King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Written by Nick McCann

69/100

King Kong ushered in a new era of special effects driven American filmmaking back in 1933. Godzilla, 21 years later, took that effects film formula and wove in a palpable social commentary for Japanese audiences. Not to mention the big dinosaur was well on the way to starting a profitable franchise. So given both monsters’ popularity, it seemed only a matter of time before they clashed. Lo and behold, 1962 was the year that brought us an enjoyable proving ground for the future of the series.

Although the previously released Godzilla Raids Again saw the first monster battle of the series, this film sets the standard for how this template is to be executed. Ishiro Honda once again directs with efficient speed and touches on relevant themes once again. All the jabs at commercialism and the advertising industry give the movie a light and satirical tone that makes it the right kind of cheesy. It also does an okay job at rebooting Kong into Godzilla’s follow up adventure, though I feel some of the Kong iconography feels slightly like an afterthought. Also certain details can still come off as hokey for sake of the plot. Even with that, it’s reliably exciting and quick-paced as it builds to the ultimate showdown of its era.

Speaking of which, Kong and Godzilla themselves give me mixed feelings here. Godzilla still looks good with a decent suit design and his continuing relentlessness. Kong’s suit on the other hand doesn’t hold up very well through his dopey face and fur pulled right off a living room floor. But to bring it back positive, the body language in both suit performances are defined well between Kong’s problem solving and Godzilla’s near-constant forward momentum. If there were more non-confrontational moments where the monsters could interact with each other, it’d make this all the more delightful.

When they fight, it’s a great spectacle. The special effects show great improvement from the prior films with lots of model buildings, RC vehicles and even okay blue screening. The fights have funny highlights through the actual excitement, like one shot of rough-looking stop motion and Kong force feeding Godzilla a tree. It’s what you expect from one of these movies. Camera work is energetic, the editing is tight and Akira Ifukube’s score hits with great numbers throughout. In particular, the new islander Kong chant is a strong musical presence.

On the flip side, the human characters are not too shabby this time around. Even though actual character development is still thin, everyone hits the material with personality and clear distinction from one another. Ichiro Arishima stands out greatly as a slapstick-oriented business agent. I couldn’t help but cheekily laugh at this guy, he nails the part. Kenji Sahara, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki and Mie Hama also make up a spry and witty cast. Other supporting players fulfill their job in the plot fine without much time spent on giving them dimensions.

Any casuals looking for a solid Godzilla movie to either start with or get the general idea of the series should consult this one. It’s importance goes beyond just two of the most famous movie monsters together in one package. King Kong vs. Godzilla lays a nice foundation for the series with it’s fast pace, decent characters and charming set pieces. Although flawed, it satisfies all the same. Here’s to Legendary Pictures and what they have in store for their take.

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.

King Kong (1933)

Written by Nick McCann

94/100

There is no other like the Eighth Wonder. Who could’ve thought in the 1930’s that movies can get so big? Sure talkie pictures had been around for a while and there were some B-pictures that came and went. However, none could compare to what RKO would release smack-dab in the middle of a poverty-stricken nation. After years of production and a ton riding on ambition, King Kong released and changed the course of cinema for decades to come. Today, it’s still nothing short of thrilling.

Our story is one of adventure and wonder. It’s a mythic tale about what happens when man discovers a living legend and his reaction. This movie doesn’t waste any time as it moves with efficient progression. It’s setup keeps you on your toes until a grand reveal that kicks off a primal thrill ride. Even with some outdated aspects, the plot holds up well as one of the finest cinematic adventures to this day.

Much of that is owed to Kong himself, along his island of danger. This film marked a major landmark in special effects filmmaking and it shows. Willis O’Brien’s stop motion creature effects are a show-stealer in the best way. It may not be as fluid as what would later come, but they are delightful. Every new dinosaur encounter keeps the action fresh and Kong himself displays a lot of character for being a 3-inch figurine. Miniature sets are also highly detailed, on top of clever uses of animatronics and rear-projection work. Bottom line, every effects sequence shows genuine work put into them and they are still a marvel.

One could also gather that the action sequences are just as much of a spectacle. For it’s time, there are some visceral sequences of dinosaur carnage and peril. From the famous sacrifice to the last stand on the Empire State Building, there is variety around every corner. Production design is spot on with great sets, sound design is highly rich and Max Steiner’s score captures emotion and scale beautifully. Sure a lot of it looks fake now, but I don’t care. It still gets me going like any big picture today.

All of this is kept grounded with well rounded characters. Robert Armstrong, as the film director Carl Denham, exudes charisma and bravado. One look at this guy will tell you he is a man of composure for how crazy he can be. Fay Wray also brings beauty as Ann Darrow. She’s likable as she tries to fit in around places, although she does turn into a scream machine any chance she gets. Finally, Bruce Cabot makes for both a voice of reason and a reliable man of action in Jack Driscoll. These three characters are sound in their standing within the story and perform well throughout.

King Kong is so important it hurts. The fact it inspired some of our best modern cinematic geniuses and people generally are still talking about it today marks it’s continuing success. It’s filmmaking breakthroughs are matched by it’s timeless, fantastical story. Age is just a number, as they say. Go see this one if you haven’t yet. No excuses!

King Kong 1933 Trailer

King Kong (1933) is currently available to stream on HBO Max

You can connect with Nick on his social media profiles: Facebook and Letterboxd.