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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

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.

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