Tuesday, March 9, 2010

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

King Kong tickles Godzilla with his lightning fingers.

If you want to know where Godzilla movies got their camp, look no further than King Kong vs. Godzilla. While the first two films attempt to take the the monster seriously, with varying degrees of success, the third movie in the series just throws caution to the wind and makes one of the funniest and campiest entries in the series. While nothing about King Kong vs. Godzilla could be called good, the movie is a blast to watch and it's full of hilariously bad moments.

After Godzilla's last bout with questionable science, he busts out of his ice prison and returns to Japan with a vengeance. Simultaneously, a Japanese pharmaceutical company visits the island of racial stereotypes and captures King Kong who parties a little too hard after winning a cage match with a giant octopus. King Kong is brought to Japan where he and Godzilla decide the island isn't big enough for two dudes in rubber suits after all. There's a lot of brawling, an ingenious plan to airlift Kong with hot air balloons, and King Kong's lightning powered fingertips. The film was a smash hit in Japan, it made more money than any other film in the series, and it single handily revived Godzilla as a movie star.

As a kid, I owned a copy of the movie and watched it almost every week for several years, but this viewing marks the first time I have seen the Japanese version of the movie. Normally that wouldn't be an issue, but the American version of the movie differs greatly from the Japanese one. In a lot of ways, the Japanese version of the film is far superior. While most of the overt humor was cut out of the US release, it's all there in the Japanese version. This constant stream of comedy and humor gives just the right mood for the movie. There is nothing serious about King Kong vs. Godzilla and the Japanese version of the film pushes that point home. There is just a little more than just monster fighting going on here. The movie is a fairly basic and simplistic satire of capitalism, even if it's not a very interesting one, but at least they tried. The place that King Kong vs. Godzilla really succeeds though is in giving the monsters personalities of their own. The foundation for the later films is that Godzilla is the main character and this is the first time where the monster seems to fit this bill. Overall, as a film watching experience, the movie is fun and exactly what I wanted to get out of a Godzilla movie.

While the movie is great as a campy monster movie, it's really an embarrassing piece of film-making. The monsters in the movie look outrageous, their fights are awkwardly choreographed and everything about the movie feels sloppy. Putting the movie in color really makes the movie's special effects look even worse and the King Kong suit in particular is one of the dumbest looking things I have ever seen. The characters are goofy rather than funny and none of them stick out as particularly interesting or memorable. One of the few places that the America version of the film succeeds is that it cuts out a lot of the useless character development. There are a lot of people in King King vs. Godzilla and most of them do absolutely nothing.

Revisiting a film from your childhood can be a challenging experience. Expectations, memories and simple nostalgia can cloud your judgement or alter your perceptions. King Kong vs. Godzilla is a movie that I will always love, but it is, and always has been, a bad movie. It's an hour and a half of questionable film-making that somehow still amounts to an enjoyable experience. It's certainly better than Godzilla Raids Again, and a large portion of the movies made after it, but it will forever be one of the silliest movies ever made.


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