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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Son of Kong (1933) - Review

 It had been years since I last set eyes on Son of Kong, and I had forgotten just how disappointing this film actually is, but it does go to show us that quick cash grab sequels are as old as the film industry itself.   Released a mere eight months after the blockbuster King Kong this sequel pales in comparison on practically every level. RKO decided on two key factors that would insure it made a ton of money; first cut the budget in half (cause that always results in bigger profits), and make it more “kid friendly” as the youth market is where the money is, though during the depression I’m not sure what disposable income kids had, but then again I’m not a big movie exec so what do I know. Ruth Rose, Son of Kong's script writer, made no attempt to make a serious film out of this sequel on the grounds that there was no way it could surpass the success of the original, stating, "If you can't make it bigger, make it funnier." 


The film starts out promising enough with Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) hiding out in a boarding house from process servers, because everyone and his aunt is suing him for the carnage caused by the escaped Kong. Eventually he hooks up again with Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and Charlie the ships cook (Victor Wong) as the only other returning cast members from the original. They set sail just ahead of a Grand Jury indictment and then try to make a go of it by shipping cargo in the Dutch Indies. It’s in the port of Dakang that we meet our other two key players; Hilda (Helen Mack), daughter of a drunken ex-circus ringmaster, who helps her father make a living by singing badly while playing the guitar, and Helstrom (John Marston) who in a drunken brawl kills Hilda’s father, and burns down the tent. Now Helstrom has a connection with the original film as he is the man who provided Denham with the map to Kong’s Island, and now that he really needs to get out of Darkang, what with Hilda threatening to tell to the magistrate that he murdered her father, he convinces the incredibly gullible Denham and Englehorn that there is treasure on Skull Island.


"Also I've a got a bridge for sale and some great land in Florida you may be interested in."

Hilda, who also wants out of Dakang, stows away aboard the Venture not knowing that her father’s murderer is now one of the crew.  Helstrom, a coward at heart, has no intention of setting foot on the dangerous island so he fills the unruly crew with stories of how several of the previous crew died during Denham’s last trip to Skull Island, and in all fairness he’s actually telling the truth about this. There is a quick mutiny that finds Denham, Englehorn, Charlie, and Hilda being dumped into a lifeboat, but before Helstrom can wallow in his victory the crew toss the traitorous bastard overboard as well, and so lily-livered Helstrom ends up joining the group on their trip to Skull Island.


"I'm sure the place has mellowed out since we were last here."

Now here is one of the film’s major problems, we are now at about the 40 minute mark in a 69 minute movie yet we’ve just now gotten to Kong’s island. This is obviously caused by the reduced budget, and the fact that the events on the island itself seem really rushed doesn’t help.  After getting a rude welcome from the natives, a thrown spear and threats indicate that they aren’t all that happy with how Denham and company lead a rampaging Kong through their village during their last visit, so the group is forced to make their way to the far side of the island, and that is where they meet the son of Kong.


"If that's Kong's kid we better keep an eye out for the mom, she'll really be pissed at us."

While Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie march off to look for provision, Denham and Hilda stumble on a small version of Kong trapped in quicksand. Feeling a bit guilty over getting this guys dad killed, Denham knocks over a tree and helps young Kong escape. Denham’s line, “He’s not a patch after his old man” pretty much sums up the whole film. The 12-foot white haired ape is played completely for laughs, and not particularly effective laughs either. They have given him the cooing sounds of a baby chimp, and the slapstick antics of a Max Sennet silent comedy star, none of which makes him a very effective character. When Denham and Hilda are threatened by a giant cave bear, looking more like a guy in a terrible bear suit than a ferocious animal, young Kong charges to the rescue.   We are then treated to a fight that is more reminiscent of a couple of two five year olds fighting over a favorite toy than it does a titanic struggle between titans.


And by titans we mean overly large gorilla and really big bear.

Meanwhile Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie had been chased into a rocky nook by a styracosaur. Trivia Note: The styracosaur was a left over dinosaur that was cut from the original King Kong.   It was the dinosaur that chased the sailors onto the log bridge that Kong topples them off of, and here once again it is proven that the styracosaurus is not very effective when it comes to catching humans as all he does is eat their gun, and that it’s for that exciting moment.


"I am a herbivore after all.

After stumbling upon some ancient ruins Denham is sure he will find the treasure behind a rock wall, and with little Kong’s help they break into an old temple. Inside they find a huge altar and hanging from a nasty looking idol is a necklace containing a huge diamond, but of course as you know a dragon must guard all treasure, and so another lackluster fight ensues. The encounter between young Kong and this refugee from a fantasy film is less slapstick in comparison to the cave bear fight, there is certainly less eye rolling and tweetie bird sound effects, but it is in no way in the same league as the Kong/T-Rex fight from the original.


Son of Kong in the Temple of Doom.

When Englehorn, Helstrom and Charlie return, the styracosaur we assume became as bored as us viewers and had just wandered away, the group is shocked to see this large ape hanging with Denham and Hilda. Helstrom’s panicked reaction to seeing a 12 foot ape is a bit much, after all compared to the dinosaur that chased them the night before little Kong isn't very threatening, yet he flees like the coward he is. He is then quickly eaten by a sea serpent, so that makes it all right.


Helstrom versus the Loch Ness Monster.

Then the island sinks. Yep, it’s that out of the blue. One minute Denham is holding his treasure and then the next the whole island is being racked by earthquakes, and set upon by hurricane level rain and wind.


The natives on this island just can't catch a break.

Why did this happen? Was the temple cursed? Did removing the necklace anger the gods of the island? Your guess is as good as mine. While Englehorn, Hilda, and Charlie were able to make it to the boat, and get free of the cataclysmic events on the island, poor Denham and little Kong had to flee to higher ground as the island sank beneath them.   All seemed lost, but the heroic son of Kong was able to hold Denham above the turbulent waters long enough for him to be rescued by his friends. Then his hand slips beneath the waves.


Kong's lawyers should join New York City in suing Denham.

Our heroes float around the pacific for a while before being rescued by a passing ship, and it’s while on board that Hilda basically asks Denham to marry her. The End.  Not quite the poetic "It was beauty killed the beast" ending we got in the original but at least we know no one is going back to that dangerous island ever again.  It's reported that Robert Armstrong preferred Son of Kong to it's predecessor, and I can see why, this time out Denham is the romantic lead and the script goes out of it's way to make the once callous film producer more likable.  When they've been rescued at the end of the film he tells Hilda that, "We'll split the treasure four ways," and what's great about that line is that it means Denham is giving millions to the Chinese cook without a second thought, which coming from a character in the 1930s is pretty impressive.  Way to go Carl.


"I may be responsible several deaths and countless amounts of damage, but I'm not a racist."

More than the rushed production and reduced budget it’s the tonal shift that makes this film really an unworthy successor to King Kong. The Skull Island we saw in the original film was a place fraught with danger at every turn, from the moment Ann Darrow was plucked from the altar by Kong to the battle atop the Empire State Building, the pace never let up.  Yet in Son of Kong you never really get the sense of urgency or danger which was so prevalent in the original. Of course the slapstick antics of young Kong certainly didn’t help, between his rolling his eyes and other goofy antics he really was more of a cartoon character than anything the viewer could become emotional involved in.  I seriously doubt we are ever getting a Peter Jackson remake of this one.


But seriously, where is this kid's mom?

King Kong (1933) vs. King Kong (1976)

Now that we've seen the Peter Jackson remake I thought it’d be nice to take a look back at the first two incarnations of the mighty Kong. In 1933 Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B, Schoedsack created a film that would change the look of cinema forever. There are many iconic images in film history but almost none are as grand as the site of a huge ape standing atop the Empire State Building, as he swats at attacking airplanes. Now flash forward to 1976 and director John Guillermin and producer Dino De Laurentiis have placed Rick Baker in an ape suite atop the World Trade Center. Let’s just say it doesn’t quite work as well as the original. For many years (long before I heard about Peter Jackson plans) I prayed for another attempt at doing the big hairy guy justice, and I’ve always saw it as a period piece, it only makes sense. Even in 1976 the local police would have had enough artillery on hand to take out gorilla no matter how large, and that in one point in the film, when Kong wades across the Hudson, that they lose track of him is rather ridiculous. (In all fairness to that film the police and army some how managed to lose track of the Rhedasaurus in The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms). Paramount should have realized that some stories could not be properly updated with out straining the laws of credibility. We can buy a pilot of a plane making a pass to close to the grasping arms of Kong, but what the hell was the helicopter pilot in the remake thinking when he got to close. How hard could it be to just hover out of reach and shoot? This guy ranks up there with the idiot chopper pilot in the Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla, who couldn’t shake the big lizard even when one of them can’t fly. So hearing that Jackson was setting the film in the thirties filled my heart with joy. Now let’s do as close of a direct comparison as we can. In the 1933 version it’s Carl Denham, a film producer who forms an expedition to seek out Skull Island to find this fabled beast known as Kong, and to make a motion picture. In 1976 we have the oil crisis, and so instead of a filmmaker we have a greedy capitalist oil executive Fed Wilson (Boo hiss) who is lead to believe that there is oil on the island. So in the original we a have man who actually finds what he was looking for and brings it back alive, and in the remake we have guy who finds out the oil on the island is worthless, so he settles on taking Kong as some kind of consolation prize. Carl Denham had hired Ann Darrow to be in his picture, while Fred Wilson finds Dwan adrift in a life raft. So right off the top it appears that the 1976 version is just relying on luck and happenstance to move the story forward. Once we get to the island the differences become even vaster. The crew lead by Denham find a village cut off from the rest of the island by a massive wall (a wall constructed for the 1927 King of Kings and later torched during the burning of Atlanta), Fred Wilson finds a wall that looks like a left over from Disney’s Polynesian resort. Both walls of course raise the same question, “If you’re trying to keep out giant beasts, what’s with the big friggin door?” When Ann or Dwan are kidnapped and given to Kong both versions run pretty parallel, with one major difference. In the 1976 movie we ask ourselves, “Where are the bloody dinosaurs?” Let’s talk monsters for awhile. In the original the sailors and Kong encounter a stegosaurus, a brontosaurus, a lizard from the pit, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, an elasmosaurus, and a pterandon. While in the remake made decades later we get a really big snake, and not even a particularly convincing snake I might add. The 1933 version's trek through the jungle, as amazing as it is, is not with out its faults. I especially love the one sailor who spots a broken branch as they trail Kong…what? This is a monster that is as big as a house who we just saw knocking down trees to make his way to the wall, and this idiot is noticing a broken branch. This also raises another question, how often do these sacrifices take place? Or do the trees that Kong knocks down belong to some peculiar strain of fast growing plant, if not he really should have a path pretty well beaten down by now. A couple of the dinosaurs are portrayed in a manner that might confuse today’s more educated audiences. Both the stegosaurus and brontosaurus (more correctly labeled today as an apatosaurus) are given behavior one wouldn’t normally expect from a herbivore. Though it is possible that they were very territorial creatures, and treated any incursion as a threat, and we never do actually see the men getting eaten. Still faults and all it really kicks the crap out of a guy in an ape suit wrestling a rubber snake. On to motives, neither film tries to give any kind of reason for why a thirty-foot ape would want with a tiny human, and I don’t buy the "for love thing". I have my own pet theory and am eager to hear people's opinions on it. What would a giant gorilla do with a little woman? Simple…he’d use her for bait. Think about it, you’re a big hairy ape and are the undisputed ruler of this island, so how do you pass the time? We never see a Mrs. Kong (we do get a Son of Kong in the sequel, but I guess we can assume his mom died some time before the King Kong story starts), so how does he get his jollies? The answer is simple…he loves to fight. But after awhile the other creatures on the island would have figured out that Kong could kick their proverbial asses up and down the jungle any time he wanted, so they'd probably avoid him at all cost. So what’s Kong to do? He goes to the village, picks up a woman, and then proceeds to leave her out in the open where any wandering dinosaur might hear her screams. Thinking it’s time for an easy meal the unsuspecting dino saunters up to this tiny morsel, but before he can dig in Kong jumps out, acting all self righteous, to “defend” his property. He then proceeds to rip the poor dinosaur a new one. And thus falls the noble T-Rex, elasmosaurus, and the pterandon. Now the lengths that he goes to retrieve Ann Darrow would suggest that he has grown somewhat attached to her as one would a favorite pet. Okay, back to the comparison. In the original film Kong breaks through the gates, and rampages through the village, killing all who would stand in his way, until he’s dropped by gas bombs thrown by Denham. In the 1976 movie he busts through the door, then immediately falls for the old pit trap trick, and quickly succumbs to the gas placed inside. Not much of a tough call on deciding which one is cinematically more interesting. Both versions gloss over how they got this huge beast from the island and onto the boat, but the 1976 version at least gives us a scene of Kong locked in the tankers hold. Where Carl Denham would have kept him on his boat the Venture is anyone’s guess. Once in New York we find that both Ann and Dwan are to be made media darlings and that they are to attend the unveiling of Kong. In the 1933 version Kong breaks free just shortly after the curtain goes up so one question was left unanswered, “Was the whole show just going to be Kong standing there chained to the platform? Or would there be film shown later or maybe dancing girls?” It does seem that Kong would have been more suitable as zoo attraction rather than a Broadway show, because he certainly wasn’t as talented as his smaller cousin was in the 1949 Mighty Joe Young. In the 1976 film Fred Wilson wanted to use Kong for promotional purposes, “Put a gorilla in your tank!” I’m not sure how this campaign would have worked out in the long run, but it does seem more plausible than people sitting down in a theatre to just stare up at a big ape. I’ve already touched on the problems the remake had when placing the story in a modern setting. Kong is not invulnerable, and I just don’t see him making it four blocks before the local precinct could fill him full of enough lead to bring him down. In 1933 you could readily believe that Kong would give them a run for their money. One of the things that annoyed me in remake was there attempt to make Kong more sympathetic. I thought the original did a fine job of showing us that Kong was just an animal set lose in an environment he didn’t understand, and lashing out in the only way he knew how. But that’s not good enough for Dino De Laurentiis, in a press conference he stated that, “Nobody cry when Jaws die, people gonna cry when Kong dies.” So we are subjected to scenes of Dwan trying protect Kong by trying to get him to pick her up so the helicopters won’t shoot him, while in the much more realistic original Ann couldn’t wait to get away from the terrifying beast that had kidnapped her. Let’s talk effects. Willis O’Brien ( mentor to Ray Harryhausen) was at the top of his game when he created the creatures that inhabit Skull Island, and decades later they still hold up against their CGI descendants. While Carlo Rambaldi’s robot was so bad that it was used for less than a minute in the scene were he breaks free at the Petrox celebration. The rest of the film contains Rick Baker in an ape suit. Mind you it’s a pretty good ape suit, much better than then the one used in King Kong Vs. Godzilla, but it’s still a man in a suit, thus some of the magic is gone. The fact that this film won an Academy Award for this is a crime. The original won no awards because the effect categories didn’t exist back than. Now I haven’t talked about the love story, and the reason being neither film was really successful on this point. But I’m certainly more forgiving of film made in thirties for having cheesy dialogue, and stilted acting. As I’m sure you’ve guessed I’m a huge fan of the original King Kong and have no real use for the remake. Both versions spawned sequels and neither of them is as good as the predecessor, though Son of Kong is leaps and bounds better than the crapfest that was King Kong Lives.


I’m not sure if director Burt Brinckerhoff was trying to rip-off Hitchcock’s The Birds or Speilberg's Jaws, the only thing to be sure of is that he failed to deliver one single cohesive moment in his entire film…so in that way it is kind of a frightening movie. I’ll give him a little credit for bravery as it certainly can’t be easy to make a scary film about domestic dogs turning on their masters, as Maramduke and Benji just aren’t all that intimidating. Most of the attacks are performed by Doberman Pinchers or German Sheppards, but the minute we see that the pack contains a shaggy eyed sheep dog, and a little terrier…well you kind of lose your fear factor.

The movie starts at a university faculty party where we are introduced to our two leads; the first is a beer-drinking professor of biology Dr. Harlan Thompson (David MacCullum), and his newly arrived rival Dr. Michael Fitzgerald (George Wyner). Fitzgerald immediately starts putting the moves on Caroline Donoghue (Sandra McCabe), the universities English professor, and current semi-girlfriend of Harlan. While the two men get into an intellectual version an alpha male pissing contest the party is brought to a halt by a black out. It seems the local community is plagued with power outages due to the experiments at a top-secret government facility that houses a linear particle accelerator. While the party breaks up we are told of an ominous dog attack, one of the professors while giving a lecture the other day was attacked by a Seeing Eye dog. This is brushed of as just a freak occurrence but on the way out of the party Harlan is intercepted by Jimmy Goodman (he maybe some kind of law enforcement but it’s never made clear), and is told that one of the local cattle ranchers has had more of his cows attacked in killed, so something more sinister maybe going on. The two drive out to the range and find a cow that has been viciously torn apart, but apparently not eaten, and the bite marks are not consistent making Harlan realize that they are dealing with a pack.
The next day we are treated to a lecture given by Fitzgerald, who tries futilely to teach a group of students (not one looking hardly under thirty) about pheromones, but has little success, as they seem all to be about as dumb as posts. He vainly tries to explain that some creatures give off an odor that when they form a larger collective it increases their intelligence, and radically changes their behavior.
Meanwhile Harlan is being informed that more cattle have been attacked and killed, and that the rancher has vowed to kill the beasts himself. Of course that night the rancher meets his fate at the jaws of a pack of dogs. Harlan hears of this and drags his date to the morgue to check out the body (he really knows what a lady likes), and confirms that a pack of dogs are roaming the hills. Then the morgue is plunged into darkness, as once again the linear particle accelerator drains the town’s power, and totally freaks out his date.
A group of dogs way lay a student on his motorcycle, and when a good Samaritan runs out with her dog to see what the commotion is about, is startled to see a group of domestic dogs tearing into the poor motorcyclist, but she is shocked even more when her own little pooch turns on her.
With the deaths mounting Harlan and Fitzgerald run to the dean of the university (this community seems to almost consist solely of people employed by the university or students so the dean seems to be the de-facto mayor). They try to get the dean to warn the populace about the dangers, and to have them lock their pets up at night. He of course refuses because he doesn’t want to start a panic, but during the meeting he receives a call and is informed that a kindergarten dog show went horrible wrong as the dogs suddenly turned on the crowd. The dean is still reluctant to do anything, but is eventually forced to notify the Governor, and after more cajoling by his wife, he informs (while assuring the Governor that the base with the linear particle accelerator is fine), that they may have a little dog problem.
After the attack on the kindergarten class a group of hunters, lead by Jimmy Goodman, form a posse (yes they call themselves a posse), and charge off into the night to find the dogs. They don’t have any luck, but just as they decide to make camp they hear howling all around them. Scratch one posse.
Meanwhile Harlan and Fitzgerald return to the university to perform an experiment on a dog (the dean lent them his), to see if in fact pheromones are the problem. If it is pheromones they plan on hosing down all the dogs with a stronger odor, thus canceling out the bad one. Their experiment (which involves locking the dog in a small cage covered in plastic while oxygen is pumped in, and don’t ask me what this is suppose to achieve as we are never told) is interrupted by unearthly howls, which causes the dog to go berserk, break out of the cage, and run off into the night.
Our two heroes decided maybe they should get some help and run over to the police room (and I do mean police room, and not police station as it consists soley of one tine room with a desk, a radio and a gun rack). The room is empty and only when Harlan opens a closet do they find the torn up body of the on duty officer (this could be Jimmy Goodman who survived the attack on the posse, and we last saw bleeding and crawling his way into his car, but we never get a look at his face). They grab the keys to the gun rack and outfit themselves with a couple of rifles. They then come across one of the teachers fighting for his life against a large dog; Fitzgerald shoots at the dog but ends up hitting and killing the teacher instead. Harlan puts a round into the dog, and wisely decides maybe they should split up (to quote Peter Venkman, “Yeah... we can do more damage that way.”) Fitzgerald runs to the campus residence and tries to get the students to all gather together at the library. This involves going outside, and running from building to building, completely in the open (not the best plan in my opinion), and this results in a major dog attack. Even those that make it to the library don’t fair too well as it’s front is glass, and is shattered when a dog pushes one of his victims through it. Mass carnage ensues, ending with most everyone dead except Fitzgerald who just sits in a catatonic state, next to a female victim.
Harlan had raced over to his girlfriend’s house with the brilliant plan of getting out of town (well after pouring himself a drink first), but the two quickly find themselves chased out of the house, and into the adjoining garage. Unfortunately Caroline left her purse with the keys to the car in the kitchen, so the pair seemed trapped. Harlan tries to hotwire the car saying, “I haven’t tried this since I was ten years old”, which is an odd age to be hotwiring cars, but either he was no good back then or has lost his touch, as he is unsuccessful. The dogs start chewing through the drywall, and coming through the vents (Harlan tells Caroline that aside from the assumed hive mind the pheromones have caused it must have also given the increased strength as well), so they then lock themselves inside the car.
Morning comes and all is quiet, so Harlan sends Caroline into the house to get the keys (without even taking a peak in himself to see if the coast is clear, the bastard!), and she opens the door to the kitchen to be confronted by a pack of angry dogs. She screams and then joins Harlan in a mad dash across the street to his car, they hop in and drive away. On route out of town they come across a police car that has run off the road, and next to it is the bloody remains of Fitzgerald (I’m hoping somewhere there is a scene explaining how catatonic Fitzgerald commandeered a police car, and then met his fate on the outskirts of town). They turn on the radio and are informed that there has been like incidents all over California, but as yet the death toll is unknown, and does seem to be limited to just dog attacks. The car drives off into the distance as the camera zooms in on a tawny cat, it meows, and the camera freeze-frames on it. The End.

Ignoring the leaps in logic our main characters make, or even forgiving them the complete and utter stupidity of their actions, my biggest problem was with mysterious government facility with the linear particle accelerator. For the first hour some idiot or another mentions it about every ten minutes, and yet we never go there, and no connection is made between the facility and the dog attacks. None! Instead the movie ends with the word of dog attacks all over the state. I can only assume there were maybe earlier drafts of the screenplay that involved the facility, and were cut for budgetary reasons, and we were just left with the remnants of them that they didn’t bother to excise. This was Burt Brinckerhoff only foray to the big screen, as he is mostly known for TV shows, and after this outing I’m surprised that let him go on to work on such classic shows as Alf. So be warned that if you are flipping through the channels late one night and you come across this “dog” keep on flipping, it’s not worth your time.

The Poseidon Adventure (2005)

Rushing to the small screen, to attempt to cut the legs out from under Wolfgang Peterson’s big summer remake, was this absolutely dreadful version of Paul Gallico’s book (to make things more insulting they name the captain after him), so don’t expect to see anything even remotely close to the 1972 Irwin Allen movie. Some shots are even lifted directly from Allen’s version, but done with cheap looking CGI effects. The biggest change from the original story is the terrorist angle, instead of a rogue wave capsizing the S.S. Poseidon it’s the explosion of a bomb, set off by your generic Middle Eastern bad guys, that causes the ship to roll over. I didn’t see this change adding any dramatic tension to the survivor’s escape, aside from the stupid inclusion of one of the terrorists in the group of survivors trying to escape the doomed ship, which I just found completely unnecessary, and was barely even dealt with. I swear the writers forgot about his existence half the time.

In the first scene we are given a raid on a warehouse that contains a group of Middle Eastern terrorists who are plotting three major strikes on “soft” American targets. Places outside the Continental U.S. but still big enough cause a major bloody nose to the American people. The raid is only partly successful because they can deduce that the targets were for land, sea, and air, but the information on the sea target has been destroyed. Three guesses on what that target is, and the first two don’t count.

Now let’s meet our cast. First we have the Clark family, and the head of this family is Richard Clark (Steve Guttenberg) a failed novelist who is supported by his very successful wife Rachel Clark (Alexa Hamilton), we have the hot daughter Shelby (Amber Sainsbury), and the annoying son Dylan (Rory Copus), who runs throughout the whole movie with his video camera, thinking he is a Spielberg in the making. This is a very dysfunctional family, and the fighting and bickering tells us all one thing…that this disaster tonight will bring them all closer together. (Blech) The fact that Steve Gutenberg’s character is so unlikable, and has you praying for him to go down with the ship, doesn’t help. He ends up in the arms of the ship’s onboard masseuse in one of the worst written onscreen affairs that I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing.
But where is our hero? Oh look people it’s Adam Baldwin as Mike Rogo (kind of the role played by Ernest Borgnine in the original but not really), trying hard to lose whatever affection we may have had for him in Firefly. Rogo is a Sea Marshal, and is working for Homeland Security. When he is told by Captain Paul Gallico (Peter Weller) that this is the safest ship in the world we are treated to a sample of Rogo’s sharp wit, “It’s safe until it isn’t.” Wow, he should give up marshaling, and write fortune cookies for a living.
Okay let’s quickly sketch out the rest of the cast; there is Bishop Schmidt (Rutger Hauer in the Gene Hackman role), Belle Rosen (Sylvia Syms filling in for Shelly Winters) who I guess for budgetary reasons is a widow in this version, and then there is the Doctor Ballard (C. Thomas Howell), who has aged so much I barely recognized him, and when he starts hitting on the Clark girl it just made my skin crawl. Last and certainly least is Bryan Brown as some producer of a “Pop Idol” show, who is traveling with his new wife and third prizewinner of said show.
Somehow fooling the background checks of the cruise line the terrorists have infiltrated the S.S. Poseidon as members of the kitchen staff, and have smuggled aboard two bombs hidden inside beer kegs. A murdered crewman has Rogo hot on their trail, but he is only able to prevent one of the bombs from going off, and the blast from the portside bomb causes the ship to roll over.
Due to his affair being exposed by his hotshot videographer son, Richard Clark has moved in with the masseuse, and is in bed with her when the bomb goes off. So with new girlfriend in tow they make their way down to the ballroom to find his family. Meanwhile things haven’t gone all that well in the ballroom, as everyone was tossed ass over teakettle as the ship was capsized. The stunts for the most part were decent but nothing to write home to mom about, and only the cheap CGI duplication of the man’s fall into the skylight is really offensive. As for the CGI effects of the big boat itself…let’s just say they’re as bad as expected and move on.

As in the original there is a division on what course of action to take. The Chief Purser insists they all stay and wait for rescue, while others think the best bet is to climb up through the ship, and hopefully make their way to the hole the bomb made in the hull. Quite a sensible plan, and I can’t see how anybody could possibly argue with it, yet the purser actually threatens to have Bishop Schmidt fired when he decides to join the group that is leaving. I had no idea a ships purser had that kind of pull with the
Vatican. The group that leaves is lead by Rogo who insist on bringing the one surviving terrorists with them. Now dragging along a suicide bomber along while the ship is sinking around you has to be one of the worst ideas of all time, up there with New Coke.

The makers of this version now shoot themselves in the foot, by removing all possible suspense. Shelby Clark decides she must stay and help the doctor (he nastily broke his arm) with the injured. She tells her mother to take Dylan and go, but to leave markers along the way that her and the doctor can follow at a later time. Say goodbye dramatic tension folks, it never returns. In the original film the group barely make it up a makeshift ladder (the ships Christmas tree, duplicated here as well), before the ocean pours in killing all those who stayed behind with the purser. This TV version has the people in the ballroom last for about six hours, and only meets their fate after Richard and the masseuse finally arrive, and take the daughter and doctor with them. Yes, just as the second group leaves (I’m guessing due to the sunrise we saw earlier that at least five or six hours has elapsed), the ocean finally bursts in. The movie’s cutting back and forth between the Navy Operation headquarters, their search for the missing liner, and the survivors onboard, has further destroyed any possible tension. The isolation and doomed atmosphere that existed in the original is completely missing here.
This version even removes the “noble sacrifice” on two separate occasions. In the 1972 version Shelly Winters dives in to save the reverend from drowning, she frees him from being pinned underwater by collapsed wreckage, then tragically dies of a heart attack, and providing one of the most powerful scenes in the movie. In this remake Mrs. Rosen just grabs the rope and dives in to lead the way, the Bishop quickly follows, and gets to have the touching moment of watching her die. Did the writers of this remake actually think this made any dramatic story sense?

Miraculously the two groups then meet up! So I guess the first group was really lollygagging along, giving the second bunch plenty of time to catch up. This just makes my head hurt. They finally make it to the where the bomb blasted a hole in the ships side, but too much wreckage blocks the way. Navy Seals have arrived and try to blast their way through the blockage, but they of course fail. On to the back-up plan! The second bomb that Rogo prevented from being detonated can be used to blow another hole, and allow them to escape. The problem is that the bomb is located in the engine room, which currently holds a lake of fire, and a rickety catwalk is the only way across. Now we get to the loss of the second “noble sacrifice” In the original after Rogo’s wife (no wife in this version, she’s at home with the kids) is killed, Gene Hackman had to jump to a valve to shut off a jet of steam that blocked their path, and after succeeding he dropped to the flames below. A very powerful moment that Hackman really sold. In this version we get Steve Gutenberg giving his family “If I don’t make it know that I’ve always loved you” speeches, but he makes it across with no problem. The masseuse on the other hand, who had the misfortune of sleeping with this loser, falls to her death. I’m not sure what kind of family values message this film was trying to make. Oh, I almost forgot about the terrorists (as did the writers for most of this film), during the crossing of the lake of fire Rogo has a scuffle with him, and the terrorist plunges to his fiery fate. Glad they brought him along.
The Bishop volunteers to activate the bomb because Rogo has a family and yadda-yadda-yadda, so do we finally get our noble sacrifice? Not a chance, the bomb goes off, the Bishop dusts himself off, and everybody jumps out of the hole, and into the waiting arms of the Seal team. The kid sits in one of the zodiacs and records the ship sinking beneath the waves. The End. Thank god this ordeal is finally over.

So if you really want to see a film about a group of people trying to make their way through the bowels of a capsized ocean liner I urge you to run out and rent the Irwin Allen versions, or wait for the Wolfgang Peterson remake with Kurt Russell and Josh Lucas, it has to be better than this one.

Raging Sharks

In shot right out of Aliens a ship that looks like a cross between the Sulaco and the Battlestar Galactica glides across the screen in all it’s majestic wonder, but unfortunately the occupants are two aliens that are more reminiscent of Pinky and the Brain than galactic conquerors, and while bickering in some alien language their ship plows into a huge space station and explodes. A cylinder survives the explosion and soars off through space were it, funnily enough reaches Earth, and slams into a Russian freighter destroying it in a cataclysmic concussive shockwave.

When I picked up this movie from a two for $7 dollar bin I expected your usual low budget shark attack movie, certainly not an opening scene that included an alien spacecraft disaster and a surviving capsules plummeting to Earth. Nothing on the DVD case alluded to an otherworld connection, were the marketers afraid of the sheer stupidity of it, or is it maybe suppose to be a cool reveal? Well I’m only four minutes in so it’s too early to tell.

A title card tells us that it is the Bermuda Triangle Impact Zone Five years later, and deep below the stormy waves of the Atlantic we get our first glimpse of the Oshona Deep Sea Lab and its inhabitants of young and attractive scientists. The sea lab itself is ten years old and everything is starting to break down, all the scientists on board are complaining that they can’t achieve their goals with antiquated equipment, while the project director Mike Olsen (a Kevin Bacon wannabee) would like to see it fail so he and his wife Linda could finally get a job on dry land. Is that a common goal for oceanographic researchers? Meanwhile magnetic spikes seem to be drawing a large number of sharks to the neighborhood, and strange crystals have been found with no Earthly origins.

The excitement quickly mounts as two divers sent out to fix a relay box are attacked by a school of sharks, Linda heroically (in other words stupidly) gets into her wetsuit and swims out to help. Of course she only finds the dead bodies and a bunch of really nasty predators, which she is able to fend off with her trusty knife and dive lamp. Things get a bit worse as one of the sharks chews threw the cable that provides the lab its external power. I guess this shark never saw Jaws 2. But then again this shark shows no ill effects. (Right there I was expecting some one to cry out, “They’ve cut the power? How could they cut the power? They’re just animals!” But I guess the writers were able to show some restraint.) The sharks then begin severing the remaining cables that run up to the support ship.

Mike Olsen, who had gone stateside just prior to the attack, is rushed back to lead the rescue aboard a Navy sub commanded by a disgruntled Corbin Bernsen. So at least we know we’re in good hands. Also aboard the sub is a callous insurance investigator to find out if he’s going to sue them for breach of safety regulations. He may as well be wearing a vest made of chum. Meanwhile the support ship sends a diver down to investigate and he is quickly eaten by a roaring shark…which as this film goes on would seem to have been a more appropriate title. The sharks continue to eat anyone who tries to reach the sea lab, and all seems hopeless for the group of people that we neither care about nor particularly like.

There are a couple of sea lab engineers that are working on repairs, one complains incessantly while the other just agrees with him in such a familiar way that I think Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton should be seeking legal action. When head complainer guy refuses to go outside to do the necessary repairs Linda calls him a coward. Yeah, refusing to go outside amongst an armada of killer sharks who tore apart the last two guys who ventured out sure sounds like cowardice to me.

More sharks decide to make a side trip and turn a Bermuda beach into one giant smorgasbord, but one shark is captured and when cut open alien crystals are found in its intestines. A news boat sailing out to catch some footage of the sharks is rammed and sunk, then tension is ratcheted to new heights when it’s revealed the sub has no rescue apparatus on board, and then things start to get silly. Well that’s all the spoilers I’m going to give as I wouldn’t want to deprive any of you of the joy this movie will bring you.

This film is definitely in the Shark Attack class as far as script and acting goes, but the shark effects are actually quite good and don’t rely on CGI all that often. The biggest visual blunder is that we constantly see the surface of the water just above the divers or the sharks that are swimming around thus making it a not to convincing deep sea research station. Still as shark films go can you pass up seeing one that gleefully rips off such films as Alien & Aliens, Jaws 2, Deep Blue Sea, and The Abyss?

King Kong: The Animated Series

For those of you who are fond of the Rankin-Bass/Toho production of King Kong Escapes it may be worth your while to check out the show that was responsible for it, King Kong: The animated series. In 1966 Rankin and Bass wanted to do a King Kong cartoon but the only way they could get the rights from RKO was if they promised to do a live action Kong movie, and thus King Kong Escapes became their first non-animated feature. The film was loosely tied in with the series; most of the cartoon’s episodes take place on Mondo Island (though some times called Skull Island), there is a pretty girl named Susan (but Susan Bond in the cartoon as opposed to Susan Watson in the movie), and of course one of the recurring villains in the series is that international Judas, Dr. Who.

Professor Bond (it is mentioned that he is an anthropologist, but like many scientist he is also an expert in zoology, geology, and botany) has come to Mondo Island to do research on whatever seems to strike his fancy, and like his predecessor Doctor Benton Quest he insist on bringing his family into a potentially dangerous situations. His teen-age daughter Susan seems to work as his assistant, but it is Bobby Bond who is the central character to the show, it is he who finds Kong and befriends him. The family is dropped off on Mondo Island by Captain Englehorn (this is the only tie in with the 1933 classic and in name only as in this version he is the captain of the Java Queen not the Venture, and looks more like a Japanese version of Mister Magoo than actor Frank Reicher) who warns them of the dangers of the island and specifically of the beast Kong, and he urges the professor to return with him back to the ship. The Professor will hear none of that and the next morning he sends his children out to look for some rare moss. His sole parenting thought is that they should stay with in ear shot. Letting your kids wander around an uncharted and reputedly dangerous island by themselves, yep I don’t see him winning any father of the year awards in the near future.

Bobby of course strolls well beyond ear shot and deep into the jungle where he witnesses a pterodactyl fly off with a hapless armadillo, nearly bumps into a stegosaurus, and then finds himself face to face with a T-Rex. But just as Bobby is about to become a dino-snack Kong appears, grabs the T-Rex by the tail, swings it around and bashes it repeatedly into the ground until it’s dead. Kong and Bobby then become fast friends and the kid convinces Kong to come and meet his family. After a the shock of Bobby’s new friend wears off they all accept the big ape, which is good because it’s the big lug who saves them all from a tidal wave that soon crashes over the island.

Professor Bond wants to do some tests on Kong but the equipment he has with him on the island won’t do, and so they decide to take Kong to the Science Foundation labs in Virginia. Unfortunately getting him there is easier said then done. They get Kong to help build a raft and then they tow the raft behind Engelhorn’s ship the Java Queen. The voyage starts out smoothly until they spot a ship in distress, and it’s up to Kong to wrestle with a kraken to save both ships, which he defeats by stabbing it with the broken mast off the ship. Kongs troubles are far from over as the next day a storm strikes and the raft Kong is on is acting as a sea anchor and is endangering the ship. Captain Englehorn gives Bobby a lesson in morality and makes Bobby cut the tow line, and thus dooming his best friend to die in the storm.

Kong of course does not die but wades ashore in New York City. The army and navy is mobilized but before they can move into kill the ape they are told by the President that an expert is coming to deal with the situation. The Bond family is flown to New York and Bobby, the Kong expert, is given a helicopter to try and talk Kong into leaving the city, but unfortunately the sound of the copters rotors drowns out his voice. Meanwhile Susan has gone to where Kong is rampaging to give talking to him a try, and when tanks fire near her Kong thinks she is in danger, grabs her and legs it to (you guessed it) the Empire State Building. Jets are launched with the intent to scare him off the building. The buzzing planes almost make Kong drop Susan so the ape sets her down to deal with the threat, allowing the planes to now go into kill mode. Bobby takes off to save his buddy and breaks through the military cordon and makes his way up the observation deck. He reaches his Kong just as the ape rips the wing off a passing jet. The pilot bales out safely but the jet crashes into support cables of the Center City Bridge (looks like the Brooklyn Bridge to me) and it starts to fall apart. Bobby chastises Kong for causing all this mess and orders him to go and save the people trapped on the collapsing bridge. Kong easily holds the bridge up while emergency repair parties get to work. The pilot episode ends with the mayor giving Kong the key to the city, and which the big ape immediately sticks in his mouth and chews on.

Most of the series takes place on Mondo/Skull Island with a few outside adventures taking place in Egypt, San Francisco, and the North Pole. Kong fights off many different foes each week such as; under dwellers from Vulcania, giant African killer bees, big game hunters, and even spacemen. But the main nemesis in the series is Dr. Who (looking like a cross between Simon Barsinister and Dr. Silvana) and almost every episode with Dr. Who involves him usually kidnapping some or all of the Bond family, and with plans to hold the world ransom or to control Kong (for what purpose is never made clear) then having these plans stomped on by Kong. Each story is quite short, at about eight minutes each, so the repetitive nature of some of the plots isn’t to annoying, and it does have simply one of the coolest theme songs ever produced. If the Bobby Bond’s voice seems familiar it should as Billie Richards, the actress who provided it, was also the voice of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in the Rankin and Bass Christmas classic. Now if you are a true Kong fan I advise you to check these out, but a word of warning, the pilot episode is divided, part one is on Vol.1 and part two is on Vol.2 of the DVDs.

Kingdom of the Spiders

How can you not love a film that has an opening scene where a 200 lb calf is stalked by a tarantula? The spider POV is right out of Jaws, for the attack itself they throw in the music sting from Psycho, and finally to show us the complete brilliance of the filmmakers they go for a tromboning zoom that wouldn’t look out of place in Dr Tongue’s 3D House of Pancakes.

Kingdom of the Spiders is your typical man against nature film common in the post Jaws era, which pits local veterinarian Dr. Rack Hansen (William Shatner) against a horde of bloodthirsty arachnids. Animals may be first on the menu that changes quickly as these eight legged critters start knocking off the locals as well, but why won’t the mayor listen to the warnings of Rack Hansen? Well because the County Fair is starting up, and we certainly wouldn’t want to scare away those tourist dollars. Sound familiar? And the makers of this film didn’t want to limit themselves to ripping off Jaws as there is a “meet cute” between Shatner and the movies love interest where she mistakes him for a garage attendant, and he plays along with her assumption. Those of you who have seen The Birds will be rolling your eyes during this scene.

Entomologist/love interest Dr Diane Ashley (Tiffany Bolling) discovers that the these spiders have five times the level of toxicity of normal tarantulas, and deduces that the use of DDTs has killed off the normal food source of the spiders so now they are massing an army to move up the food chain. An attempt to spray the spider mounds with even stronger poison is thwarted when the pilot of the crop duster is bitten to death mid flight. A small group led by Shatner make their way up to the local lodge and barricade themselves in, while in town the populace is running around in mass hysteria as spiders overrun, kill and cocoon what every they can get their tiny little fangs into. At the lodge things don’t fair much better as the phone doesn’t work (switchboard operator cocooned), and the spiders cut the power by crawling into the fuse box and short circuiting it.

I won’t give away the ending for those few out there that haven’t seen this flick, but let’s just say it’s a real kicker. As rip-offs and cheap 70s horror flicks go it does have some great visuals to offer. 10,000 real spiders were used and the sight of them crawling over their victims is enough to make anyone’s skin crawl, and especially if it’s over the prone body of a small child. So for those who like a good insect versus man film I can easily recommend Kingdom of the Spiders, and those connoisseurs of Shatner this is a must see. His Rack Hansen is a bigger sexual predator than Kirk ever was, he strings along his widowed sister-in-law while making moves on the pretty blonde entomologist. Luckily the spiders narrow his options for him.

So run don’t walk to your local video store, and pick up the king of all spider movies, then sit back for a fun night of creepy crawlies.

King Kong Escapes

How do you top a film like King Kong vs. Godzilla? Well one step in the right direction is to make Kong’s nemesis a giant robot version of himself. I so loved the look and design of the Mecha-Kong when I was a kid that I grabbed a bunch of building blocks, and tube of Elmer’s glue to build my own. Seeing it this many years later one thing stands out clear, which is that every military in the world should at least have one giant robot Kong in their arsenal. King Kong Escapes was produced by Rankin/Bass too tie in with their animated series The King Kong Show, which ran from1966 to1969. As part of their licensing deal for the show they had to deliver a new live action feature film, so they united themselves with Toho Productions allowing us once again to be treated to the sight of Kong stomping Tokyo into the dust. Of course this film is in no way a sequel to King Kong vs. Godzilla this time out Kong is a mere 60ft tall as opposed to his 160ft height he had when battling Godzilla. Also characters once again mention Kong as a mere legend with no reference to him either climbing the Empire State Building or fighting Godzilla across Japan. They even change the name of the island Kong is found on; it’s neither Skull Island as in the 1933 original or Farou Island from the earlier Toho film, nope this time Kong is from Mondo Island.

The film begins with a submarine gliding through the depths of the South Pacific on an oil seeking mission for the United Nations. Lieutenant Susan Watson, a nurse aboard the sub, walks in on Commander Nelson (no not the guy from I Dream of Genie), and Lt. Commander Jiro Nomura who are going over some artist rendering of Kong. The idea of a giant ape intrigues Susan, but though their mission goes near Mondo Island they can’t be making pit stops on the UN’s dime.

Meanwhile at the North Pole inside a secret base we get our first look at robot Kong. Dr. Who (no not the Timelord) has built the robot under the exact specifications from drawings stolen from Commander Nelson. Madam X, a representative of the government that hired Dr. Who, is not convinced that he has not just made a giant toy, but he assures her that his robot can do everything the real Kong could do. For those of you wondering exactly what one would need with a robotic replica of Kong for, well the answer is simple, to dig out element X (and no it isn’t the shaving cream atom, that’s Illudium Phosdex and located on Planet X), a mineral that will apparently lead Madame X’s country to nuclear domination of the world within 100 days. Unfortunately Mecha-Kong’s first trial does not go that well as the magnetic mass of element X fries the robots circuits, and Dr. Who is forced to re-engineer Mecha-Kong with shielded circuits.

Back aboard the submarine an underwater rock slide causes damage to the ships reactor and rudder, so they put into bay on Mondo Island to make repairs. While the sub is being repaired our three heroes take a hover vehicle over to the island to explore. After being warned by a native Ben Gunn wannabe that they are trespassing on King Kong’s home the men ditch Susan to go exploring on their own, with the parting words, “You’ll be safer here, watch yourself.” (These are our heroes?) As we all know you can’t leave a blonde girl alone in a jungle for five minutes without having some nasty beast show up, so one shouldn’t be too surprised when a T-Rex like dinosaur approach arrives. Susan screams her lungs out (her screams reach scary decibels), alerting the men as to what boneheads they are, and also wake the mighty Kong. When Kong arrives on the scene he spots the carnivorous beast but gives him no mind as he has also spotted Susan, and its love at first site. He picks her up, gives her goo-goo eyes for a bit, pokes her with his finger, and then when finally realizing he should maybe get down to some dinosaur stomping action, he puts Susan in the crook of a tree. If the whole scene seems vaguely familiar let’s call it an homage to the 1933 original as it’s already more exciting then the 1976 remake of King Kong, so let’s cut it some slack. The T-Rex gets a few good drop kicks in but is no match for the king of the summersault, and he is quickly pounded into submission. Kong claims is prize and is about to stride off into the jungle when Susan telling him to put her down. Kong does and watches her run into the arms of another man, but before he can make issue of this (I’m completely on Kong’s side here as Nelson is a complete boob) the T-Rex, who was only stunned, clamps its jaws on Kong’s leg. Taking this an opportune moment to get away our “heroes” leg it back to the sub. Kong pounds on the dinosaur for a bit before go for his trademark jawbreaker move, but what is strange is that instead of blood pouring from the beast’s broken jaw we get soap bubbles (another mystery for paleontologists to ponder I guess). While their hovercraft makes it way to the sub they are intercepted by a sea serpent, only to have Kong chuck a rock at the beast, braining it, and saving our heroes…again. Kong wrestles with the serpent (dredging up memories of the Rick Baker snake wresting scene in the 1976 remake) while the hovercraft docks with the sub. Not being able to dive due to the still busted rudder Kong is able to catch the sub and gives it a good rocking. Susan climbs out of the conning tower to placate Kong while the ship finishes it repairs with stirring dialogue like, “Kong don’t shake the ship. I sleep and I eat on this ship.” How could any 60ft ape argue with that? After convincing Kong that she really, really doesn’t want to go with him, the heartbroken ape let’s them go.

Back in New York Nelson briefs the UN council on the nature of Mondo Island and of the plans to return, and study the inhabitants. One of the reporters turns out to be Madame X and she alerts Dr. Who about Nelson’s plans, and they decide to scrap the whole fix Mecha-Kong idea and grab the real Kong, believing they can use Susan to control Kong, and get him to dig out element X for them. So getting a jump on the Nelson expedition, Dr. Who arrives at Mondo Island, captures Kong with the help if gas bomb dropping helicopters, and then with claw and cable they airlift Kong, but not before Dr. Who shoots the annoying Ben Gunn character (I’m really starting to side with the bad guys here). Kong is lowered into the hold of Dr. Who’s ship, and they sail for the North Pole just as Nelson and company arrive.

The expedition finds traces of a battle, remnants shell casings, and ether residue, but it’s the finding of dying Ben Gunn that tips them off, with his last words he tells them that, “An oriental skeleton, a devil with the eyes of a gutter rat, kidnapped Kong, and took him away into the sky.” This is enough for Nelson to deduce that the man behind it all must be, “My old friend that international Judas, Dr. Who.” (This guys is better than Sherlock Holmes)

Dr. Who’s plan is to use hypnosis to control Kong, with the back-up plan of kidnapping the easily duped Nelson, Susan, and Nomura, and using them to control Kong. Once again things don’t go quite as plans as no sooner does the hypnotized Kong begin digging out the element X then it’s radioactive properties free Kong from his hypnotic trance, so on to the back-up plan. First they attempt to seduction and bribery, with Madame X to work her wiles on Nelson, and of course this fails as Nelson is you know, heroic and stuff. Next Dr. Who invites Nelson for a game of chess while the cell with his friends inside is turned into a deep freeze. Stoically our hero plays chess while Susan and Nomura freeze their asses off. (Is this guy really the hero?) In the frigid cell Nomura offers Susan his shirt, but she refuses and proceeds wrap her arms around him for warmth. (Wow, looks like the sidekick may get lucky)

On to Dr. Who’s next brilliant move, he arrives at the cell and proceeds to threaten to scar Susan by pressing her face against the freezing steel walls, luckily this when Kong, who had been locked in the mining tunnel behind a huge steel door, decides to make his escape. Dr. Who and the guards rush to see what is going on allowing Susan and Nomura to get free and hook-up with Nelson…and Madame X. Mecha-Kong is quickly sent out after Kong, while the trio is recaptured while sharing a drink with Madame X.

After a nice swing Kong arrives in Tokyo, with Dr. Who and company in hot pursuit. In the hold of Who’s ship are trio are in irons, but not for long as Madame X can not sit idly by while thousands may be killed in a battle between Mecha-Kong and King Kong, and she frees them and helps them off of the ship.

Just as the army is about to engage Kong Nelson arrives at army headquarters and tells them that to attack Kong will only insure the destruction of Tokyo, while Susan and Nomura have made it to the front lines and manage to calm Kong down…well calm right up until Mecha-Kong shows up. Susan tries to get Kong to run away, telling him hat he can’t beat a machine, but being a guy Kong ignores her and goes onto prove he’s got the right stuff. Mecha-Kong seems to have the advantage as he has been outfitted with the hypnotic device, and when it’s engaged Kong is powerless. Luckily Nomura is a sharp shooter and is able to disable the device with a few well placed shots (well folks looks like we may have found our hero). Freed once again from the hypnotic trance Kong goes into battle mode. After tossing Kong around for a bit Mecha-Kong picks up Susan and proceeds to climb Tokyo tower. Then from loud speakers in Mecha-Kong’s mouth Dr. Who orders Kong to return to the ship or he will have the robot drop the girl.

Meanwhile on board the ship Madame X makes her move, it’s not a brilliant move, and results in her getting shot in the arm with her own gun.

King Kong climbs up after Mecha-Kong, I guess he doesn’t give into blackmail…that or he’s an ape and had no idea what Dr. Who was babbling about. Kong reaches the robots foot and starts tugging on it. This causes Mecha-Kong to drop Susan, and Kong makes the catch of the day. Kong places her in a “safe” place on the tower and continues to climb up after the robot, and getting kicked in the head quite a few times for his troubles. The titanic struggle is not doing the structural integrity of the tower any good, and soon it is been shook to pieces. Nomura races up the tower and rescues Susan as the two giants’ battle far above them. Mecha-Kong steps on a power cable which seems to short out some of his controls, and before Dr. Who can switch to his back control Madame X makes her move (yeah they kept her around after that first brilliant move of hers), and she pulls out all the control cables. Dr. Who puts to rounds in her chest, but as she dies so does Mecha-Kong, as it topples to the streets below, smashing to pieces.

Nelson arrives and Susan runs into his arms. WHAT! She goes with Nelson who has done nothing in this film but desert her, play chess with the villain, and make time with Madame X! While Nomura has put his ass on the line for her time and time again! Man he was so jipped! For a minute there I thought this film was going to be real progressive and the Japanese dude was going to end up with the chick. I guess I was just being delusional.

Well the movie is quickly rapped up as Susan sicks Kong on Dr. Who’s ship. Kong dives in after it, gives the boat a right royal pounding and the international Judas know as Dr. Who is no more. As Kong starts his long swim back him she tries to call him back, but is told to let him go as, “Kong has enough of what we call civilization.”

The End

King Kong Escapes is a much more straight forward story, and nowhere near as goofy as King Kong vs. Godzilla, and for sheer coolness of Mecha–Kong it gets my vote. But I highly recommend both films for a guaranteed fun evening.

King Kong vs Godzilla

“There is more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” You know you’re off to a good start when a film about two giant monsters brawling starts with a quote from Shakespeare. Now King Kong is my all time favorite movie monster with only the Frankenstein’s monster getting anywhere close on the empathy meter (he never took on a T-Rex so he loses major points for that), so when as a kid I came across a film pitting my favorite monster up against Godzilla I just had to check it out. Of course a question that may have popped into the head of the casual viewer is, “Just how do you choreograph a fight between a forty foot ape and a 160 foot atomic fire-breathing dinosaur?” Well in 1962 Toho studios came up with a simple solution to that one, make Kong bigger, and say good bye to the brilliant stop-motion animation of Willis O’Brien, as in this film Kong, like Godzilla, is depicted by a guy in a rubber suit. Now the best way to enjoy this film is to divorce yourself from the idea that it is in anyway connected to the 1933 King Kong, as no reference is made to when this takes place, and unless we are suppose to believe Kong survived the fall from the Empire State Building, then this film must take place in an elseworld, a world inhabited by the likes of Rodan and Mothra, and not the inhabitants of the original Skull Island. Taking it for what it is, another installment in the Kaiju series, it is really fun and vastly entertaining.

The film starts with the announcement that a berry called soma has been discovered on Farou Island, and is some kind of chemotherapy wonder narcotic that has no addictive side effects. The natives of the island don’t want to part with this wonder-berry as they use it to placate the giant god of the island, who allegedly got big from eating the berries. I must say giving a giant ape narcotics is probably more effective in keeping the beast happy, than sacrificing tiny young women would be.

Needing better publicity the pharmaceutical company decides that while there on the island stealing berries they might as well bag a monster to help with their public image. (What’s really scary is this is almost like what happens in the 1976 King Kong only its oil instead of medicine. Sad to think of Dino De Laurentiss ripping of Japanese monster films for his ideas.) Meanwhile an atomic submarine, while investigating a glowing a radioactive iceberg, idiotically plow right into the berg, and release Godzilla who had been trapped inside. Godzilla of course heads straight for Japan.

The army, which proved to be not all that effective in previous encounters with Godzilla, is mobilized. They are of course ineffective this time as well as Godzilla melts the tanks, and stomps all who stand in his way. I’d just like to see one Godzilla film were the head of the military just tells his superiors to go to hell, instead of constantly sending his men to their doom. *special note* no reference is made to any previous Godzilla film, and in fact it seems like the scientist interviewed (who think he is a cross between a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus) theorize that he’s been frozen in the ice for millions of years.

The expedition to Farou Island has its agenda changed from publicity stunt seeking to egomania driven stupidity. The chairman of the pharmaceutical company enraged by all the news coverage of Godzilla declares he wants his own monster. So the company sends possibly the lamest outfitted expedition (two guys and one of them is comic relief) in the history of exploration, to bring back this legendary god. While searching for the Kong they encounter a giant octopus (was amazed to see a real octopus used here, and surprised at how well it moved on land) which has come into the village to get some of the great soma berry juice. Hearing his supply of juice is in danger Kong makes a grand entrance, and immediately attacks the octopus. For those of you who were wondering what a man in an ape suit would like wrestling an octopus…well you’re in for a treat. It’s a quick battle and after driving the sea creature away with a few well thrown boulders Kong decides it’s time to get hammered. He starts picking up and drinking jar after jar of soma, until he passes out in a drunken stupor. (Kong’s behavior reminded me a lot of the “King Homer” segment of the Simpsons: Tree House of Horror). While sleeping it off Kong is quickly bundled off onto a giant raft, and towed back to Japan. The Japanese government, not to keen on the idea of a second monster roaming their countryside, has the navy intercepts the boat towing Kong, and insists they return him to Farou Island. Then things go from bad to worse as Kong awakes, not in the best of moods, and starts to break free of the raft. As a precaution explosives were placed on the raft, but when detonated all they seemed to due is free Kong a little faster. Kong then proceeds to head on an intercept course for the rampaging Godzilla, the reason for this is Kong and Godzilla are apparently natural enemies (this is all explained by a scientist who keeps appearing through out the film making outrages and unsubstantiated claims), and Kong can some how sense where Godzilla is. So almost an hour into the movie the promised combat finally gets underway, but as fights go it is a bit of a let down. Kong is reduced to throwing a few boulders at Godzilla, who intern ignites the forest around the giant ape with his atomic breath, and causing Kong to run away. I’m guessing the makers of the film realized they had a bit of a problem pitting a fire-breathing dinosaur against a creature covered in hair, and making it seem like much of a fight.

With Kong on the run Godzilla continues his destructive rampage, while the military works on plans to stop him. A massive pit is constructed and filled with dynamite, and poison gas. Driven into the pit by rivers ignited by gallons of gasoline, the king of the lizards falls into the pit, and the charges are set off. Anybody out there think that had any effect on Godzilla? Didn’t think so. A second line of defense consisting of high tension wires containing one million volts is set up as final blockade. Scientist states that while Godzilla may shy away from electricity Kong actually grows stronger high voltage (Don’t ask me how they figured that one out). The electrical blockade does prove effective in turning away Godzilla, but then quickly news comes that Kong has entered Tokyo. After tearing through the high tension wires, chomping on the cables, and then absorbing the energy, Kong attacks a train, and for no reason I can see grabs a lone Japanese woman, and walks off with her. Well there actually is good reason, for the army a notified that Kong is carrying a girl and so they hold their fire (apparently hostage taking is something he learned in the jungle). Kong proceeds to climb a building and it is truly is a site to see, a 160 foot ape standing atop a 100 foot building. A brilliant plan is devised, involving a rocket and dropping soma juice on to Kong in the hopes it will put him to sleep. The plan works flawlessly, Kong falls asleep, the girl is rescued, and all seems right with the world…oh wait Godzilla is about to break through the blockade. So they decide to airlift Kong with huge helium filled balloons, and drop him in the path of Godzilla, with the hopes that they will destroy each other.

Come morning the helicopters towing the floating Kong spot Godzilla, drop the giant ape just as he awakes, and then sit back to watch the fireworks. The following fight resembles more of a drunken brawl than the battle between titans. Kong seems reduced to throwing boulders and tugging on Godzilla’s tail, while Godzilla’s atomic breath only seems capable of singeing Kong’s fur. Then Kong brains himself while doing a silly summersault, and then Godzilla proceeds to bury the dazed ape under rocks. Just when things look really bad for a Kong an electrical storm arrives, he is hit by lightning and is re-energized. With “shocking” grasps, punches, and a few cool judo moves Kong starts to kick the crap out of Godzilla. The two behemoths rage across the countryside destroying everything in their path, until they both tumble off a cliff into the sea, and disappear beneath the waves. There is a brief cataclysmic earthquake, that serves no purpose that I could discern, and then Kong appears swimming back home…apparently the victor. Though just as the last credit shows we hear the trademark Godzilla roar.

Not the greatest of its type but the completely idiotic dialogue and goofy premise make this a very enjoyable ninety minutes.