Thursday, January 19, 2017

THROWBACK REVIEW: King Kong Escapes (1967)

Well it's kinda hard to talk about this dumb film without talking a bit about its backstory. In 1966, King Kong debuted in his very first cartoon show, simply known as "The King Kong Show". It was made by American Film Company, Rankin/Bass Productions, but also partnered with Toei Animation over in Japan to collaborate with the show. If you're unfamiliar with Rankin/Bass, they did the cartoon renditions of both "The Hobbit", and "Return of the King". They also did "Mouse on the Mayflower". Still not ringing a bell? Okay, they did those stop-motion animation Christmas specials you love so much like "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". Yeah that company. And Toei is behind Dragonball which I don't care for, so moving right along. They had a King Kong Cartoon. I really wanted to review this, but honestly, the show lacks any depth for me to devote a full review to it. Each story is around six minutes long, is a rather simple story about this group of people, who team up with King Kong to fight this evil supercriminal mastermind named Dr. Who ( not THAT Dr. Who), and end up foiling his plans after a fight with dinosaurs or whatnot. It's not exactly the best show out there, but it's harmless. The animation is bland, the characters are bland, the action is bland, but again, there's nothing really condemning about it. If it had more depth to the overall story, and if I could find it, I'd probably give it a review. But it doesn't, and I can't.

Well after King Kong VS Godzilla, Toho maintained an interest in producing King Kong movies, and partnered up with Rankin/Bass. They came forward with a script for a new King Kong movie they wanted to make, but because Rankin/Bass felt the movie didn't reflect the spirit of the show, they rejected it. The script would move forward and become "Ebirah, Horror of the Deep", otherwise known as "Godzilla VS The Sea Monster", another movie I debated long and hard about reviewing in this Kong-a-thon. Why? Because the movie really is kinda...terrible in the sense that it doesn't at all feel like a Godzilla film. You can tell that it was meant to star King Kong, despite the fact that Godzilla is right there. He's got all the King Kong characteristics. It stands as one of the first examples in which I really believe...they just didn't care. There was no rewrite, there was no edit, they shoe-horned in Godzilla in place of Kong, and the movie sucked. But...Toho didn't give up. They came forward with another script for a Kong movie that did get approved and the result was "King Kong Escapes". And my God they tried...

Right off the bat, something feels off about this film. One thing I guess I should say is that this seems to be a different incarnation of Kong than what we saw in King Kong VS Godzilla five years prior to this. Here, King Kong lacks his electricity powers, I think his size is smaller, and it just feels more like a standalone film than it does anything else. I guess that's not a bad thing, but my God, there is something missing from this film. And I can't put my finger on it. Based loosely from the cartoon I just mentioned, King Kong Escapes focuses on this group of criminal masterminds looking to take over the world by creating superweapons from this substance called Element X. Lead by Dr. Who, who often enjoys reminding you who he is, he builds a large robot monkey with the sole purpose of digging up this ore. I don't know why he didn't just build a digging machine, but I guess we need our Tokyo Tower climax later on. So...nice big metal monkey there, Dr. Who. Your evil plans will forever be a mystery to me.

I'm not gonna bother hiding it, the characters of this movie are atrocious. The only character I found any likable traits in was Dr. Who, mainly because of how cartoonishly evil he is. The way he speaks, his motivation, his goals, he even has a decent evil laugh now and then. He's an absolute riot. Too bad he's the only memorable character. The heroes of this film I wanna say are barely even a thing in this film. You have the woman that Kong of course takes an interest in, but she feels much like the girl from King Kong VS Godzilla, in that she's there just to be a damsel. There's no depth to her character out any of the other characters I might add. And joining her are her love interest, and this other generic captain explorer character...who are also in this movie. The most confusing character however is this...anti-hero-villain woman who's often telling Dr. Who what to do. I have no idea what to call her. At first she's this villain looking to take over the world. Then because movie she's suddenly questioning her morals. Then because movie, she's a villain again, threatening Dr. Who. Then because movie she tries to romance one of the heroes. Then because movie she starts turning to a good guy? Look I don't need to explain anymore that her character is poorly executed and just sucks in general. Her motivations in this film are absolutely stupid. They make no sense. She's the worst character of the film. One thing I found hilarious however was that the lead hero roles are obviously American actors. I was treated to an unintentional hilarious realization that they themselves were dubbed in Japanese. It can be hilarious to see them obviously speaking English, only to hear a Japanese voice actor dub them. It's the first time I've actually seen that.

The effects of this film, my God. Much like King Kong VS Godzilla, they're incredibly dated, and don't hold up, but unlike King Kong VS Godzilla, they stand out way more. There are effects that are hilariously bad. Like Kong's or Mechi-Kong's obviously blue-screened hand quickly grabbing the woman in a fashion that would likely kill her. I also loved how Monda Island, where Kong lives, had giant lawn grass everywhere, and only one...ONLY ONE NATIVE. Maybe the rest of the Natives saw the script for this movie and gave it the finger. The suit of Kong again just isn't convincing. The first time we see him, we just see his eyes open from a sleep, and he looks half-dead. I will say that Mechi-Kong is actually pretty cool as far as effects and looks are concerned. He has the most convincing costume of the film. It doesn't stand out nearly as much as Kong. The suit for that was well done.

And the action of the film can be fun. I enjoyed the climax well enough. Watching Kong battle Mechi-Kong on Tokyo Tower, watching it rock back and forth was very entertaining, even if it got rather easy to mock what was going on. I also enjoyed the first appearance of Godzilla fan favorite monster, Gorosaurus. The battle between him and Kong is pretty cool, though the death of Gorosaurus could have been better. Really dull sound effect for Kong prying the jaw apart. But as fun as some of the action is, it's also incredibly lacking. One thing I found disappointing was that there is absolutely no city rampage scene. Sure we get the battle on Tokyo Tower, and Mechi-Kong destroys a building upon entrance, but that's it. There's no rampage despite it leading us to believe there would be one. I'll also say the military of this film did the worst possible job evacuating the city in any of these movies out there. They show the evacuations, then all of a sudden all the civilians are back to witness the Tower battle? Shouldn't they be gone? Oh well, there wasn't any rampage. No big loss. Oh and by the way the musical score by Akira Ifukube is not in any way memorable in this film. Rather disappointing honestly.

I know I'm being rather critical here, but honestly, I can't say this film is completely bad. One thing I must credit the film for doing is being among the first films to attempt to develop the relationship between the woman, and Kong. It's the first film in which the woman he finds attraction to, isn't always afraid of Kong. In the movie, she volunteers to be picked up by him to attempt to calm him down. She develops this playmate relationship in a way, but at the same time, she can still hold to that fear. It's really weird. Eventually, she pretty much can give verbal commands to Kong. That's right, I forgot to mention that King Kong in this movie precisely just understands human language. The movie isn't all bad. It's not strong, but I can see it working as a kids film perhaps. This was after all based off a rather bland kids cartoon from back in the day. This film didn't have a lot to go off of. So as bad as it is, I don't blame Toho for it. It's not their fault. I can see effort being put into this. Their desire to do Kong justice is still there. The respect, the love, the want to do good with Kong does still show. Unfortunetaly, it's just too bland, too dated, and too...dull to really be anything more than a kids adventure. And not a very good one at that. So I can't be getting generous with the verdict.

King Kong Escapes is a one and a half star rating out of four for me. Yeah, pretty dang bad. I'm at a bit of a loss for words on this one actually. You can tell it was trying to go for that child audience again. Much like its predecessor, but where King Kong VS Godzilla succeeded with likable characters, fun action, and creative ideas, this film feels held back. It makes me wish Ebirah was indeed a Kong film. It likely would have faired much better than this film. This film wasn't allowed to experiment, it wasn't allowed to do much of anything to make it stand out. And the blame for that lies solely with Rankin/Bass. And unfortunetaly this would be the final film that Toho would make with Kong. They wanted him to appear in the Godzilla finale, Destroy All Monsters, but their license on the character ran out for them. They'd also try to remake King Kong VS Godzilla during the Heisei era, but couldn't get the rights, and instead went with King Ghidorah (and we all know how I feel about that one). King Kong Escapes was his last trial in Japan, and one that really just didn't do it for him. Not from me. And I'm sad to say that. I really do wish it could have been different. Perhaps one day again, Kong will return to Toho. Until that day though...keep watching King Kong VS Godzilla...and stay away from this movie.

Please feel free to suggest any films you'd like me to look at. Leave a comment down below expressing your own thoughts on the film, and as always, thanks for reading.

Kong's tenure in Japan has ended, but he isn't going back to the States yet...nope. Great Britain attempted to get in on the Kong franchise. However...they took creativity into their own hands, and decided to switch a lot of things up. Did you ever wanna see Kong as a girl? Well they thought you would. Next week, I'm taking on the parody film, "Queen Kong". See you then.

Final Verdict: 1.5/4

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