There was a bit of a break in these Godzilla reviews as I tried to find a DVD containing the Japanese version of this film – unfortunately it’s practically impossible to find with English subtitles so I had to settle for watching and reviewing the American version.
This review is part of my Godzilla 60th Birthday Challenge
After Toho rushed Godzilla Raids Again through to make a quick Yen after the wild international success of Gojira, the franchise was all but abandoned for 6 years before various Japanese studios decided they wanted to make a King Kong vs… movie. After trying and failing to wrangle rights for Frankenstein they made the logical step that he should instead face off with Godzilla. Early wishes to have full stop-motion effects were soon eschewed in favour of the cheaper, Toho trademarked suitmation, and so King Kong vs. Godzilla emerged.
The film does quite well in introducing the two monsters with their own storylines – Godzilla rises from the ocean, once again helbent on destroying Tokyo. Meanwhile a band of explorers are travelling to an unexplored island where the natives reportedly worship a giant god. It’s quite quickly apparent that this film takes itself much less seriously, with a number of main characters being nothing more than comic relief. However, in this version of the movie the events are frequently interjected by soulless ‘United Nation Broadcasts’, where American reporters blankly inform us about what is happening and why, in the laziest and cheapest exposition imaginable. The original sections of the movie are depicted as live coverage from their ‘communications satellite’ which makes absolutely no sense and is the stupidest thing ever.
With Godzilla having second billing in the title, he is almost the secondary monster in this movie. So much of the first half takes place on this mysterious island, inhabited by what I think may be the least racially sensitive depiction of “natives” – it is simply lots of Japanese people painted brown, wearing grass skirts. The paint doesn’t always cover them completely, so not only do these scenes provide a moral quandary but they are nearly unwatchable anyway. The explorers bring gifts, but upon discovering they forgot sweets for the children, cigarettes somehow serve as a suitable alternative. Thankfully a monster soon appears to crush the majority of the chracters, improbably and unexplainedly a giant octopus. Effects are startlingly realistic, largely because it is a real octopus (4 were used, one of which the director ate that night). Some inserts of stop motion and absolutely dreadful composites of people break the illusion somewhat, but this is a decent sequence before King Kong arrives to single-handedly save the day and ruin the film.
All that portraying King Kong required was a gorilla suit, a really straight forward task I’d imagine. But for some reason here we have a gorilla suit that looks nothing like a gorilla. Perhaps if a gorilla had been put through a mangle the result may be similar to what appears on screen here, but I can’t say I’ve witnessed this for myself (sorry, Peta, put the pitchforks away). As the film progresses, the plot becomes less and less important as the makers clearly acknowledge that all that matters is the final fight. Disappointingly, the setpieces therein don’t come close to those of Godzilla Raids Again, but the fights themselves are marvellously ridiculous. Apparently the suit actors were given reign to improvise their moves and it certainly shows; the monsters tumble around, throw scenery at each other & throw each other around. This is the first glimpse of what I originally considered Godzilla to be about; it’s a long shot from the original film’s brilliant realism and meaning, but it’s wildly entertaining regardless.
The tacked-on American segments manage only to make the movie feel horribly uneven, but what is visible of the original Japanese version still seems like no masterpiece. While the comedy element is actually a lot more bearable than it could have been, the bad definitely outweighs the good but the main event – the face-off promised by the title – certainly doesn’t disappoint, just as long as you aren’t expecting anything that makes any sense.