The 1933 classic “King Kong” inspired a number of strange projects, including two Japanese Kong films that are considered lost and a wealth of ideas ranging from a three-camera Cinerama remake to “King Kong vs. Frankenstein” by Willis O’Brien, the genius behind the original’s special effects. On this episode of “The Online Movie Show,” we look at these remarkable Kong projects with John LeMay, author of “Kong Unmade: The Lost Films of Skull Island.”
What I love about “Kong: Skull Island” is that while it’s essentially a good old fashioned matinee monster movie at heart, it’s also a pretty clever take on the Vietnam war. “Kong: Skull Island” implements the classic trope from the classic giant monster movies taking a group of armed men and women in to the wilderness, and uses that as an allegory for the Vietnam war. Like the aforementioned war, US soldiers storm in to a wilderness they were unprepared to do battle with, except they face an unparalleled force of nature. Also very effectively setting up a cinematic universe, Jordan Vogt-Roberts aspires for a lot, and succeeds as a simple and harrowing adventure with big monsters, and menacing creatures far and wide.
This is the classic love story of a man and a woman falling in lover under weird circumstances. And a pair of apes that also fall in love under odd circumstances. And their heart transplant that bonds them. Okay, so this isn’t a classic love story, but it is the premise for easily the silliest “King Kong” movie ever made. In a movie that was sort of kind of made to be a spoor, but also meant to be taken very seriously, “King Kong Lives” is kind of the movie that killed King Kong until 2005, and proved that this concept was never meant to go beyond the one and done tale of his experience with Fay Wray on the Empire State Building.
Poor Kong. He’s only a pawn in the game of life. “King Kong Escapes” is another in the efforts by Toho to create a more expanded mythology for King Kong, which is a shame since I think he could have been a nice part of the Godzilla movie series here and there. He could have balanced out all the reptiles and lizards and bugs. “King Kong Escapes” is a direct sequel to “King Kong vs. Godzilla” except this is a movie much more about Kong. This is also one of the few King Kong movies with an actual conniving villain, who walks around committing to an evil scheme.
This is the bash we were all waiting for: the king of the monsters from America meets the king of the monsters from Asia—by way of Toho. Really, King Kong is given something of an Asian treatment this time around, increased in size, and allowed much more of a loophole to face Godzilla for this giant monster bash. I saw the Universal International version where the producers take it upon themselves to over explain everything. In this version the head of a pharmaceuticals company wants to grab a rare berry that is found on a distant island. Said berry has narcotic properties but it non-addictive. Wanting to improve his ratings and invest in a potential product, he sends two executives to the island to find the berries and the mythical monster the villagers are said to placate with juice from the berries.
Don Glut is a lover of the golden age of monster movies, and his 1994 documentary explores Hollywood’s fascination with apes. Though “King Kong” popularized the giant ape in film, the idea of giant apes have been around for quite a while and even showed up every so often in silent films. Even by 1994 standards, “Hollywood Goes Ape!” isn’t the most polished documentary, but it does offer a no frills exploration in to ape cinema of all kinds. There are looks at giant ape films like “King Kong” and “Konga,” and odd ball ape movies like “The Ape Man,” and “Superman vs. The Gorilla Gang.”
If “King Kong” was the main feature, than “Son of Kong” is the less than stellar epilogue. After King Kong died in the middle of Manhattan, Carl Denham is suffering a large amount of scrutiny and possible jail time for what he brought on to New York. He now hides out in an apartment away from the press, all of whom are anxious to interview him and roast him about the part he played. “Son of Kong” is not the most action packed film. At barely seventy minutes in length, it’s mostly an adventure comedy about Carl Denham trying to save his reputation, and falling in love with a lonely female performer who follows him to Kong Island.
I’m not against contemporizing “King Kong,” but director John Guillermin shows us how to take a very simple concept like “King Kong” and completely botch it from minute one. It’s not like “King Kong” has a complex story. It’s a fairly exciting adventure about a giant monster, the woman he loves, and New York being torn to shreds by this out of place animal. Apart from being utterly abysmal, “King Kong” is also way too long, with a premise retrofitted for the seventies that stretches the limits of suspension of disbelief. For a movie about a giant ape climbing the Twin Towers, it’s sad that the whole plot to get King Kong in to New York is the most far fetched element I had difficulty buying in to.