Wednesday, June 20, 2007

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963)

Director: Ishiro Honda (Japanese version), John Beck (U.S. version)

Release Year: 1962 (Japan), 1963 (U.S.)

Well, let’s see. What do we have here? It looks like a guy in a lizard suit wrestling around on the ground with a guy in a monkey suit. Now either this is a “Furry” convention gone horribly wrong, or it’s a Japanese monster movie... gone horribly wrong. Ah, Toho. Where would cinema be without you? This is the film whose mythic reputation precedes it, and will most likely make the actual film end up being a colossal disappointment. Despite urban legends about its finale, “King Kong vs. Godzilla” has only one ending. There is only one apparent victor, and it’s not the viewing audience.

So this is my first (one hopes there will be many) attempt at reviewing a Godzilla movie. First off, I love Godzilla, but his films can be frustrating to watch. We all know what people want to see, but unfortunately we’re treated to interminable scenes featuring scientists and Army officials yammering away in dull office buildings, surmising which attack will best stop a giant fire-breathing lizard (Somehow the ineffectual answer is always tanks and airplanes). It’s hard not to grow restless as the supporting characters are carelessly crammed into the many open areas of the plot like foam packing peanuts. The film attempts to be self-aware by commenting on the ensuing battle, and providing characters that are taking bets on which monster will come out on top. They gather around for ringside seats as their commentary falls harder than Kong does. The dialogue seems grossly unnecessary, since we all know why we're watching this film. We get it, the underlying themes aren't hard to pick up on. The plot is pretty implicit in the title.

Godzilla is freed from an iceberg, and King Kong escapes from a crew that wanted to exploit him for fame and money… hmmm, that sounds strangely familiar. Oh well. The following scenes involve various scientists tracking Godzilla and King Kong as they each make their respective ways towards the always vulnerable Tokyo, as if they were tropical storms (Incidentally, watching this film is about as exciting as watching the weather channel). Godzilla is the guy we all know and love, but the Japanese rendition of King Kong makes Godzilla look like a work of art. A good hour into the film, the two meet. Kong throws a rock at Godzilla, and that’s it. And am I crazy, or did I see Kong bat his eyelashes at Godzilla? God, I hope I’m mistaken, otherwise this film’s gunna take an ugly turn… or uglier turn, as it were.

The final battle is the only thing that saves this movie, and is the only reason for its existence. After the embarrassingly hapless, and perpetually in-over-their-heads Japanese Army essentially “throws” Kong at Godzilla, (No, I’m not kidding) the two behemoths finally have it out, or at least their costumes do, on a Toho soundstage. There are several scenes of empty Godzilla and Kong costumes rolling down mountains, and stop-motion characters kicking at each other that look not unlike when a toddler mashes together two action figures, engaging them in imaginary fisticuffs. Kong actually knocks himself out after rolling around and taunting Godzilla. I won’t go into too many details of this melee, since it just needs to be seen. In the end, there is only one that comes out on top (and no, that's not meant as a double entendre), but you’ll have to watch it to find out who wins… or I guess you could just take a stab at it. You’ve got a 50/50 shot. Go ahead, I guarantee you any resolution you can picture in your head will be more satisfying than what actually happens. I can’t speak for the Japanese release, but the U.S. version (which was re-dubbed, re-edited, and re-tarded) is quite possibly the worst of the Godzilla films. Sorry, Godzilla. I didn't really mean it. I still love you.

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