Thursday, April 1, 2021

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) (American Cut)

A bit of an oddball in the Godzilla and King Kong franchises, the 1962 film King Kong vs. Godzilla was the third outing for both series and the first crossover between the two, with two different cuts of the film produced for Japanese and American audiences. While this would be a weird one-off crossover between two legendary monsters, it wouldn’t be until Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse that the two titans would have their rematch in the 2021 film Godzilla vs. Kong. In preparation for this, I decided to see how their first battle played out for comparison, opting for a Blu-ray release of the American cut from 1963. While this cut is interesting to see, it proved to be enjoyable in more of a “so bad it’s good” sort of way.

The story is framed by a news report from the UN, which opens by establishing that red berries are important to the story. Following this, Pacific Pharmaceuticals head Mr. Tako (Ichirō Arishima) believes that a monster will help boost sales, sending a team to Faro Island in search of a rumored monster there. At the same time, an American submarine called the Seahawk comes into contact with an iceberg, which turns out to house none other than Godzilla, now awakened from his slumber.

For what it is, the movie is paced pretty well for the most part outside its framing device and features an admittedly unique take on King Kong. That said, King Kong’s introduction to the plot felt like more of a condensed retelling of the original movie, with some of its own liberties taken to tie it into Godzilla. While it doesn’t take long for the titular monsters to make their first appearance, the actual fight that the movie hypes up doesn’t occur until the last 10 minutes, which can be a little disappointing for some.

This moment is worth it though.

As I watched the American cut, I was aware going in that several changes were made to make it more suitable for American audiences while remaining faithful to original storyline. Someone more dedicated than me can probably tell you all the more minute differences, however I did notice some new footage was created for this release, made obvious by the cleaner image quality, which has some unintentionally hilarious acting, not to mention the framing device of a live news report from the UN is a bit hard to take seriously. In whatever Japanese footage is retained, the English dub runs into a bit of lip lock, though I did appreciate the effort and thought the English voice acting wasn’t that bad. One thing that bothered me greatly, however, was how the overdubbed Japanese footage consistently overpronounces the name of the Japanese prefecture Hokkaido, while the newer American footage consistently pronounces it correctly.

I commend the movie for its heavy use of practical effects, which have become staples to the Japanese Godzilla films and earlier King Kong films. That said, many of the special effects are very obvious, such as the use of models for scenes involving vehicles as well as a number of green screen effects. Some shots even used stop motion reminiscent of the original King Kong, however it was at one point used seemingly randomly in the final battle, which proved to be a bit jarring when most of it had actors in suits. On that note, while the Godzilla suit was decent in its design, the King Kong suit looks very cheap, almost like a Halloween costume in comparison to the original 1933 stop-motion gorilla and the later 1976 design.

Not the most flattering portrayal of King Kong.

One other, more important change to the American cut involves the outcome of the final battle. Through my own research, having not seen the Japanese cut, I know that the fight ends in a draw, which is also signaled by the end title card playing both King Kong and Godzilla’s roars. However, the American cut more heavily implies that King Kong won by declaring as such through the UN broadcast and playing only his roar at the end.

King Kong vs. Godzilla is a movie with an interesting idea, making two high-profile monsters battle each other, though the execution, at least in the American cut, is debatable. The UN framing device is a bit far-fetched and the visual effects are hit-and-miss, however all this arguably gives it a bit of charm that makes it a fun watch with a group of people. Whether you watch this in preparation for Godzilla vs. Kong or as a fan of either series, chances are you will have a fun time watching the American cut of this movie. For those seeking the Japanese cut legitimately, the 2019 Godzilla box set of all 15 Showa Era films from the Criterion Collection has you covered.

No comments:

Post a Comment