Friday, August 22, 2008

Monkey Business: King Kong Escapes(1967)

My great fondness for "Godzilla" movies has been long lasting. So, it turns out, is my affinity for King Kong, the giant ape who first appeared in American theaters in 1933 in King Kong. The giant ape would make his first appearance in a Toho film in 1962 when he was scaled to forty five meters in height to take on fifty meter tall Godzilla.
Five years later Kong would appear in another live action film, a collaboration between Rankin-Bass, an American company, and Toho, called King Kong Escapes. This 1967 film, based loosely on an episode of the 1966 Rankin-Bass "King Kong" cartoon series, was released in late 2005 on R1 DVD, paired with King Kong Vs Godzilla(1962), as a DVD two-disc pack, both films in their original aspect ratio of 2:35.1 and in English dubbed language track.

The story line of King Kong Escapes(1967) is fairly straightforward: UN CDR Carl Nelson(played by Rhodes Reason), his executive officer Nomura(played by Akira Takarada), and a nurse(played by Linda Miller), decide to check out nearby Mondo Island while the submarine Nelson commands undergoes repairs from damage incurred by an underwater landslide. The trio make landfall at Mondo Island and quickly learn that the island's indigenous animal life can be dangerous: a dinosaur who looks like Gorosaurus menaces Lt. Watson. Kong comes to the rescue and saves her, defeating his dinosaur adversary in jaw ripping fashion.
In the meantime Dr. Who(played by Eisei Amamoto) endeavors to harvest tons of the mysterious element X for his mysterious female financier(played by Mie Hama) who may, or may not, represent Communist China. To collect the glowing radioactive element X Dr. Who employs his own robot equivalent of King Kong, "MechaniKong", to get the material. The robot fails. Dr. Who then captures (the real) King Kong alive, lures Nelson/Nomura/Lt Watson to his arctic hideout and tries to use Kong, via hypnosis, to dig up the glowing material. Kong also fails and eventually escapes, Dr. Who in pursuit, which ends in Tokyo. The climax of the film features a brief battle on the ground between King Kong and his mechanical doppleganger, then a longer battle between the two high above the streets of Tokyo on the Tokyo Tower.
Observations: I've always liked this movie, despite its many failings.

Thumbs up:

1. Eisei Amamoto, whose portrayal of "Dr. Who" was, I thought, very good. He's easy to despise: hateful, vain, arrogant, ruthless, vampire-like in appearance, his facial features gaunt, his eyebrows pointy. Even more frightening about Amamoto's appearance: the absolute disaster inside his mouth, his set of choppers so bad they would give any self respecting dentist nightmares.

2. the score: I thought it was solid, especially the parts used during the Mechani-Kong sequences

3. the rendering of MechaniKong: the robot appeared to move convincingly robot like without looking like a piece of cardboard.

4. King Kong Vs the dinosaur: a nice battle and much better than Kong vs the serpent

5. the remaining cast overall: I liked the mix of American actors like Rhodes Reason and Japanese actors like Akira Takarada

6. the Tokyo Tower battle between Kong and MechaniKong

Thumbs down:

1. the Kong suit: though better, I thought, than the atrocious KK suit used in 1962's King Kong Vs Godzilla, that still isn't saying much. Many of the shots used also featured what appeared to be an alternate head, with an exaggerated leering look and over-sized lips. The zipper for the main suit can easily be seen along the back.

2. many of the water tank shots looked too much like water tanks, especially some of the background matte paintings

3. Kong vs the serpent: not what I consider a well rendered effects sequence, and lacked, like other scenes, high speed filming

4. wires are clearly visible during the scene where Dr. Who's helicopters swoop in to drop ether bombs around Kong.

Overall: I enjoy watching this movie a couple of times a year. Those wanting to see King Kong Escapes in Japanese language can buy the Region 2 DVD from or from various internet DVD-R vendors who sell the R2 copy with English subtitles.

A promo clip(w/English subtitles) for King Kong Escapes(1967):