Going ape with Godzilla
King Kong vs. Godzilla! How could you go wrong? The 1962 Japanese kaiju film sees the two most famous giant monsters of all time going at it in what was Godzilla's first appearance since 1955 and King Kong's first major on-screen appearance since 1933. Actually, a lot went wrong. So much so that I seriously cannot wait until 2020 when Godzilla and Kong duke it out again, but now under the guise of 21st century technology. Since I have no easily accessible way to view the original Japanese version, I, regretfully, am forced to sit through the dubbed American version which is about 8 minutes shorter and, like before, makes some heavy alterations.
Regardless of which version you watch, the general story goes something like this; a man named Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), who is the head of a Japanese company called Pacific Pharmaceuticals, is upset because of how awful the TV ratings are for the shows that his company is sponsoring. He gets word about the discovery of a giant monster on the distant Faro Island, which makes Tako send two men, Osamu Sakurai (Tadao Takishima) and Kinsaburo Furue (Yu Fujiki), to go to the island and retrieve the monster. Elsewhere, an iceberg falls apart, and out comes Godzilla, who had been frozen since the end of Godzilla Raids Again. Godzilla destroys a small military base, and eventually begins to make his way towards the Japan mainland. On Faro Island, Sakurai and Kinsaburo engage with the island's native people, and discover that the monster is King Kong, who is worshiped like a god by the natives. Sakurai and Kinsaburo are able to get Kong on a raft to take him back to Japan, but Kong escapes and makes his own way to the Japanese mainland, where an encounter with the incoming Godzilla is inevitable.
When I first saw King Kong vs. Godzilla several years ago, I shudder to think as to how oblivious I was to just how atrocious the American version truly is. We are talking super cheesy, so-bad-it's-good B-movie atrocious, with horrendous dubbing and additional English-speaking actors being spliced in to give the film a more, shall we say, global perspective. It's as if English producer John Beck loved watching Raymond Burr narrate in Godzilla, King of the Monsters so much that he figured it would be a good idea to recycle the same adjustment, only to add a couple more people and have them discuss Godzilla and King Kong like it's a global news broadcast that us as viewers are tuning in and watching. One of the English actors, Dr. Arnold Johnson being played by Harry Holcombe, attempts to explain Godzilla's origins and motivations, claiming that Godzilla keeps attacking Japan because he think's he's heading home. He also says it is "scientifically interesting" that Godzilla and King Kong have surfaced at the exact same time, and that, because the two are "instinctive rivals", they are bound to destroy one another. You know, because there is apparently scientific evidence to claim that Jurassic dinosaurs and giant gorillas were big rivals back then? Dr. Johnson also claims that Godzilla has a brain about the size of a small berry, because he is sheer brute force. Wherever all of this comes from is beyond me, and it only just scratches the surface as to how bad the English version is.
- Before I sink my claws into all of the horrific wrongs of this movie, let me address what is at least good about it first. The final 10 minutes when Godzilla and Kong fight on Mt. Fuji is easily the climactic highlight, although there are some glaring red flags in regards to cheapness. Kong is taken to Mt. Fuji by balloon travel (yes, he is tied to a bunch of balloons and transported to Mt. Fuji) and is literally dropped onto a mountain-side where Godzilla is wandering. Kong then slides down the mountain and runs into Godzilla, but when he actually collides with Godzilla, it looks like two monster toys bumping into each other, which is then followed by a shot of the Godzilla toy tumbling down the mountain. Later on, Godzilla and Kong look like two stiff puppets that don't even appear to be fighting each other (Can puppets fight at all?). Either the budget ran out by the time that the big fight was being filmed, or director Ishiro Honda and Toho got super lazy. There is one cool moment that must be paying homage to Willis O'Brien and his success with stop-motion animation in the 1933 King Kong, in which Godzilla, in stop-motion animation, hits an also stop-motion animation Kong with a flying kick. It only lasts about 2 seconds, but I thought it was pretty neat. Aside from the cheap moments, Godzilla and Kong do have a pretty-well coordinated fight that doesn't feel overly forced, and it is fairly entertaining, to say the least.
- The Godzilla suit used in this film is, in my opinion, one of the best ever used in Godzilla's film history. The big G looks tall and bulky with especially muscular legs, although the jaw hangs a little loose. I'm not sure why the suit was never used again in later Godzilla movies. Maybe Haruo Nakajima, the actor inside the suit, once again had an issue of the suit being too heavy.
- The dubbing. Oh my goodness is the dubbing bad. The worst part about it is the fact that all of the Japanese actors sound as nonchalant as possible, with everyone just moseying along as if they all think that having two mega monsters running around is just as exciting as watching paint dry. But at the time when this movie is supposed to take place, Japan has already survived two previous Godzilla encounters, as well as the fury of various other monsters, so I guess that everyone has gotten used to monsters making Japan their own personal playground.
The bad dubbing gets further dragged down by some horrendous dialogue. While Kong is rampaging through Tokyo, one of the Japanese characters mentions that the atom bomb is ready and waiting, and there is no tension or fear in the dubbed voice whatsoever. You know, because dropping a destructive bomb putting millions of people at risk is no big deal. The native people on Faro Island get attacked by a giant octopus, and when everyone is scrambling to fend it off, Sakurai wakes up a sleeping Kinsaburo and, with little nervousness or excitement, tells him, "Giant octopus. It's after the berry juice!" Oh, did I forget to mention that there are special berries on Faro Island that are of interest to the English reporters and the Japanese visitors? It's a subplot that gets left behind after Kong is taken away from Faro Island. I'm sure Sakurai is nobody new to giant monsters, but I would think when you see a new giant monster for the first time ever, you would at least say something simple like, "What the? That's a giant octopus!" Also, how he knows that the octopus is after the berry juice is beyond me.
The other moment that I just cannot let go is early on when the Japanese reporter who is speaking English makes an early report after Godzilla attacks a military base. He watches Godzilla's destruction from a TV, and proceeds to tell us that, "The situation is grim." Seconds later, he then tells us, "Please remain calm." Right, because everyone will remain calm in a grim situation like one such as a giant monster coming to kill you.
- The Kong suit being used in this movie is quite a head-scratcher. Kong's gray face looks half-drunk most of the time, which is combined with scruffy, brownish fur and circular spots on his chest that gives us a bizarre display of his nipples. The suit looks like one of those knock-off gorilla Halloween costumes that you might find at your local thrift store.
- The movie has an absurd number of deus ex machina moments. Our apathetic Japanese characters always seem to have a solution for everything right at their fingertips, with the movie never proceeding to give us any background or proper explanation as to how things could possibly get resolved so quickly. When Kong is running loose through Tokyo, Sakurai gets an idea to put Kong to sleep by using the berry juice from earlier, and to play music that imitates that of the Faro Island natives. The Japanese military just happens to have berry juice-filled rockets ready to launch, and Sakurai miraculously has a set of drums and megaphones on the spot which he can use to play and amplify the music. Yes, because we saw how much Sakurai was invested in the Faro Island natives chanting and drum-playing. Then after they do put Kong to sleep, they are able to get him up in the air on balloons using the wire that Fujita briefly showed us early on. Once again, the military made sure to have tanks full of helium and giant balloons capable of transporting a giant monster available, just in case someone suggested that it was a good idea. Kong also gets bailed out by a convenient thunderstorm (yes, Kong somehow gets stronger by consuming electricity) when Godzilla has him on the ropes during their fight. An explanation for all of this stuff was just too much for the screenwriters, I suppose.
The movie does make various attempts to give Kong the characteristics that he had in his 1933 movie. He is worshiped like a god by tribal people living on the island with him, until he gets taken away after being put to sleep. Kong also takes a curious interest in a human female, Fujita's girlfriend Fumiko, who Kong finds on a train while traversing through Tokyo. He also climbs atop a tall building while holding Fumiko in his hand. All of this adds up to the unfortunate reality that the movie is like a repeat Kong movie, only it takes place in Japan, and Godzilla just happens to be in it too. Back then, this should've been the biggest monster clash ever, but even by 1962 standards, a lot of moments just look poorly contrived. The giant octopus attacks some of the Faro Island natives in some truly unconvincing stop motion animation. Characters that happen to be in the vicinity of Kong or the giant octopus are sometimes outlined in a bluish color that looks like bad green screen.
I want to be forgiving of an older film when it comes to special effects that look laughable by today's standards. What I can't forgive is how the American version makes such provoking alterations that make the film much more insular and low-quality than it might've already been. The only upside to the alterations is the new music, which usually fits what is going on during the film. This is one Godzilla movie that actually makes me feel a little bad for Godzilla, because of the countless number of underlying problems that really diminish the build-up and excitement of his supposedly epic fight with King Kong. King Kong vs. Godzilla is an undeniable mess of a cheesy B-movie monster flick, and I just cannot wait for these two monsters to get the modern-day upgrade that their duel truly needs.
Recommend? Only if you know you are going to see Godzilla vs. Kong in 2020. Otherwise, stay away
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