The Bigger They Come Part 11 (King Kong Escapes, 1967)

king_kong_escapes_posterKing Kong Escapes features King Kong fighting a robot version of himself created by an evil organization bent on taking over the world.  The leaders of this plot are Madame Piranha (Japanese Version)/Madame X (the American version) and a guy named Dr. Who.  While the evil organization perfects Mechakong, an American/Japanese team is hunting for the real Kong, seeking him on Mondo Island.

In the Toho Studio world of Kong, he lives on two different islands.  In King Kong vs Godzilla he is found on Faro Island…in this film it is Mondo Island.  Neither sound quite as good as  Skull Island.

King Kong Escapes is pretty much an embarrassment to watch, though it might be good fodder for MST3K.  The performances are standard for giant monster films, nothing unique there.  But even by “Rubber Suit” standards, the approach that can work so well for Godzilla just looks freakish here.  And the fact that they made this five years after King Kong Vs. Godzilla and the suit does not have any evidence of being updated…does not inspire much hope.  Ridiculously, anytime King Kong is holding on to someone,whenever it is not a close-up, the person is obviously a small action figure.  There is little effort to hide this.

The story just feels silly having a James Bond-like villain seeking to take over the world that Kong has to stop.    Really, movies like this depend mightily on the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.  And the flaws are far to large to be able to ignore for that.

The Bigger They Come Part 10 (King Kong Lives, 1986)

King-Kong-Lives-PosterA direct sequel to 1976’s remake of King King, we discover that that Kong did not die from being shot up and falling from a tall building.  He merely went comatose.

Linda Hamilton plays a surgeon who was part of a team seeking to save Kong, but they need a blood transfusion before performing a heart transplant and it could only come from another giant ape.  Hamilton tells her boss that they need a miracle.  Queue Miracle as adventurer Brian Kerwin who discovers a giant female ape that is dubbed Lady Kong.

The heart transplant is successful and the two apes get free.  The Kongs run off together and the chase begins.  At least Kong is interested in a lady ape this time around.  The film has the typical adversarial relationship that grows to romance between Hamilton and Kerwin.  It kind of works, because it becomes clear that Kerwin is far less the craven opportunist he initially seems to be and is genuinely interested in protecting King and Lady Kong.

The film is, oddly, less exploitative and campy than the 1976 remake.  It’s tone is actually much more serious.  But this does not really serve the film in anyway.  It never really rises above mediocre.  The ape suits look okay, but this does not make for a good story.  And that is where the film falls flat.  The story becomes an extended “Capture of Kong” story in which he and the lady try and escape the military to make a happy home.

There is a scene ripped off from Jaws where drunk guys get in boats to try and catch Kong.  So, I guess that is something.

The Bigger They Come Part 9 (King Kong, 1976)

king_kong_1976_PosterIn 1976, we saw the first King Kong Remake.  Producer Dino De Laurentiis had this made amid legal hassles over who actually owned the rights to King Kong.  The setting is moved to the 1970’s and it is a new batch of characters.  Fred Wilson is an oil executive trying to reach the newly discovered Skull Island.  He is certain it will be a treasure trove of fossil fuels.  Jack Prescott is a primate paleontologist  who stows away.  He ends up being used as the staff photographer.  Finally, the freighter comes upon a raft with the unconscious Dwan, a beautiful young blonde.

The motives are different, but the results are the same.  The team discovers a giant wall (a surprise as it was assumed that the island had no native peoples).  The native chief is enthralled by Dwan and tries to trade girls for her.  They later kidnap Dwan  and offer her up to Kong.  Jack leads a team to save her, and then Fred decides to bring capture Kong.  It follows the original story pretty closely here (though substituting the World Trade Center for the Empire State Building).

One of the biggest changes is how Kong is a lot less sympathetic.  He is a bit of a creep, at one point practically molesting Dwan.  Fred Wilson is not like Carl Denham.  Denham was an obsessed dreamer as well as an opportunist.  Fred is simply a man of great greed.

The remake starts out serious, gets very campy and then ends with an attempt at being “powerfully dramatic”.

Of all the versions of the Kong story, this take on Skull Island is the dullest.  It has few creatures and there is little sense of danger.

Kong is clearly a guy in a suit, especially noticeable when he walks.  But the mechanics of the gorilla head are actually quite effective.  The face is especially effective.

Overall, the 1976 remake is a dud, in spite of a fairly strong cast.

The Bigger They Come Part 6 (Son of Kong, 1933)

Son-of-Kong-PosterKing Kong was quickly followed up by Son of Kong.

Song of Kong finds Carl Denham trying to avoid the public after the King Kong debacle.  He ends up returning to Skull Island.  He and a few companions get stranded there.  They discover a “pint sized” Kong.  Unlike the first film, this is not an adversarial relationship.  Instead, they befriend the mini-Kong.

While the effects are are up to par with the original, this is a far less memorable film.  There is a reason it is forgotten.  It is kind of a dull affair, in spite of attempts to recapture the original film’s excitement.

The cast is primarily new, except for the returning Robert Armstrong (Carl Denham), Frank Reicher (Capt. Englehorn) and Victor Wong (Charlie the Chinese Cook).  Son of Kong is a minor footnote in the Big Ape genre for certain.

The Bigger They Come Part 5 (King Kong, 1933)

King_kong_1933_posterIn 1933, Merian C. Cooper began making giant ape movies.  King Kong still stands as the most memorable.  Carl Denham is committed to make an epic film on the newly discovered Skull Island.  Bring his cast and crew, they discover horror as Ann Darrow is kidnapped by the native people and sacrificed to Kong.

King Kong is a pretty impressive feat for it’s day.  While the stop motion does not compare to, say, Ray Harryhausen’s later works.  The sets are also pretty impressive.

The story moves at a fast pace, rarely taking time to slow down.  The performances are all pretty good, though most people really only remember Fay Wray (in part for screaming a whole lot).  Darrow is, typically for the times, strictly in the “Helpless Damsel” mode.

The Savage Natives trope is embarrassingly outdated.  Peter Jackson made no attempt to change this in his 2005 remake, while Kong: Skull Island overcompensates by going the Noble Savage route.  It is one of those rather frustrating stamps of the past that lacks justification beyond “It was the times”.

King Kong is a memorable piece of genre film history and overall a fun watch in spite of it’s shortcomings.

The Bigger They Come Part 3 (King Kong, 2005)

king-kong-2005-posterFollowing the smashing success of the Lord of the Rings films, Jackson had the cred to get a pet project off the ground.  A remake of 1933’s classic King Kong.  He wanted to make an epic, and it is far from the cheesey camp of the 1976 film starring Jessica Lang, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin.

Instead of updating the location to modern times, Jackson meticulously recreates 1930s New York.  He introduces us to Carl Denham, a director who dreams very big and is trying to secure financing to go to a mysterious island shown on a map he has acquired.  He hires down on his luck playwright Jack Driscoll to write a script for a grand adventure.  He finds a beautiful leading lady in struggling actress Ann Darrow. His male lead is the egotistical Bruce Baxter.

They get on a boat, go to Skull Island, explore, find monsters, the Natives kidnap Ann who is sacrificed to a mysterious monster.  The monster is the giant ape Kong who takes a liking to Darrow.  Jack and Carl lead the crew to rescue Ann.  Denham, of course, has an ulterior motive of getting film of the monsters on the island.  They save Ann, capture Kong and Kong is brought to New York.  Kong Breaks free and runs amok in the city.

Jackson hits all the beats, and it all sounds exciting.  He is very faithful to the original story.  Except…well, in typical Peter Jackson fashion, he overdoes it.  The film takes an hour to set things up.  A full hour before they get to Skull Island.  All in a misguided attempt to set up character motivation and romance.  Once on Skull Island, the film picks up and gets very exciting.  But an hour of setup and added time for the reveal of King Kong…makes for a dull and slow film.  The whole cruel savages approach to Skull Island’s natives is embarrassingly dated.

The performance by Andy Serkis as Kong is really impressive looking.  The digital Kong is still impressive looking.  But the film clocks in at three hours (and that is before Jackson’s expanded cut) and that results ina ridiculous amount of bloated storytelling.

The Bigger They Come

So, starting with the Kong Skull Island review, I am going to be looking back at other Giant Monster films.  There may be some breaks as I catch up on some older films. But I am going to see how comprehensive a set of reviews I can assemble for this theme.


The Bigger They Come (Kong: Skull Island, 2017)

Kong-Skull-Island-PosterKing Kong and variations on the Giant Ape concept are older than even Godzilla.  Kong: Skull Island has opted to not re-tell the story of King Kong.  Instead, this is a new story.  Not new in the sense of it completely new territory.  You have the mismatched band of explorers arriving on Skull Island, encountering monsters and natives.

The film opens in 1944 where an American and Japanese pilot crash land on Skull Island.  They fight until they stumble on a frightening sight that changes everything for them.  The film jumps to 1973, with soldiers about to leave Vietnam.  They are brought in by the mysterious Monarch company as a military escort on a top secret mission to visit and explore a newly discovered island.  The company has also brought along an award winning anti-war photojournalist and a tracker to help then go through the wilderness.

Of course, the mission goes very wrong.  Hope that does not spoil anything.

Really, the film sets everything up at a fast pace.  They give you what you need to know without giving the film a chance to get boring.  And unlike previous Kong film outings, the filmmakers introduce us to Kong very quickly.  No hiding him, just Kong smashing helicopters.

The characters are engaging to various degrees, though John C. Reilly is the strongest and most memorable.  Samuel L. Jackson is…well, Samuel L. Jackson.  I found myself liking Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver…but I must admit, most of what separates the characters is who is performing them.  You also know which soldiers are “important” because they get a lot of set up, while most of the soldiers are just “people to die”.  Of course, they also give Jackson his motive for wanting to destroy King Kong.

But the truth is, I found Kong Skull Island a lot of fun.  Yes, the post credit scene confirms that Legendary has plans of a “Giant Monster-verse”…and Kong Skull Island serves the purpose, in part, to set it all up (It is supposedly connected to 2014’s Godzilla film as well, with the tie being the Monarch organization).  But I did a far better job of still telling it’s own story than some other attempts to create a shared universe franchise.

Really, Kong Skull Island is no game changer, but it is a lot of fun.  Visually, it is good, and the digital monsters look great.  The cast is great and make for an overall very entertaining film.

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