U.S. release date: June 3, 1963 by Universal Pictures
Japanese audience attendance: 11,200,000
Director: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya
Musical score: Akira Ifukube
U.S. version available on home video from Goodtimes Home Video.
A U.N. submarine called the Sea Hawk, while investigating a mysteriously radioactive iceberg in the Arctic Sea, accidentally collides with it, killing the entire crew and awakening and releasing the dormant Godzilla, who was trapped within. The atom powered kaiju soon attacks a nearby NATO base, destroying its nuclear power plant to replace his energy reserves, and then heads for Japan.
Meanwhile, a drug producing company called Pacific Pharmaceuticals sends a crew led by the inept and comical executive Mr. Tako to the distant Farou Island, in order to acquire soma berries, a fruit which produces a non-addictive narcotic. Upon arriving on the island, the crew manages to befriend the primitive natives indigenous to the atoll, who tell them of the legends of a “god” called King Kong who dwells on the island. The following evening, a giant octopus (“daidako” in Japanese) slithers ashore and descends upon the village for some of the berry juice, menacing both the natives and the Japanese crew in the process, both of whom are unable to repel the creature despite their best efforts. However, the giant ape King Kong soon arrives in the village as well, verifying the existence of the monster-god. Kong attacks and drives the octopus off, then narcotizes himself by drinking several jugs of the berry juice. Mr. Tako opines that having a monster in the possession of his company will be a marvelous media coup (?), and will reclaim the ratings in his TV station that the publicity surrounding the returned Godzilla has taken away from him. Thus, the crew ships the unconscious King Kong back to Japan. The simian monster-god soon escapes, however, and goes on a rampage through the island nation.
After a destructive jaunt through Hokkaido, Godzilla confronts King Kong in a forest outside Nikko. Godzilla fends off Kong with his atomic breath, and the two kaiju temporarily go their separate ways. Godzilla encounters and escapes an elaborate trap set up for him by the Japanese military near Mt. Fuji, while Kong razes Tokyo. After Kong scales the Diet Building with a captive woman in his hand (where have we seen this scenario before?), he is subdued by dust made from soma berry juice and brought into contact with Godzilla, who is still in the Mt. Fuji area, in the hopes the two destructive kaiju will eliminate each other in mortal combat. A fierce (and sometimes hysterically funny) battle ensues, which ends after the two beasts tumble into the ocean near the town of Atami. A seemingly triumphant King Kong emerges from the water and peacefully swims back to Farou Island, while Godzilla is nowhere in sight.
The third entry in the G-series was Godzilla’s first color and stereo film, though King Kong was clearly intended to be the true star of the movie. This highly entertaining flick was Kong’s first return to the silver screen in thirty years, and how it happened was most interesting. Willis O’Brien, the American master of stop motion animation, who brought the original version of the famous anthropoid kaiju to life for RKO's King Kong in 1933, had for years wanted to make an equally elaborate follow-up film to that classic. His one green-lighted attempt to do so, RKO's Son of Kong (1933), was an obvious rush job that was extremely pallid in comparison to the first film due to the studio's refusal to come anywhere near matching the budget of the original movie. By 1961, O'Brien had written a screen treatment and illustrated a few storyboards for his proposed return debut of the mighty giant ape, which would have pitted the original Kong against a giant version of the Frankenstein Monster. O’Brien soon modified this story somewhat, transforming the humanoid Frankenstein Monster into a creature called the Ginko, a giant beast created out of the bodies of dead jungle animals by a descendant of Dr. Frankenstein. Shopping his idea around Hollywood to find financing, O’Brien’s project was usurped by a somewhat unscrupulous producer, who had the treatment re-written, and had the Frankenstein Monster altered yet again, this time into a robotic monster called Prometheus.
[Side Note: This change was quite interesting, especially in lieu of the fact that the full title of Mary Shelley's 1818 novel about the world famous artificially constructed being was titled FRANKENSTEIN; OR, THE MODERN PROMETHEUS. Any buff of classic literature or Greco-Roman mythology should be well aware of the fact that Prometheus was one of the legendary Titans in Greek mythology, a race of powerful superhuman beings who ruled the alternate dimensional plane of Olympus before the gods overthrew them after a ten year war. Prometheus was the only Titan who was friendly to his dethroned siblings' successors, and thus was not consigned to eternal exile in Tartarus, the hellish section of Hades, the Olympian underworld, along with the rest of the Titans following their defeat. According to the myths, Prometheus was the creator of humankind, and thus the reason behind Shelley's metaphorical comparison to her own then-modern literary creation, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. It should be noted that Prometheus was later viciously punished by an angry Zeus, when the former disobeyed the king of the gods by giving humanity the sacred gift of fire, an element of nature that was previously exclusive to the gods alone, hence a further metaphorical comparison to the ill-fated Victor Frankenstein, who also found himself punished (albeit in a different manner) by his act of hubris.]
Finding no financing in America for the proposed King Kong vs. Prometheus, the idea was taken to Toho, who was famous for its recent dai kaiju films, finding great success with the original Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1954), Rodan (1956) and the original Mothra (1961). Toho eagerly accepted the project, but decided to replace any version of the Frankenstein Monster with the then on-hiatus Godzilla, seeing an opportunity to present a showdown between the greatest American and Japanese kaiju [not that Toho completely abandoned the idea of spotlighting a gigantic version of the Frankenstein Monster; Toho created giant versions of Mary Shelley’s famous persecuted creature for Frankenstein Conquers The World (1965) and its semi-sequel War of the Gargantuas (1966), though the connection between the two films was excised in the American version of the latter movie].
To make this film a completely momentous event, Toho returned the talents of director Ishiro Honda and maestro Akira Ifukube to the revived series, and Eiji Tsuberaya was given the task of bringing Kong to life with the suitmation technique, which was quite contrary to O’Brien’s intentions (O'Brien died shortly before the film’s completion). In order to make Kong capable of battling (let alone defeating) Godzilla, much changes had to be made to the big ape as seen in the RKO version. The giant simian's size was increased from his original height of 10 meters to 45 meters (!), and, in order to counter Godzilla's powerful atomic breath, Kong was given the new power to absorb both natural and artificially generated electricity to enhance his recuperative powers, and to temporarily gain the ability to administer shock therapy to an opponent with his touch. In fact, Toho’s Kong had a completely separate chronology from either the RKO or the Dino De Laurentis version later seen in the failed remake King Kong (1976) and its highly quirky sequel King Kong Lives (1986). Toho initially intended to acquire the rights to do an entire series of movies featuring their version of Kong, but this just wasn’t to be (see below).
Tsuberaya did a marvelous job on the new Godzilla suit, creating the famous “King-Godzi” costume, in which the Big G looked more like a real dinosaur than ever before or since [this suit served as the design for Aurora’s classic 1963 Godzilla model kit, and when this classic kit was re-issued in the early 70’s, my mother bought one for me, and I was quite thrilled, particularly since Aurora added new glow in the dark parts to the kit with this latter re-issue].
Unfortunately, the vaunted “God of Special Effects” stumbled very badly with the King Kong costume he came up with. The ape suit looked terrible, not much better than the horrible gorilla costumes people used to laugh at in the Abbot and Costello TV series. He also naturally humanized Kong’s posture, making him walk and run upright, unlike a real ape, which usually bound along on all fours, utilizing their powerful arms to assist their locomotion, and their posture is naturally very crouched, not erect, as with human beings. However, in an attempt to make Kong's arms look long and ponderous like those of a real ape, extensions were made on the suit's arms, which simply made it look more awkward for the man wearing it.
Nevertheless, the fight scenes were extremely well done, perhaps the best kaiju fight sequence ever accomplished to date, almost resembling a modern pro wrestling match, and in marked contrast to Heisei Series Toho sfx director Koichi Kawakita’s dubious habit of having the kaiju rely primarily on their beam weapons in combat. Although a serious fight, it featured several intentionally humorous moments in keeping with Honda’s direction (see next paragraph), including the classic scenes where Godzilla swiftly drop kicks the attacking Kong, and when Kong unsuccessfully attempts to block Godzilla’s atomic breath by stuffing a tree in his reptilian opponent's mouth.
As for Honda’s direction of the human element, he took a complete about face from the last two G-films, whose plot and direction was deadly serious. The tone of this movie was entirely light-hearted in nature, and the film was designed as pure entertainment rather than as an important philosophical retrospective on the threat of nuclear weapons, or some other negative aspect of our class-ruled societies, as was the case with the first two movies (however, Honda did provide a gentle satire of the then burgeoning television industry in the film). In fact, most American audiences still do not realize that the movie’s plot was intended largely as a joke [just as many people still do not realize the same thing about the campy Batman TV series from the late 1960's starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which was never intended to be a serious adaptation of the grim, no-nonsense super-hero from DC Comics, but was instead a satire, and was an homage to the two silly Batman serials produced during the 1940's, not the comic book version]. Because of this change in tone, younger audiences as well as adults flocked into theaters to see the movie, resulting in the highest attendance record of any G-film from any of the three series to date. This was also the only G-film to appeal equally to all age groups, rather than favoring one over the other (a terrible attempt to appeal to all age groups was subsequently done in the G-series with Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla ). Thus, this film is a must-have for all kaiju-fans.
Unfortunately, the one G-film released in the U.S. by Universal (the then-owners of the King Kong copyright in America) left something to be desired. Like AIP/Transworld for the first G-film, Universal filmed new, made-in-America footage, albeit this time ineptly done, as well as splicing in stock footage from previous Toho films, such as the earthquake at the end of the monster battle. The new footage consisted of newscasts of mostly American actors who reported on the events seen in the Japanese footage, but otherwise had no direct connection to it. This necessitated several deletions in the original Japanese plot, including several of its early scenes designed to introduce and establish the various human characters to the viewers, and this made portions of the film somewhat confusing to U.S. audiences. These boring and needless newscasts also attempted, once again, to explain Godzilla away as a product of natural dinosaurian evolution, including having a paleontologist describe him as a hybrid cross between a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Stegosaurus, two dinosaurs whom many elementary school kids (not to mention a scientist!) should know didn’t even exist in the same time period of the Mesozoic Era [stegasaurs lived in the Jurassic Period and were long extinct by the time of the late Cretaceous Period many millions of years later, when the Tyrannosaurs roamed the Earth], let alone fancying the idea that a herbivorous and carnivourous dinosaur would have either the inclination or the genetic ability to mate with each other and produce a viable hybrid offspring, let alone one that was inexplicably amphibious!
Once again, the interjection of B-movie style bad science brings an otherwise good film down a few notches. Then again, it was a favored pastime of American sci-fi film producers of that era to regularly insult the intelligence of their projected audiences, as well as for the aforementioned audiences to simply "go with the flow" for the sheer entertainment value of the movie in question, with little eye rolling in the process.
Further, except for the famous “Farou Island Chant” (and a short jungle motif), all of Akira Ifukube’s great score was replaced by theme music that can be readily identified from Universal’s 1955 film The Creature From The Black Lagoon. Thus, although the American version can still be considered highly entertaining to view, it’s advisable for true Godzilla fans to purchase the Japanese version (affordably available from Video Daikaiju) in order to see Toho’s true intention.
By the way, a persistent rumor, once accepted as fact, and reported in many Godzilla books and magazine articles in the U.S. during the 70’s and early 80’s, stated that the Japanese and American versions had two separate endings, the former having Godzilla victorious. This has since been proven to be untrue; as explained by John Rocco Roberto and Robert Biondi in G-FAN #11, “in 1962, Godzilla was still considered a villain, and thus destined to lose.” The only difference in the two endings was that the Japanese version lacked the earthquake sequence dubbed into the American version by Universal, and that Godzilla's roar was briefly heard when Kong swam away at the end, following the giant ape's own roar. Nevertheless, Kong stood victorious in both versions.
Unfortunately, Godzilla and Kong never met again, despite great demand for a return bout by G-fans on both sides of the Pacific. As stated above, though Toho had plans to make a whole series of films featuring their version of King Kong, the complex legal problems involved with such a venture caused the studio to scrap the idea entirely by the end of the 60's decade. In 1966, a completed script called "Robinson Crusoe Adventure: King Kong vs. Ebirah" was composed by Toho, and a new Kong suit was completed for this proposed film venture, along with a suit for the giant lobster Ebirah and a prop of a giant condor, both of whom Kong was to battle in the movie, as well as an entire island set and the retrieval of the adult Mothra marionette from inventory (Kong was to have a brief scuffle with the giant moth in the movie). However, at the last minute, legal problems with Universal prevented Toho from filming this movie, but since Toho did not want to waste so much money creating all of these items for nothing, the script was hastily re-written to include Godzilla in place of Kong as the main kaiju protagonist in the story, a few brief sequences making use of Godzilla's atomic breath were added to the script, and the movie was filmed and released in Japan in 1966 as "Godzilla, Mothra, Ebirah: Big Duel in the South Seas," and released to American TV in 1968 as Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster. Since Toho didn't want to waste the new Kong suit they constructed either, the studio pushed hard with Universal for the legal permission to make at least one solo Kong film, and they succeeded in winning such permission to film and release King Kong Escapes in 1967, tying that film in (albeit somewhat loosely) with Universal's animated King Kong animated TV series, which was produced around that time (the movie and the TV series shared the human villian Dr. Huu [pronounced "who"]). Still, due to the constant legal problems involved with making films of a kaiju not owned by the company, Toho decided to abandon all future plans for Kong, and instead concentrate on films involving the many kaiju whose copyright they themselves owned.
This was also the final G-film of the Showa Series in which it was implied that Godzilla may have been killed at the end. An idea for a rematch between Godzilla and Kong was planned by Toho for 1994, but ultimately scrapped due to (again!) legal difficulties in obtaining the copyright for Kong (now owned by Turner Network), more’s the pity. A plan was then proposed to pit Godzilla against an updated version of Mechani-Kong (King Kong's robotic nemesis from King Kong Escapes), but since the name and image of the robotic simian was so similar to Kong himself, Toho abandoned that idea as well, to avoid possible litigation from Turner Network [which is perhaps also a pity, since the proposed story had an intriguing premise, the idea of G-Force scientists entering Godzilla's bloodstream to attempt to subvert the beast's body from within, while Mechani-Kong diverted the Kaiju King in battle from without].
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