edited by Chris N
[significant supplements by this editor will be in blue text, whereas lesser supplements will usually be placed in brackets and initialed]
King Kong is surely the most durable kaiju in film. Starting in 1933, Kong was all but a singular spectacle, almost without precedent, and a stop motion extravaganza. King Kong, as either a 10 or 12 meter simean, or as a ground -breaking film, was truly the eighth wonder of the world. This was the start of an illustrious but patchy career.
From there, King Kong went to a less impressive and less successful direct sequel, Son of Kong, hastily produced and released later that same year. In the sequel, Kong is dead, but his legacy lives on in the shape of an 8 meter white simean. A subsequent stop motion ape, the Mighty Joe Young (from the eponymous 1949 film) was perhaps half again the size, 4 meters.
There was (possibly a hoax) an illegitimate Japanese sequel or remake, King Kong In Edo, issued in 1938, apparently a movie about a giant ape loosed in the titular Japanese city. This Kong was allegedly achieved onscreen with a man in a suit (i.e., the "suitmation" technique), rather than stop motion.
The original King Kong was re-issued to spectacular success in 1952, directly kicking off the brief American dai kaiju eiga genre, and directly and indirectly the classic Asian kaiju sagas that quickly followed.
Among these offspring kaiju was pair of illegitimate follow-ups, Konga, a British film dealing with a transmuted chimpanzee who, via an experimental growth serum, is transformed into a giant, rampaging bipedal gorilla-like simean [after a stint in the first part of the film as a human-sized bipedal gorilla-like simean who kills human beings at the behest of his 'mad' scientist creator]. Konga did not survive his single screen foray [though he did go on to two comic book series published in the '60's by Charlton Comics, KONGA and THE RETURN OF KONGA--CN]. A few years later, there was The Mighty Gorga, a no-budget opus about a giant bipedal ape in Africa which in one scene fights a T-Rex [portrayed onscreen by a truly fake-looking hand puppet, and has to be seen in order to be disbelieved--CN]. Both were suitmation monsters, as would be every subsequent Kong until the CGI-rendered Kong of Peter Jackson's late 00's remake [perhaps it should be noted that in De Laurentis's fiscally disastrous 1976 Kong remake, a few brief snippets of the big ape in captivity were realized via an expensive, full-size 40 foot animatronic mock-up robot, which barely moved effectively and was only briefly shown onscreen at all to justify the huge cost of that clunker--CN].
In 1962, shortly after the international release of Konga, King Kong, or a giant ape legally bearing that name, reappeared to fight Godzilla in the third Toho G-film, King Kong vs. Godzilla, and was released internationally the following year, to be the highest grossing G-film in all of the Big G's 50 year cinematic career. This Kong was substantially different from the original, being about four times the height, at 45 meters (since Godzilla then stood 50 meters, far too large for the original 12 meter Kong to stand a chance against), and also had a new power, the ability to absorb both natural and artificially generated sources of electricity, to temporarily both enhance his recuperative powers and to deliver shock treatment to his opponents, so that he would have a weapon to counter Godzilla's atomic breath.
A few years later, Toho produced King Kong Escapes, but despite the same company producing this film as the previous King Kong vs. Godzilla, the two costumes were different, and the scale was different, this Kong perhaps 20 to 30 meters in height. This new Kong seemed to have shrunk since his contest with Godzilla [he also showed no sign of the first Toho Kong's ability to absorb and utilize electricity as a weapon--CN]. In his second and final Toho film, Kong struggled with a mechanical version of himself called Mechani-Kong ["Robot Kong" in the American version], with the over-sized carnosaur called Gorosaurus, and a giant white sea snake [this film was more or less a joint Japanese/American production, and designed to tie in with the King Kong animated TV series that debuted on American TV during that time period; in the animated TV series, Kong was described as being "8 times the size of a man" in the theme song, and seemed to be about the size of the second Toho Kong, equally sans the electricity absorbing power--CN].
A decade later, Dino DeLaurentis produced his deservedly maligned remake of King Kong, and Kong shrank further to perhaps 15 meters. This Kong also struggled with a gigantic snake.
DeLaurentis's production spawned a host of illegitmate sequels, notably North Korea's spoofy A*P*E, and the British/Spanish co-production feminist/gender reversal/satire, Queen Kong. Both of these featured giant bipedal apes of comparable Kong size, who also died along the way.
Another decade passed, and DeLaurentis produced a sequel, King Kong Lives, which introduced a giant female gorilla, or a second Queen Kong [called 'Lady Kong' in the film]. DeLaurentis established that his Kong had survived its fall in the first movie, but sadly, did not survive this movie, which effectively ended the franchise.
Now, of course, another couple of decades later, Peter Jackson is doing his own, eagerly anticipated, King Kong film, which will be a period remake of the 1933 original. And I suppose, we'll see a new wave of low budget giant apes follow in its wake.
Along the way, Kong or his various knock-offs has had a couple of animated TV series, starred in commercials, and firmly embedded himself in pop culture.
The suggestion I'll offer at this point is a novel one, but it should present some fun: What if all the Kong movies, legitimate and otherwise, are in the same continuity? Better yet, what if the Toho and DeLaurentis Kongs were all the same creature?
If so, then how do we approach this premise?
First of all, let's be clear. The original King Kong of the 1933 movie is dead. He clearly died at the end of that movie. We are shown the dead body, the beast is pronounced dead, that's pretty final and inescapable. To make matters even more definitive, there is a direct authorized sequel, and in that movie, the original Kong is definitely established as being dead. So stick a fork in him, he's done like dinner.
The fate of the Japanese Kong of 1938 is unknown to us. But we'll assume that if he's not a hoax, then he too probably followed the path of the original and definitely died.
During the '40's, a giant bipedal ape who seems to be over 15 meters in height appears briefly but notably in the Abbot and Costello romp Africa Screams, and this giant ape may well fit into the same schema explained below.
But here's an interesting thing. The hero of King Kong vs. Godzilla survives his movie, as does the ruler of King Kong Escapes. The DeLaurentis Kong falls from the World Trade Centre, which ought to be fatal, but we see in the sequel, that he's survived the first movie, although he doesn't make it through the second when his new artificial heart gives out once he is seriously injured in a battle with a military unit.
Essentially then, it's possible to argue that the same King Kong makes his way through the four movies, because it's clearly established within these films that he survived the first three.
All right, that might be a thin reed. But more has been done with less.
Moreover, there are other similarities between the four films. Each of these Kongs is achieved through a man in an ape suit, so the build, mannerisms, gait, and overall look of the Kongs is consistent.
Further continuity is achieved when the two Toho Kongs are shown to live in a multi-kaiju world, including not just Godzilla but robot doubles, Gorosaurus, giant octopi, and giant sea snakes. Both the second Toho Kong and the DeLaurentis Kong fight a giant snake [albeit the latter battles what appears to be a giant python]. And the second DeLaurentis Kong film features at least one other kaiju, a "sexy" female version of Kong.
So yes, it's theoretically possible to argue that it's the same King Kong throughout the four movies.
Of course, there's a major obstacle too. The Kong costumes change markedly from one movie to the next, and the size of Kong changes even within the two Toho flicks. One expects creatures to grow dramatically...but our Kong seems to shrink! That's got to be hard to explain.
But an explanation is to be found, if we consider one of the illegitimate by-blows, Konga. Konga not only grows, but shrinks! Injected with a serum derived from extracts of a rare African plant, a mad scientist grows Konga from a small baby chimpanzee to a hulking humanoid gorilla, who reverts back to his former size and shape upon death. Eventually, an overdose of the serum raises Konga to the level of a full sized kaiju, but in death, he shrinks quickly, reverting back to his original size and form.
The incident is so quick that there are not even credible photographs, the incident is known mostly through the hysterical testimony of witnesses, and so is probably quickly dismissed as a hoax.
Now, the two interesting things here is that growth to large and super-large sizes is caused by the extract of a rare plant, and that the effect is temporary.
Consider the situation in King Kong vs. Godzilla. Kong is discovered in part, through an investigation of a rare plant which produces berries that cause unusual growth spurts in various animals. King Kong is fed these berries, or the juice and pulp of thereof, by the natives, and this is believed to be the cause of his great size and strength.
This may be true. A giant octopus crawls out on land, hunting for the berry juice. The implication is that the berries or the residue has helped to create the octopus. At the very least, they seem highly addictive.
Although the plant in Konga, we are told, originates from remote Africa, and the Toho Kong's plants are from a Pacific island [Farou Island in the first Kong Toho film, Mondo Island in the second], it's possible that the two plants may be the same or related species, formerly widespread, but with remnant populations only in these two locations. It's also possible that the plant was native to one location, but spread to the other by human action.
Certainly, Kong-type apes are found in both Africa and the Pacific, a fact which may or may not connect directly or indirectly to the plants.
The thing is, if it's all the same plant, or the same type of plant, then this may explain Kong's peculiar metamorphosis. Konga is taking a highly concentrated extract of the plant injected directly into his blood stream, thus the effect is both much faster and it wears off much more quickly. Thus, the rapid growth, and equally rapid shrinking.
King Kong, on the other hand, ingests the raw and unrefined plant and juice in the normal way, drinking it and absorbing it through his digestive system. We would therefore expect its effects on Kong to be much slower and more cumulative than for Konga, and perhaps slower to fade away.
We might even see mutation occurring, altering Kong's appearance and colouration, and perhaps the source of Kong's electrical absorption powers. Interestingly, Megalon and at least one other known kaiju, the possibly imaginary Gabara, also seem to have shocking powers [Megalon, however, can actually project the bio-electrical energy at his opponents via his nose horn from a distance, and doesn't have to actually touch them up close with his arms in order to effect a shock, as is the case with both the first Toho Kong and Gabara--CN].
Indeed, the berries may explain other things, like why the dinosaurs on Skull Island in the original King Kong are twice the size of normal fossil dinosaurs, or why so many other reports of Pacific dinosaurs seem to be outsized creatures (note Gorosaurus). The berries, or a sub-species of varying potency, may be spread throughout the Pacific.
But let's get back to Kong. The berries are key. There seems to be a small population of giant apes scattered about the Pacific and in Africa. But most of them, the original '30's Kong and his 'son,' the Japanese Kong, 'A*P*E' Kong, Gorga, Queen Kong, and Lady Kong all seem to be in the same size range of about 10 to 15 meters. These creatures seem widely scattered and there's no evidence of more than one in any particular location. So if it's a breeding population, they must be both incredibly long-lived, and incredible swimmers to be able to reach each other [evidence for the latter exists with both of the Toho Kongs--CN].
The Kongs probably also have at least a minor telepathic facility, or some other sensory gift, in order to locate one another over vast distances. This telepathic or sensory gift facilitates a startling degree of communication with individual humans, leading to their worship as gods by native populations, or their fixation on and relationship to particular humans. The Kongs are often extremely difficult to detect, sometimes wandering freely through densely populated areas, and often showing a disconcerting ability to sneak up on people. Possibly, this is a psychic ability of concealment shared by their smaller cousins, the Yeti and Sasquatch [though, it should be noted, the latter creatures are hominids, and not anthropoids, but it should also be noted that many of the Kongs have a human-like bipedal stance, whereas natural great apes normally do not, so their DNA may have been peppered with human or sasquatch chromosomes by the presumed Lemurian/Muan creators--CN]. For ease of reference, we will call the race of creatures Kongs.
The Farou Island Kong, on the other hand, differed from his other giant ape kindred in that the berries of the island were unusually potent. This Kong became addicted to consuming the berries, causing him to grow to unusual size in comparison to his brethren. The native population of the island, considering the Kong a nature god, and observing his fondness for the berries, began to harvest them for him, eventually reducing their offerings to fermented juice pulp. Thus, the Kong began to consume greater quantities of the berries than would be normally possible in the course of natural feeding behavior.
Of course, growth was slow. These berries, despite being pulped for juice, were not distilled extracts, and they were absorbed through the digestive system. Their effect was gradual, but cumulative. Slowly, this Kong grew in strength and stature, bulking up until he was far larger than any other Kong, reaching a height of 45 meters, nearly equaling the height of Godzilla. The berries also affected his system, conferring electrical-absorbtion powers, and also affecting his complexion and colouration. The race of Kongs literally had a new King!
This King Kong, after a short spat with a giant octopus, was abducted from his home and taken to Japan where he fought Godzilla. At the conclusion of the duel, King Kong had enough, and in the manner of his species, decided to swim home.
Unfortunately, he did not make it, instead coming to Mondo Island, the former home of a now deceased Kong who had left a series of ancient steps. Mondo Island contained a species of King Kong's delicious berries, although much less potent, so he decided to make this his new home.
There, he lived for approximately seven years, sharing the atoll with other over-sized animals, including ultra-large dinosaurs, until his encounter with Doctor Hu. During this time, as a result of the reduced potency of the local berries, and as a result of not having a native population devoted to gathering and feeding him the berries, their effect on his system was gradually reduced. As a result, King Kong slowly lost mass, losing height and losing the 'electrical powers' he acquired upon reaching his maximum attainable height of 45 meters. As the level of berry chemicals in his system declined, his colouring and complexion changed. Still, he remained a King, and more than sufficient to handle likes of the other kaiju, like Gorosaurus and the giant sea snake.
As a result of the encounter with Doctor Hu, once again, he was taken from his home island, where he fought a mechanical version of himself, and dug an exotic element (the so-called 'Element X') from a far location. During this adventure, he also emotionally and perhaps psychically bonded with a comely caucasian human female. At the end of the battles, Doctor Hu was apparently dead, his plans in ruins, his forces scattered. Meanwhile, King Kong was far from either his old or his new home.
Though King Kong returned to Mondo Island, he nevertheless felt wanderlust. He longed for Farou Island, and thus, began another of the great swims that his race occasionally undertook. His swim took him to yet another island, this one shrouded in a permanent cloud. This was not Farou Island, but it did have a tribe of native islanders who had worshiped a previous Kong sometime in their history, building a great wall and making sacrifices to it, who came to regard him as their god, and who made sacrifices in his honour. The berries were either absent, or even less potent here. But King Kong was satisfied with worship, and resolved to stay. Again, his stature diminished and his compexion changed as the amount and effect of the berries in his system declined [his minimum height was evidently 12 meters or so--CN].
Around this time, there was an encounter with the Mighty Gorga, a giant simean in Africa, who like the King Kongs, fought a dinosaur. It does not appear that the story of Gorga was widely reported. And in fact, the adventure depicted in King Kong Escapes was generally not noted by the public [in the opinion of this editor, the adventure seen in the latter film must have been more widespread in knowledge, since that Kong rampaged through a huge city like Toho, and the crew who traveled to Mondo Island were evidently already aware that a huge simian was living there--CN].
Unfortunately, humans from the civilized world would once again eventually invade his paradise. This time it was an oil exploration crew who, upon failing to find oil, determined to take King Kong as a consolation prize and trophy creature. For his part, the King encountered and again bonded with a Caucasian human female, a bond that would almost always be his undoing.
The sensational discovery and recovery of the King of Kongs, recalled to the public vis a vis the monsters that had rampaged through New York in the '30's, and that had saved Japan from Godzilla in the early sixties and saved the world from the schemes of Dr. Hu later in that decade, led to a wave of Kong mania. Given the differences in stature, the public simply did not connect this King Kong to the being that fought Godzilla. Instead, the petroleum company simply rode the wave of nostalgia for these two previous well publicized cases.
Kaiju were, of course, relatively well known by this time, and many had even been accepted as relatively benign thanks to the efforts of Mothra and Gamera, and the rehabilitation of Godzilla. But most publicly known kaiju were inhuman reptilian or occasionally insectoid creatures, and were now mostly out of sight on Monster Island. Thus, public interest in these creatures had waned, familiarity bred contempt.
Humans, of course, are much more fascinated by creatures like themselves. The monkey or ape houses at the zoo are far, far more popular than the reptile house. That's just human nature. But apart from the two Kong incidents, human or near-human kaiju were mostly unknown to the general public, being confined to a handful of hushed up American cases in the '50's, and the mysterious and generally dismissed gigantic Frankenstein and Gargantua cases of the '60's, and the Konga incident which had been denounced as a hoax. So the discovery of a new Kong kaiju, a nearly humanoid, mammalian creature, was a sensation.
This lead other opprtunists on a wild quest to find and exhibit other Kongs. Thus, the giant bipedal ape who was sometimes called Kong, apparently taken from a Pacific island, and who escaped capture, fought a giant shark, yet another giant python-like snake, and plagued Korea. And also the fabled Queen Kong was found by another expedition in Africa. The quest even turned up a Gargantua creature, the Mighty Peking Man [more or less a gigantic, Kong-sized sasquatch or "wild man"--CN], which though not a Kong, was still promoted like one, as well as a nine meter Yeti.
Taken back to civilization, King Kong escaped and went on a rampage, being shot by military craft and falling a thousand feet from the World Trade Centre. It is a measure of the power that made him King of the Kongs, that he actually survived this fall, albeit when into a deep coma that lasted a decade.
History repeated itself, as not only did the new King Kong appear to meet the same fate as his '30's predecessor, but the other captured Kongs also met similar but more final fates. The series of disasters related to the Kong rampages discredited any further interest in capturing kaiju or bringing them to civilization. Strict laws were enacted to ensure that the beasts, Kong and other kaiju alike, were left well alone on their remote island and jungle homes.
King Kong spent the next ten years in a coma, his system slowed. As a result of his reduced metabolism, or perhaps because well meaning doctors artificially preserved the chemical levels in his body, he did not shrink much further, or change much in complexion. Of course, it's also possible that by the time of his previous movie, he had deteriorated to his natural stature [i.e., a minimum of 10-12 meters], and would remain there.
During this time, an oversized artificial heart was built to replace his shattered organ. A female Kong was found in Borneo and, with a special dispensation from the normally strict laws, became a blood donour for the operation. Restored to a semblance of health, King Kong escaped confinement and ran off to conjugal bliss with his new paramour.
For a time, the animals lived happily in the American Appalachians. Their skill at evading detection in such a heavily populated region suggests that the Kongs, like their tiny cousins, the Yeti and Sasquatch, may have a psychic power of concealment that allows them to avoid being spotted. Eventually, however, the Kongs fell afoul of humans, and the King, though seemingly healthy and powerful, was actually quite frail from his long convelescence and eventually died after being seriously injured in battle with a military unit.
This ended the illustrious career of the mightiest Kong that ever lived. But there was a happy coda. His mate was returned to her original home, and she produced an offspring from her short period of bliss, replenishing the numbers of this long-lived but slow reproducing race.
Thus, we have the life and death, and storied career of the Showa King Kong, in a saga that indirectly incorporates his predecessors and fellow Kongs.
As for the future...we'll look forward to Jackson's new King Kong.
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