The monthly TokuNet Film Club is back with a new perspective, thanks to Kaiju Kingdom podcast host, Chris Eaton. This month, Chris takes a look at King Kong Escapes.
“Lets do an evil robot version.”
Those are the words I assume someone told Toho in the pitch meeting that took place some time in the summer of 1966 for King Kong Escapes.
Result of that pitch: A delightful cartoon of a film– which should say a lot considering the origins of the film. But, we’ll come back to that in a minute.
King Kong Escapes is the simple story of Bond-esque evil scientist who, while filing a contract from an unnamed Asian country with sinister intentions, attempts to dig out a very volatile and radioactive element dubbed, Element X. Dr. Who (yes, that is his name) and the fiendish Madam X (Piranha, in the Japanese version) look on in the North Pole secret base as Who’s great creation, MechaniKong, digs out the radioactive material from the ground. Shockingly, the radiation is too great and short circuits the mighty robot. Dr. Who is left looking like a chump in front of Madam X, who’ll surly go back to her overlords and ruin his rep among the mad scientist community.
Meanwhile, literally halfway across the world, the rustic crew of a UN submarine stop off at the mysterious Mondo Island for repairs. Seems like an odd place for repairs at first. Turns out, the ship’s captain, Carl Nelson, has a small hobby of doing Mulder style research on a legendary beast named King Kong, a fabled giant gorilla that a few other sea faring folk have seen in the region. It’s weird, as it’s implied Kong is something of public knowledge… somehow.
With the sub under maintenance, Nelson, Lt. Jiro Nomura, and Lt. Susan Watson do a little recon on the island. Why? Because there’s a great ape to be found.
Susan gets separated, of course, and ends up in the eye line of a massive T-Rex (later named Gorosaurus in Destroy All Monsters). Susan’s screams of terror attracted a napping King Kong to get up and beat on the massive dinosaur. A few Kong/ human female moments later, the crew gets Susan back and high tails it out of dodge while Kong looks on– abandoned and dejected.
The sub crew heads straight to the UN, tells the world Kong is real, and Captain Nelson no longer looks like a man with a weird hobby. Kong’s reveal to the world attracts Who and Madam X to fly down to Mondo Island and kidnap Kong. Why? If the robot couldn’t do the job, the real one surly could. Solid, logical thinking. What unfolds next is Kong doing what the name of the movie suggests: escaping. This leads to the final, climatic battle in Tokyo against his robotic doppelganger.
5 years passed since Toho produced King Kong vs Godzilla. At the time, the studio still retained the rights and tried to get another Kong film off the ground in the form of, Operation Robinson Crusoe: King Kong vs. Ebirah.
Meanwhile, in America, Rankin Bass, the same company behind Rudolph: the Red Nosed Reindeer and 90 percent of every American Christmas special you watch every year on cable television, had a King Kong animated series running on Saturday morning TV.
Rankin Bass worked with Toei on the show, and seeing that it was going well, went to Toho to produce a film based on the series. The Crusoe script was tossed out for something closer to the TV series, however, that script didn’t go to waste. Ever heard of Godzilla vs the Sea Monster?
King Kong Escapes feels like a cartoon meets a Bond film, which makes it delightful on every level. Up until the recent announcement of Kong: Skull Island by Legendary Pictures, just about every American Kong outing more or less told the same story over and over again, with King Kong Lives being the exception.
King Kong vs Godzilla was the first to stray from this formula, but I wouldn’t really count that as it’s more of a versus film. King Kong Escapes was the first Kong film that dared to do something a bit different. Sure, the tropes are there. Tropical island, Kong fighting dinosaurs, but that all changes after the first act. With the introduction of MechaniKong, the first evil robot version of another monster in the Toho world, Kong had a good nemesis to battle. It gave the film something to move toward, and–as it’s a kaiju film– a big battle to cap it off.
The dream team of Ishiro Honda and Eiji Tsuburaya were once again behind the lens for this solo Kong outing. While produced in the peak of the Kaiju Boom, the film does feel like a bit of a rush job in some aspects, mostly in the Kong suit. While King Kong vs Godzilla had a back and forth with the arms of Kong (look in several scenes you’ll see arm extenders, and all of the fight scenes they’re much shorter) the look of the suit was fierce.
This time out, Kong is given a softer look, with a far bigger head with enlarged eyes, almost like a big dumb puppy. It did help the other two beasts in the film, MechaniKong and Gorosaurus, look far superior in quality. MechaniKong is a magnificent suit, with his main weapons being a hypno light on his head, which Dr. Who uses to control Kong initially. He also included a belt full of bombs he can toss wildly in fight. MechaniKong gave the flesh version a decent run for his money.
Gorosaurus is much more impressive suit. Wanting to replicate the T-Rex fight from the original King Kong, Gorosaurus was created to do battled on Mondo. His warty skin, bright green texture gives him a look of more of a dragon than a T-Rex at times. Though not as fierce as the fight in either the 1933 or 2005 films, Kong vs Gorosaurus is none the less as entertaining as both.
Quick tidbit, right after this film, Toho went to produce Destroy All Monsters. That film was set to feature Kong, but the license expired on use of the character right before. So, instead of Kong in the final battle, Gorosaurus was used instead. Thus cementing him in the annuals of Toho’s fame.
If you like your kaiju old school, this would be right up your alley. If you’ve never watched any of the older Toho stuff, this is definitely a picture to behold. King Kong Escapes may not be the best King Kong film made, but like many Toho films of it’s day and age, shows great spirit and has a lot of fun on what could be a very silly premise.