Friend’s daughter’s third cousin on the father’s side… of Kong

Turned from conception to completion in less than seven months after its predecessor, the juvenile King Kong sequel is of marginal interest for historical context. Son of Kong makes sense of its surroundings. Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is broke, grouping him with millions of Americans in 1933, this only a month after his gorilla attraction leveled chunks of New York.

Denham’s financially strained situations relate, and the promise of a mythical pot of gold embedded in Skull Island’s rocks is enough to spur him – or anyone of the period – into a hunt. It would be work after all. Son of Kong makes for a reasonable depression-era story medley, despite the fantastical inclusion of an albino ape. Even Denham’s shipmates turns mutinous; they’re not being paid a living wage. Son of Kong hits at the nation’s turmoil and doesn’t seem as dated now as it once did.

Son of Kong is too egregiously truncated and hurried….

The escapism offered comes from a place of brevity. Son of Kong is more leisure than excitement spectacle, less angry and less tense as production RKO studio staved off bankruptcy thanks to Kong. Producers and thrill-seekers Ernest B. Schoedsack & Merian C. Cooper return, directing and producing respectively, along with a charismatic lead in Robert Armstrong. The sensational feel for adventure carried by King King is partially here. However, Son of Kong is too egregiously truncated and hurried to match their once thriving sense of pace. Filming was clearly done at an improbable speed.

An obvious tinge of racism resides. Typecast Victor Wong can only earn screen credit as Chinese Cook. The Skull Island natives, in a slim return to the screen, are likewise cheap. But, with a story handled by Schoedsack/Cooper’s regular Ruth Rose, she can pen a genial female lead, portrayed with a little spunk by Helen Mack. King Kong’s Fay Wray may be the progenitor of the scream queen, yet Mack has a sly charm and wit. She’s less a damsel than a problem solver.

That leaves Kong, or Kiko as marketers put it, a dopey, clumsy beast who is a perfect stand-in for the sloppy animation work. This is barely the result of Kong’s master technician Willis O’Brien – he was disgusted by interference, a dire budget, and impossible time frame – but rather technical staff member Buzz Gibson. It’s full of errors. Kiko spends time wrestling a bear with a visible wire around his belly to hold him in place. Movements make little sense, his appearances are cursory, and the few others beasts are unconvincing.

By the finale, Son of Kong moves with such rapidity, the sudden rise of earthquakes and hurricane fail to levy their tension. It’s all too sudden, as if the studio is personally rushing the feature to trim their cost. Maybe the team of Armstrong/Rose/Schoedsack/Cooper were in a hurry to make their next monkey flick in Mighty Joe Young. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

In a bit of trouble @ 43:32

Son of Kong comes from better film elements than King Kong whose negatives were lost. The lack of severe damage to the print and grain levels indicate Son has been better preserved. There are still scratches, a slew of static debris, and some skipped frames, but it’s all acceptable. Son of Kong is stable too. There is no gate weave.

Issues predominantly come from Warner who while presenting a reasonable scan, does poorly on the encoding side. Soft grain gives off a sketchy quality despite bitrates never dropping below 30Mbps. Edges lack definition. At a distance, images look filtered. Separation between gradients are unnatural in their sharpness. The gain in detail from resolution is wiped by these compression/transfer anomalies.

Strange as it is, by the closing moments with the screen cluttered by a sudden torrential rain, Son of Kong seems fine. Artifacts are non-existent. It also helps the otherwise fine gray scale is muted into a deeper gray and details are harder to parse.

When it works, Son of Kong has the look. Close-ups of the Kiko model manage to distinguish individual hairs. String and other animation helpers show cleanly – it’s unintentional, obviously. As Kiko climbs the ridge to enter the treasure chamber near the climax, holes are visible in the model’s feet. They looked like harmless shadows prior. There is a definite evolution in image quality when it can be seen. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Video]

Max Steiner’s score is reason to watch Son of Kong, excelling at both feeling renewed while giving enough cues to respect the original. In DTS-HD, clarity is surprising. Bold horn sections should be straining with age. So to with the drums. While clearly lacking a piercing quality of modern recordings, the track excels at preserving the themes and clever in-sync notes without thick distortion. The audio track sounds in better condition too – it remains even if the visible frames are skipped.

Any age is evident in dialog. Lines carry an audible scratchiness indicative of the era. Elements seem in superb condition though. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

Little Kong only gets an unrestored trailer for a bonus feature. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]


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.

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