifukube crafted one of his true masterpieces with this flick. Sigh. Oh well. All we can hope is that the original Japanese makes its way somehow to the U.S. market.

So it's nothing short of a miracle that King Kong vs. Godzilla, the American version, turned out as well as it did. Satire and pure science fiction cinema rolled into one, it's the Big G's most financially successful outing, and, as stated above, the most widely recognized Godzilla film. Today I'll be talking about the American version, currently readily available on DVD (packaged along with the other Toho King Kong-suitmation epic, King Kong Escapes).

Also before venturing further, a nasty rumor and commonly held belief is that a major difference with the Japanese and American versions is the ending. For the Japanese, it is said, Godzilla swims away victorious from his melee with Kong, while the Americans get to see their crowned gorilla as savior of all mankind. Truth be told, the same ending is in both versions. Godzilla and King Kong plummet off a cliff and into the ocean, a giant tidal wave erupting around a nearby town, and as reporters and citizens look on with shock at the sight, King Kong emerges from the depths, and only Kong, slowly lumbering towards (presumably) his island home. The idea of different endings is a neat one, but entirely false. Sorry, folks.

These days we got Freddy vs. Jason which wasn't the colossal misfire many expected to be, and we have Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus, which is about as low on the totem pole as you can get. King Kong vs. Godzilla is one of those rare times when two franchises mesh together so well, the whole experience is a damn good one. Since I'm reviewing the American version, let's get right down to it:

First and foremost, with repeated viewings, there's few scenes in the Godzilla franchise as annoying as these constant 'newsroom' interruptions and the terribly made-up set these scenes were shot at. The first five minutes is nothing but one guy on the phone with another guy giving us the plot, and this happens at least even eight minutes afterwards. What I'm most angry about is that the American version refuses to allow the story to speak for itself. Instead, we're told it, and shown only select bits, it feels like. Of course, this is all a consequence of heavy meddling and editing, but taking it as the final product we have, it's freakin' annoying.

But everything else? Solid fun. The dubbed dialogue hits all kinds of fantastic comedic moments, such as a character's tendency to ache and complain about his 'corns' or the behavior and stuttering of Mr. Tako, the guy who takes over custody of Kong (bet he wishes he didn't do that now, eh?). Normally I'd be a bit peeved at the infusion of comedy in a monster movies - I tend to like my monster flicks taken seriously - but considering that the humor and satire is part of the script's DNA, well, I don't quite mind it at all. And that adds substantially to the overall funness of this flick. This really is one of the franchise's better dubs (interestingly not handled by American International Pictures, but by Universal), and with the exception of the obnoxious American-added scenes mentioned above, it's one of the movie's best qualities.

Why care about dub and dialogue when the real reason to watch this movie is for none other than watching Godzilla, King of the Monsters, and King Kong, Giant Gorilla from Faro Island, kick and beat the shit out of each other? The two times these titans meet up, it's well worth the price of admission/purchase. First round is short and sweet, cementing Godzilla's upper hand with that whole atomic-ray-coming-out-of-his-mouth thing, and Kong beginning to understand exactly how deep in shit he's in. But then the last twenty-five minutes come about, where Kong basically wrestles himself free from his captors so he can get his revenge on the giant dinosaur. And ladies and gents, for twenty-five minutes we're treated to giant monster gold.

Sure, I got problems with Kong apparently gaining strength from a all-too-convenient lightening storm, and the horribly obvious and badly done long shot puppet work, but overall, we got two men in rubbersuits punching and kicking and doing all these amazingly fun stunts. It really is a knock around, drag-out fight. We even have this ridiculously humorous and horribly well done can't-turn-away stop motion moment where Godzilla pushes himself up with his tail and uses his feet to kick Kong backwards! I would have rather like to have seen it done with suitmation, but I understand the limitations of such a effort, so I'm happy with what we got. For now. Pity that Toho's efforts to make a sequel/remake have yet to pan out. So in a nutshell, forget about Freddy vs. Jason, these two monsters wrestling up in the mountains is glorious, absolutely, mind-boggling glorious.

As for the suit designs, well, I weirdly have a fixation with this Godzilla suit, "kinggoji", even though he looks a bit like a doofus. Special effects wizard Eiji Tsuburaya was quite intent on making Godzilla and King Kong lighter and heavily kid-friendly, so naturally the harsher design from the original movie and sequel were toned down considerably. These monsters are bright, bulky, and cartoonish, all deliberately, and in the context of this, shall we say 'world', that King Kong vs. Godzilla inhabits, it all works. I personally have my own issues with the King Kong design, but realistically, if you're going to film a rubber suit Godzilla engaged in combat with a big but not nearly as giant gorilla (as is the case of the original '33 King Kong, who is substantially smaller than the monster king), you are sort of forced to modify it accordingly.

Overall, I cherish this movie. I remember throwing in my Goodtimes VHS into the player over and over (mostly for the monster scenes, of course) and loving every minute of it. And this movie boasts one of my favorite introductions to Godzilla ever (clawing apart his icy prison). It's funny, it's extravagant, and the American version is pretty well put together all things considered. If you haven't had the luxury of experiencing this monster match-up, I'd recommend you get on it right away. Of course I wouldn't hesitate to emphasize the superiority of the Japanese version, but if that's not possible, this variation will do just fine.

Happy 50th Anniversary, King Kong vs. Godzilla.

1 comment:

ruth said...

Hey Andy, just thought I'd drop by and let you know TCFF is coming up this weekend! Hope you can make time and come down to the cities to at least check out a movie or two. I just blogged about the movies I'm excited about: http://flixchatter.net/2012/10/09/counting-down-to-tcff-films-i-cant-wait-to-see

Take care and hope you can make it :)