King Kong, having fallen in love with the beautiful Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller), is kidnapped from his Mondo Island home by the evil Dr. Hu (Eisei Amamoto) to dig for precious gems in a mine when the robot, MechaKong, is unable to complete the task. Soon, though, the machine and the real Kong engage in a tremendous battle that threatens to level Japan.
A kinder, gentler and more caring Kong is tasked with vanquishing his greatest and deadliest foe: a giant robot version of himself. The last time moviegoers saw the overgrown ape was in his battle against another "King of the Monsters," the destructive oversized lizard Godzilla. And like in that movie, this Kong is not exactly the same colossal creature seen in the 1933 film, yet director Ishirô Honda and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, masterminds of the Godzilla movies starting with the 1954 original, make some attempt at returning to Willis O'Brien's vision. This Kong is back to his original size and the costume is closer to O'Brien's design. In fact, if we want to really get technical and geeky about it (Nerd fight!!), Kong wouldn't even reach Godzilla's knees. It'd be like watching Andre the Giant going up against a ferocious Chihuahua!
But I digress. In 'King Kong Escapes,' the filmmakers essentially ignore the events of the previous movie, as if starting over from scratch. However, that's neither here nor there because Takeshi Kimura's script is technically a loose adaptation of the Rankin/Bass cartoon series 'The King Kong Show' where Kong is more of a protective, lovable giant with a few heroic qualities. Toho had the hairy character on loan from Universal, but the expiration date was fast approaching, which had the company scrambling for ideas to take advantage before their time was up. As a side note, Kong was originally intended to star in a death match against the giant lobster Ebirah, but the script was rejected and later became 'Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster.' He was also set to make one final appearance in 'Destroy All Monsters,' a mega clash between various imagined brutes. Unfortunately, by the time the movie went into production, Toho's license was about to expire and they replaced Kong with Gorosaurus.
Funnily, the giant T-Rex character of that movie is basically the same creature — exact costume and all — as the one that does battle against Kong, though it doesn't have a name. But this is another area in which the filmmakers blend aspects of the 1933 classic with Toho's own vision, functioning almost like subtle winks and nods. And much like the original, the fight is the result of another beauty and the beast situation with Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller) loosely standing in for Fay Wray's Ann Darrow. It's love at first sight for the massive gorilla — something about the blonde hair and fair skin — because he's instantly protective of her. Later, Honda and his team design one final battle for Kong atop the Tokyo Tower which quickly reminds fans of the Empire State Building ending.
But again, back to the movie and a quick explanation of how Lt. Watson catches Kong's eye and brings out his lovey-dovey side. She's part of Navy submarine crew with Commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason) and Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura (Akira Takarada), who apparently have an interest on the legend of King Kong. When the submarine suffers from technical issues and forced to resurface, the crew conveniently makes a pit stop at Mondo Island, the home of the 60-foot ape giant. While the two men blindly explore the strange, uninhabited land — you know, because that's what men do — Watson is made to wait by the hover vehicle alone, supposedly because she'll be safer there, which of course turns out to be utter hogwash. Anyhow, during Kong's daring rescue of the lieutenant, she quickly discovers the creature obeys her commands, essentially making Watson a female version of Bobby Bond from the Kong cartoon series.
The filmmakers borrow other aspects from the Saturday morning cartoon as well, most notably the plot's main villain, the weaselly, conniving and creepily twisted Dr. Who (played with awesome hilarity and seriousness by Hideyo Amamoto), who shares no relation to the BBC sci-fi series. Major difference is that this flamboyant doctor has a full-head of gray hair, doesn't wear glasses and largely feels like a composite of various Bond villains. Working with wealthy investor Madame Piranha (Mie Hama), who's nationality remains a mystery, the evil mad scientist kidnaps Kong and designs the beast's doppelganger Mechani-Kong, also based on the cartoon and about seven years before the introduction of Mechagodzilla. The two creatures are used for mining a rare radioactive element as part of a large plan for world domination. However, the evildoers soon learn that you can take the beast out of the jungle, but you can't take the jungle out of the beast, leading to all-out battle of monster versus machine.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings 'King Kong Escapes' 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.
Kong breaks free with a surprisingly good and generally attractive 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that shows great clarity and resolution throughout. For an almost 40-year-old movie, the source used appears to be in excellent condition, as fine object and textural details look fairly sharp. Each leaf and branch in trees is plainly visible, individual hairs and stitching in the costumes is distinct, and the faces of actors reveal lifelike complexions with good, healthy skin tones. Primaries are bold and vivid, making the presentation look rejuvenated and colorful, while secondary hues are cleanly-rendered with plenty of warmth. Contrast and brightness levels are very well-balanced, providing the 2.35:1 image with brilliant whites and deep, rich blacks which add appreciable dimensionality.
Kong roars and hollers for his escape with a strong and mostly good DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but sadly, it does come with a few minor drawbacks worth mentioning. Most immediate is some very low-level noise and very light hissing in the background, though only a few sequences make it more apparent than others. Dynamics and acoustics seem rather limited and narrow with the upper frequencies coming off too bright and garish at times, especially during action sequences and in the musical score. But for the most part, mid levels remain clean with a generally pleasing soundstage. In spite of the obvious ADR work, vocals are well-prioritized and comprehensible. Low bass is unimpressive but adequate and appropriate for an action monster flick of this age.
This is a bare-bones release.
Not a direct sequel to any known franchise, 'King Kong Escapes' is a wholly original movie starring the giant ape. However, the plot is loosely based on a then-popular Saturday morning cartoon series with various nods to the 1933 classic. The Blu-ray arrives with a good audio and video presentation, but the bare-bones release will likely only attract the most hardened and devoted of Kong fans.