When an underhanded pharmaceutical company goes to a remote tropical island to steal King Kong for advertising purposes, they get more than they bargained for when the gigantic ape attacks an unsuspecting village and an enormous octopus. Meanwhile, far below the sea, a submarine crew unleashes reptilian terror when they melt a block of ice and release the ferocious Godzilla from his icy lair. When both destructive monsters descend on Tokyo, it's a fight that holds the future of mankind in the balance in this knock-out film that was the first theatrical release to bring its larger-than-life contenders to the big screen in glorious color.
Boy, these old movies, like 'King Kong vs Godzilla,' bring back childhood memories. Not that I'm old enough to remember when it originally hit U.S. theaters in 1963, but as a kid, many of my weekend afternoons were spent sitting in front of the television watching these sorts of films, many of which would today be considered obscure and forgotten. After having my midday fill of 'The Munsters,' 'Our Gang,' and 'The Three Stooges,' I waited with anticipation to discover some random, unheard-of double feature, and they were usually a martial-arts flick like 'Master of the Flying Guillotine' or a Japanese Kaiju film such as 'The War of the Gargantuas.' Those are some fond memories.
Although I didn't discover this particular monster feature until many years later, I nevertheless watch and enjoy it with a certain level of nostalgia, with a fondness for a time of innocently discovering these movies with wide-eyed delight. Being a big King Kong fan since childhood already, part of the attraction is in seeing the giant hairy beast from Skull Island return to the big screen. Except, the Kong envisioned by Ishiro Honda and the producers at Toho Studios is not the same legendary monster created by special effects and stop-motion pioneer Willis H. O'Brien. Not only is it obvious the colossal ape is a man in a suit, but Kong has also gained a few pounds, dyed his fur brown, and looks more like one of its Neanderthal descendants.
Though not quite as apparent, another significant difference is the overgrown primate's sudden and unexplained growth spurt. This Japanese Kong is substantially bigger — and evidently can harness the power of electricity to smite its enemies! This is one of the great things about kaiju films: the over-the-top silliness and the inexplicable but imaginative superpowers of the destructive monsters. And in a weird way, it sort of makes sense, because our soon-to-be-turned-from-ferocious-villain-to-savior is thrown into a battle royale against another legendary giant of the silver screen, Godzilla. In order to make the fight more fair, Kong needs a few more inches and miraculously develops a supernatural power.
Another thing worth noting that makes this epic battle particularly amusing is that the movie also marks the return of the enormous lizard after his seven year slumber. The favorite go-to monster from the Toho Kingdom is accidentally resurrected by an experimental American submarine when it crashes into an iceberg. It turns out the berg is the same frozen prison which finally stopped the creature in 1955's 'Godzilla Raids Again,' the follow-up to Honda's original classic. Arguably, this third entry in the franchise could be seen as a direct sequel, especially since the monster is the same unnatural destructive force seen in the first two. As it swims to once again run amok in Tokyo, the military steers the uncontrollable Kong into a one-on-one fight against Godzilla. Then, things really go crazy.
As bad as 'King Kong vs Godzilla' may be, the production offers plenty worth enjoying. Granted, this is more likely with the loyal fanbase of either monster than general moviegoers, but this is also the MST3K sort of low-budget badness which is unintentionally hilarious — and which shockingly became a box-office success. From the obvious use of miniatures, cheap stop-motion photography and even cheaper monster costumes, Honda's return to the franchise he created delivers a small but decently memorable kaiju film. It's made all the more delightfully comical in this English-dubbed version of the movie (sadly, the original Japanese cut is not available), which has a slightly altered order of events and different footage.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'King Kong vs. Godzilla' to Blu-ray on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside the standard blue case. At startup, viewers are taken directly to the start of the movie.
Cinema's two greatest monsters go head-to-head on Blu-ray with a strong and generally satisfying 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode. The source appears to have cleaned up nicely while still maintaining an attractive, thin layer of grain throughout. For the most part, the picture shows very good contrast and brightness levels, full of bright, crisp whites and mostly deep, accurate blacks. However, there are also a handful of scenes with poor resolution, revealing a fair amount of dirt and scratches which look a bit dull and discolored. Nevertheless, the high-def transfer is detailed with lots of sharp, fine lines and textures. The 2.35:1 image also comes with a bold, animated color palette that makes the overall movie fresh and appealing.
The battle rages on with a very good DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack that delivers a surprisingly engaging soundstage. Although entirely focused in the center, imaging feels broad and expansive with a great sense of presence and fidelity. Ignoring the terrible ADR and dubbing, dialogue reproduction is generally clean and precise. Dynamic range never extends too far into the upper frequencies, but the few times it does during action sequences, it is, for the most part, detailed. Sadly, there are also moments which reveal a tad of distortion and noise, making the fight scenes seem pretty bright. Low bass is appropriate but also somewhat robust and weighty for a film of this vintage.
This is a bare-bones release.
Although mostly enjoyed through brightly-colored glasses of nostalgia, 'King Kong vs Godzilla' nevertheless entertains through the unintentionally hilarious cheap production. However, on a more respectable level, the kaiju film also marks the return of both legendary monsters to the big screen, essentially kick-starting the giant monster craze of the 1960s. The Blu-ray arrives with strong video and slightly better audio, but wreaks havoc without a single supplement for support. In the end, the overall package is really for the most devoted of fans and cult enthusiasts.