King Kong Escapes
Directed by Ishirô Honda
Toho/Universal Blu Ray Zone B
Warning: This one has spoilers.
So I took some time out from the Criterion Godzilla set to pop this one in. King Kong Escapes is a muddled but entertaining movie... alas, entertaining for all the wrong reasons. Now, I’ve no idea what the proper Japanese cut of the film is like but I suspect it’s not all that different because, although the film has actors like Rhodes Reason and Linda Miller in it, it was an American co-production and they all appeared in scenes with many of the Japanese actors such as Godzilla veterans Akira Takarada and Mie Hama (Hama was also a big star for the Bond film You Only Live Twice, reviewed by me here, by this point). Hama plays the main female villain who, in a fit of conscience towards the end, double crosses the main male villain of the piece, Hideyo Amamoto as the nefarious Dr. Who. Yeah, okay... not that Doctor Who. Another one, although, it has to be said, the costume and look of the character seems very much based on the William Hartnell incarnation of everybody’s favourite timelord at the time.
That being said, Who is a carry over from the source material of this film... which isn’t really, as many may suspect, a sequel to King Kong Vs Godzilla (which it’s often marketed as and which you can find reviewed here). Instead, it’s a big screen adaptation of a Rankin/Bass King Kong cartoon of the time... it’s also the last time Toho had the rights to use the character, unfortunately.
The film is... well it’s kinda terrible, despite being directed by Godzilla veteran Ishirô Honda and having a, somewhat slow and ponderous score by Godzilla composer Akira Ifukube. It’s fun though but, alas, the humour on this one is completely at the expense of the cast and crew, it has to be said. The dialogue and plot are... well I guess like something you’d find in a cartoon of the time and the effects work is, surprisingly, mostly abysmal.
I mean, take the ‘not so bad’ actress Linda Miller (she only appeared in three movies and one TV episode but, one of those movies was The Green Slime... reviewed here). Here she is being picked up by a badly 'matted in' giant hand against a live action plate but, as soon as we see her in the hands of the, truly ridiculous looking King Kong man in suit (possibly even worse than the version from King Kong VS Godzilla) in long shot she is a lifeless, plastic doll which, throughout the movie, only has one costume. Now, Ms Miller gets picked up by her new pal Kong fairly frequently throughout the movie, it has to be said but, although one of her costumes does look a little like the one on the rigid doll in the hands of the ‘suit-mation’ Kong, most of the time she’s wearing something different. It doesn’t matter to the special effects guys though... if she’s wearing white or some other colour, when it cuts back to the doll in the hand... she’s back to wearing yellow. Not only that but, through the course of the movie (and depending how wet she gets in a scene... she takes a dive into the ocean before being picked up by Kong at one point), she has a kind of ‘dirty blonde’ hair. However, when she’s seen in long shot in Kong’s fist, that really is going to change to a vibrant redhead on the doll, for sure.
Other things about the ridiculous effects are the fact that, when our heroes go to check out Kong’s island near the start of the movie, the strange hover ship they use is nicely designed but, honestly, you can clearly see the wires as it’s lifted over the tank of water standing in for the sea. Added to some truly boring fight scenes and this iteration of Kong really is nothing to write home about. The fight Kong has with a dinosaur is fairly ludicrous but I think that one, at least, was played for laughs. However, there’s a big set up battle in the movie and you’re waiting for it to happen and, when it does... well, more on that in a moment.
So the other big hangover from the cartoon series was the invention of the giant robot Kong facsimile, Mechani-Kong. He’s introduced into the plot line to mine for ‘Substance X’ for the villains before the ‘real’ Kong even enters the movie and, all the way through you’re just waiting for the battle between these two titans to unfold. When it does... well it takes place in Tokyo, mostly with a kind of ‘climbing dual’ as the two Kongs climb something which looks remotely like the Eifel Tower (except we’re in Tokyo) and... well... it’s a bit anti-climactic, it has to be said. But, even so, there’s a lot of fun to be had about the idea of this head to head and, ridiculously bad as it is, it still holds a curious entertainment value (this is like the fourth or fifth time I’ve watched this movie in different formats over the decades).
The Mechani-Kong from the cartoon show and made flesh... err... steel here was presumably the inspiration for the similar looking, semi-regular villain Mecha-Godzilla who made his first appearances in the Showa Era films Godzilla VS Mecha-Godzilla in 1974 and the final film in that first cycle, Terror Of Mecha-Godzilla. So some good came out of this movie in regards to that element at least and, either way you look at it, Mechani-Kong certainly looks great and makes for some good photos and artwork. More than his hairy co-star at any rate... who seems to have a permanently manic look about him with his huge, staring eyes.
And... yeah, that’s really all I’ve got to say about King Kong Escapes. A fun but insubstantial piece which has so far been given, it has to be said, a truly insubstantial Blu Ray release. The transfer is okay but you can only watch this in the English dub and, talk about bare bones. I’d moan about the extras if there were any but... remember some of those early DVDs which, when you put the film in the player, didn’t have any kind of menu and just went straight into ‘the movie is now playing, deal with it’ mode? Well let’s just say that this is the first Blu Ray I’ve had which does just that. No menu, just a quick copyright notice and then the film starts playing. Universal really should take a leaf out of the book of Criterion, Severin, Arrow, Indicator, Blue Underground and various other labels who know how to market films like this. I’m hoping somebody will get the smart idea of releasing limited edition kaiju sets with the proper Japanese versions of films like this and Frankenstein Conquers The World in them, crammed with extras pertinent to the subject matter. Until that time comes, alas, we’re stuck with what I would call substandard releases like this and, yeah, I’m glad I only spent £6 on this edition is all I’m saying. If you can get it cheaper, it’s worth a quick look.