Judge Clark Douglas eagerly awaits King Kong vs. Audience Disinterest.
"I'm not concerned about which one wins."
King Kong may be one of the most beloved movie monsters of all time, but his career on the big screen has been notably hit-and-miss. The iconic ape first appeared in the legendary 1933 adventure King Kong, which featured groundbreaking special effects courtesy of Ray Harryhausen. After the hastily-produced sequel Son of Kong was released, the character disappeared for a few decades before returning in the 1962 Toho production King Kong vs. Godzilla. A few years later, Toho teamed up with Rankin-Bass to simultaneously produce an animated television show (The King Kong Show) and a live-action tie-in movie. King Kong Escapes is an exceptionally odd flick, somehow trying to find a way to work Kong into a film which is one part Saturday morning cartoon, one part Japanese monster movie (directed by the legendary Ishiro Honda, naturally) and one part James Bond imitation.
Our cheesy and convoluted story is centered around the diabolical schemes of Dr. Who (yes, that's really his name, and he's played by Hideo Amamoto, Yojimbo), who just created a terrifying machine dubbed "Mechani-Kong" (as the name implies, it's basically a gigantic robot version of King Kong). Dr. Who takes Mechani-Kong to the North Pole and tasks it with digging for Element X, an extraordinarily rare radioactive substance. Alas, the radiation proves overwhelming for the robotic ape, causing it to shut down. As such, Dr. Who and his overbearing supervisor Madame Pirahna (Mie Hama, You Only Live Twice) determine that the only reasonable course of action is to hunt down the real King Kong and get him to finish the job.
Meanwhile, Kong is chilling out on Mondo Island, where he soon encounters American submarine commander Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason, Bus Stop) and the lovely Lt. Susan Watson (Linda Miller). After doing battle with some fearsome monsters, Kong begins developing feelings for Lt. Watson, which is no surprise given the beast's reputation as a ladykiller. Eventually, Kong, Mechani-Kong, Commander Nelson, Lt. Watson, Dr. Who and Madame Pirahna all find themselves locked in a deadly conflict with very high stakes.
Unlike certain other Kong flicks, King Kong Escapes has no pretensions about being anything other than 90-something minutes of goofy escapism. It IS a cartoon tie-in, after all, and as such frequently feels as if it's being pitched at very young viewers (one suspects that every line of dialogue in the screenplay was capped off with an exclamation point or four). Most of the actors have been badly dubbed, including some who are clearly speaking English anyway (I can only imagine how insufferable the real Linda Miller's voice must have been considering how irritating the loud, screechy voice they actually used is). It's a very dated, very silly movie, but it sports a certain enthusiastic charm which makes it a good deal more bearable than many of the hyper-serious blockbusters we're forced to endure these days. None of the special effects are even remotely convincing, but they nonetheless offer a handcrafted elegance of sorts. It isn't a "good" movie in any traditional sense, but I have to admit that I kind of had a good time with it, anyway.
King Kong Escapes (Blu-ray) sports a middling 1080p/2.35:1 transfer which looks a bit soft and weathered. There doesn't appear to have been much restoration work done on the flick. It doesn't look like a DVD, exactly, but it's definitely not one of the sharper-looking catalogue titles from the era. The DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio track is solid, presenting the (mostly-dubbed) dialogue and score with clarity. It's worth mentioning that the soundtrack features an obnoxious, high-pitched electronic noise which plays on an endless loop every time Mechani-Kong turns up. If there was one element of the film I found truly insufferable, it's that ill-advised bit of sound design. No supplements are included on the disc, which is a shame. Some more detailed info on the film's production history would have been appreciated, and I'm sure many fans wish the Japanese version of the film had been included.
While King Kong Escapes certainly isn't Kong's finest big-screen adventure. It's a goofy, good-natured bit of retro fun which should prove entertaining enough for genre aficionados. A pity the Blu-ray release is so underwhelming.
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