Classic Intel: King Kong vs Godzilla - DVD Review

With the original film reaching its 80th birthday this year, Ben has set out on a journey to a land that time forgot, watching all of the King Kong films along the way.

'The highlight here is undoubtedly the final battle between giant ape and giant atomic amphibian.'

Originally released in 1963, the US cut of King Kong Vs. Godzilla - cobbled together using the 1962 Japanese original, newly shot sequences and stock footage from other Japanese films - is notable for being the first film since the 1933 original to feature Kong (he’s only ever mentioned in The Son Of Kong). It’s also the first time the supersized simian (and indeed his sparring partner Godzilla) had appeared in colour. It’s a shame then that, apart from those Kong-related milestones, there isn’t a great deal more to get excited about within the film.

The highlight here is undoubtedly the final battle between giant ape and giant atomic amphibian. It’s unashamedly low-budget, regularly humorously so, and at times feels like a brawl between two blokes in rubber animal suits outside a pub. But the titular brawl has an undeniable charm and is sure to entertain in one way or another. Despite the title, Kong and Godzilla share very little screen time outside of their climactic clash, which comes in the last ten minutes of the film’s running time. The remaining eighty minutes has some enjoyable Kaiju-style destruction (model tanks, trains, buildings, etc. being demolished by Godzilla and/or Kong) here and there, but there’s less bang than you might be expecting for your buck.

Unfortunately when King Kong Vs. Godzilla switches focus to storytelling, things get much less satisfying. There’s an interesting retcon of Kong’s origin story involving a pharmaceutical company travelling to his island to harvest rare berries with healing properties, including some well-crafted scenes of the natives on the island (provided you can overlook Japanese actors in blackface), but much of the rest of the story never takes hold.

Matters aren’t helped by the Hollywood alterations to the Toho original. The new scenes inserted attempt to tie the whole thing together through a United Nations news network reporting on the events, presumably to guide Western audiences unfamiliar with Godzilla at the time of the film’s release. All they largely end up doing is giving King Kong Vs. Godzilla a stilted feel whilst patronising the viewer: at one point Dr. Arnold Johnson (Harry Holcombe), a purported palaeontology expert, explains to newscaster Eric Carter (Michael Keith) what he thinks Godzilla is using a children’s book on dinosaurs.

The sequences retained from the original film largely have the exaggerated style of Japanese humour edited out of them (although remnants of this crop up now and again) leaving too many scenes throughout feeling quite dry. The English dubbing also doesn’t help matters, with lines at times delivered devoid of any emotion. We see government officials discussing the use of an atomic bomb to destroy Godzilla during a few scenes throughout, although considering the lack of urgency in the voice actors’ performances they might as well be talking about what type of biscuits to have with their tea.

Whilst some of King Kong Vs. Godzilla’s faults can be chalked up to sloppy Hollywood editing pandering to ‘60s American audiences, the plot remains largely intact from Toho’s feature and there are just too many inherent flaws carried over from the original film. The story falters throughout, coming across as unnecessarily complicated and contrived at several points, and becomes tiresome for too much of the film’s running time.

This is my first experience of a Kaiju film, so Godzilla enthusiasts may be inclined to add an extra star to my score. There is certainly a kitsch likeability in King Kong Vs. Godzilla’s low-budget effects - they’re certainly much more forgivable here than in Guillermin’s blockbuster King Kong films - but the entertaining moments are too few and far between to truly recommend this as a genuinely enjoyable watch.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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