King Kong vs Godzilla’s wry cultural comedy was dissected for American audiences, trimmed and retrofitted with Michael Keith patching in contradictory dialog via a disorganized worldwide newscast. Thus, this battle of cinema leviathans was contorted into nigh unrecognizable form as it scattered onto theatrical screens in the States. Losing its punchy marketing satire for a distressing and hokey seriousness does nothing short of collide with the original elements.
Keith’s Eric Carter is a droll UN newsman, his “stage” a pinned up flag and televisions with images taped to their screens. It’s ludicrous, and for all of KKvsG’s hammy monster rumbles, nothing shatters this illusory creature fantasy more than Carter’s crumbling journalistic facade. His sobering shock at Godzilla’s appearance, mentioning how stunned the world is that prehistoric monsters exist, is crippled as he readily pronounces the beast’s name without notification.
Crammed together in three days by director Thomas Montgomery, Keith’s meandering and action-interrupting segments are part of John Beck’s short lived producing handiwork. Paul Mason and Bruce Howard appear dumbfounded by their scripting duties, cranking out punctured scientific gibberish in an attempt to legitimize something never meant to be played straight.
Ishiro Honda’s Japanese footage (from a Shinichi Zekizawa script) strays from Godzilla’s masterful metaphors for a clumsy event picture meant to draw an audience invested in post-War economic growth and cultural shifts. What’s left of it is a doughy comedian played by Ichiro Arishima, rushing to exploit King Kong amidst Godzilla’s mainland-maiming trot to Tokyo. Arishima’s obliviousness to death tolls is only captured in minutiae through this truncated edition.
Natives of Faro island are bathed in outmoded body paint as they bow to Kong, setting up a replay of Merian C. Cooper’s original giant gorilla epic. Employees of Mr. Tako’s (Arishima) Pacific Pharmaceuticals (somehow) strap a drugged Kong to a raft, dump him into the sea and when he awakes too early, out pops a gloriously colorful Japanese monster movie.
KKvsG creates rules regarding electricity and displays a slouchy, flabby Kong suit in contrast to a fan favorite Godzilla design. Dubbing rabbles on with incorrect pronunciation (Hokkaido or Hokkiado; the dub can’t decide) and general disinterest, with Universal’s jumbled stock score from Creature from the Black Lagoon (and others) echoing over dialog. The systematic hack job leaves the feature in shambles, only a cut below New World Picture’s thrashing of Godzilla 1985 with its sneering Pentagon employees backed by Dr. Pepper ads.
What’s left is a typical mash-up, if still a historical precedent which upped versus films from their man-sized Frankenstein and Wolf Man tussles to city romping escapades. Hand crafted miniatures and effects traditionalism still appeal whether chomped to fit between Michael Keith’s laborious delivery or otherwise.
Treatment of the film on home video ranges from Universal’s initial 4×3 cropped edition on DVD to Toho’s mangled, Laserdisc-esque transfer on their Region 2 disc. For Blu-ray, Universal’s indifferent sourcing and manhandling of their features (as recent as Harry and the Hendersons) does not afflict KKvsG. While notably imperfect with clashing film stocks between US and Japanese footage, there is an encode running over it which if nothing else, tries to maintain consistency.
Scuffs and vertical scratches are fair considering the content. Edits often come with one frame foul ups toward the top center of the screen, a mass of scratches or print wear popping in as shots set into place. Comparatively – in terms of the earliest Godzilla features – this is the damage victor, swimming away with only mild battle scars from its weary years of distribution.
Mastering appears recent with only dashes of ringing as a result of light sharpening. Edges are too heavy not to have been touched by digital tools. This also explains the coarseness of the grain structure in those American sequences which appear shot on 16mm given the weight. In comparison, original footage is pure without any manipulation to rub down source grain, leaving images naturally free and clean. Any shadow crush is initiated by cinematography.
Resolution provides a boost to definition, pulling out Kong’s gorilla hair and subtle details on Faro’s inhabitants lost to decades of sub-par home video. A pattern of off again, on again textural quality is dependent on the scene, either forwarding facial details to the viewer or losing them to grain patterns. Either way, a punch up in color is marvelous, a quantitative boost after decades of disappointing fading.
KKvsG’s mono mix does not plummet in quality and despite peaked highs during action segments, DTS-HD materials are plenty crisp. Dubbed dialog is presented without distortion and a handful of moments without dub work are admirable in their clarity. Universal’s stub score brings about horns and drums without breaching fidelity parameters. Aging is purely within respectable boundaries even as it is doubtful any clean-up was performed.
No extras to discuss, and the Japanese version (which does not carry a different ending despite those frustratingly persistent inaccuracies) remains one of the most elusive Godzilla films for US audiences.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.