Thursday, March 28, 2024

G Prep Watch: King Kong v. Godzilla (1963) - US Version

Watched:  03/27/2024
Format:  BluRay
Viewing:  First of this version
Director(s):  original formula - IshirĂ´ Honda / US recut - Tom Montgomery
Selection:  Joint, Jamie and me

We have tickets to see Godzilla x Kong on Thursday the 28th, and we decided to do a little bit of homework prior to the film.  It had been a while since I'd watched King Kong vs. Godzilla (1963), and I was met by a surprise when putting the film on.  

Like Gojira/ Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Godzilla 1984/ Godzilla 1985/ Godzilla Returns - this movie had a cut for the US audiences which is edited, includes new footage and has American talent cut into the original film.  I think I'd only ever seen the Japanese cut of the movie, so I was a little thrown when the movie was framed as a newscast hosted by a genial white American dude, and leaped into action to see what was what.

The version we watched was... insane.  There's so many tones being hit, so many ideas, characters, locations, etc...  Any theme that was originally present (apparently originally a satire on the programming on television and the corporate relationships to that programming) is flattened as the American version literally uses television as the framing device - inserting American-based news anchors to ponder the events unfolding.

There's a rich story to the creation of this movie - which was the first Godzilla movie in seven years and the third in the release order.  I won't get into it here, but it was some serious Hollywood tom-@#$%-ery.

Godzilla sort of shows up in the first ten minutes, and then Kong finally shows around the 38th minute, so this is a pretty typical Godzilla structure of "set up all the human story stuff people sort of care about, but not really, and then have them stand around while the kaiju slug it out for a while".  

As this is the third movie, they're really just figuring out the formula.  And because there's the Japanese cut's characters who need screentime, plus the weirdness that is the American overlay, it's way, waaaaay too many characters and things happening.  And, one of those things is the insertion of a scientist, who can't properly pronounce "reptile" (he says "rep-till"),  identifies Godzilla as an amphibian (words have meanings!).  And openly speculates that Kong, who he knows nothing about, must have fought Godzilla millions of years ago.  Or not.  

The movie certainly seems aimed at kids in a way the first one is not, the second only sorta nods at, and then this one seems to set the table for what's to come in the Showa Era.  When you're watching King Kong air lifted - whilst drugged - via balloon and helicopter to Mt. Fuji, you can only think "this is the plan a 9 year old would come up with".  Or the good folks at Toho, I guess.  And that's good!  It's a feature, not a bug.  

The movie doesn't acknowledge the first King Kong movie and only *barely* seems aware of the first two Godzilla movies.  But it does go to pains to try to give us a similar feel to the OG King Kong when our heroes get to the stand-in for Skull Island (Faro Island).  And they even give us a giant monster for Kong to fight in the form of a very real octopus or squid crawling over scale models.  "How do they handle the locals?  Is it racist?" and the answer is somewhere between "I don't know" and "oh, most definitely".  

I think they're suggesting this Kong is picked up in the archipelagos of the South Pacific rather than somewhere off Africa like in the original Kong.  And maybe these are Pacific Islanders and maybe this is what Japanese people recreating the natives in the OG Kong look like - and that must be blackface?  But it's also not dissimilar to the depiction to the folks on Infant Island, which I think might be in Thailand in some versions of the movies.  ANYWAY - I think I put more thought into this than the movie makers did.

And all of that's an issue - but so is the design for King Kong which I suspect went down like this:

Producer:  So, you're designing our King Kong suit and mask?
Designer:  I am!
Producer:  Let me get you some reference material of a few different kinds of apes.
Designer:  No need.  I saw a cartoon of a gorilla once. As a child.  Well, someone told me about it.
Producer:  I have photos - 
Designer:  No need!  It's all (taps skull) up here.
Producer:  And you say you'll do this for no money?
Designer:  I'm paying you!
Producer:  Sounds great. 
Designer:  And we have the off-brand rubber for the mask that will look absolutely revolting, right?  Like... make it look like Kong is grievously ill in every shot?
Producer:  Great heaps of it. 
(and scene)
(The King Kong mask and suit is maybe not great)

Anyway, this movie is ridiculous and has a lot going on, and does it's best to criticize television vis-a-vis how idiotic the Tako guy is, but he's such a buffoon, the actually bad stuff he's doing never seems that bad.  

But other bits clearly inspired stuff in Godzilla vs. Kong from a couple of years ago.  The notion of moving Kong on water seems to have set the filmmakers imaginations on fire and gave us the great aircraft carrier sequence from that movie.  

But it also gives Kong magical powers of electricity, which... what?  Okay.  Fine.

What's oddest is that the movie just sorta/ kinda ends in the middle of what in coming Godzilla movies would be a much longer fight.  Godzilla and Kong fall off a cliff and then Kong swims away.  That's it.  It's deeply anti-climatic and essentially zero threads get tied up.  It's like you expect Godzilla to turn to the screen and say "sorry, that's all the time we had and had to finish the movie before we finished the script.  So.  Sorry!  Thanks for coming!"

Anyhoo... looking forward to the movie tomorrow, which is supposed to be not-great if early reactions are anything to go by.  We'll see! 

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