Directed By: Ishirō Honda
Release Date: November 3, 1954
Starring: Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Akira Takarada, Momoko Kōchi, Godzilla
If you happened to have read my review of Godzilla: King of the Monsters back in 2019, you may recall that I discussed in length that I have never been a huge fan of Godzilla, not because I don't like the franchise, but rather due to the fact that I simply haven't experienced enough of it to confidently say that I have a firm grasp on the ins and out of its history in order to fully appreciate it. Of course, I know many of the basics, like a number of Godzilla's friends and foes from Mothra to Rodan, and the fact that Godzilla, at least in his initial debut, was a post-WWII metaphor for nuclear power, but ask me to rattle off a list of the series’ best films from a run that has spanned three dozen features across almost seven decades and I'd be at a complete and utter loss.
With the arrival of Adam Wingard's Godzilla vs. Kong this week, however, the fourth film in Legendary Pictures' MonsterVerse that kicked off with 2014's Godzilla, I decided there was no better time than now to go back to where it all began for both of the marquee monsters. At first, of course, I started with the original King Kong, a film that felt more like a trip down memory lane as I've seen it a number of times, and then followed up with Ishirō Honda's Godzilla – or Gojira, more appropriately, if you're so inclined – which was, at least compared to Kong, a fresh experience for me, as, like most of the franchise's films that I have seen parts of, I'd never seen it in full from beginning to end.
To be clear, I did not watch the American edit of the film, which was edited and released two years after the original's debut as Godzilla, King of the Monsters! (not to be confused with the 2019 film) and famously starred Raymond Burr via newly-shot footage that was inserted into the pre-existing version of the film. I've seen moments from that cut of the film in the past, but I could honestly tell you nothing more about it, and as such it will have no bearing on this review of Honda's film, which – and I will wholeheartedly admit – took me by surprise in the best of ways.
Godzilla begins nearly a decade after the conclusion of World War II, with several sea-faring vessels being mysteriously destroyed off the coast of the fictional Japanese locale Oda Island, dozens of people losing their lives in the process, only for a major disaster to strike the island and destroy an entire village soon after. While many try to chalk it up to various things – mines, a volcano, a tsunami – the true cause behind the events is quickly revealed to be Godzilla, a 165-foot-tall radioactive dinosaur that has emerged from its underwater sanctuary, dislodged into the world above due to hydrogen bomb testing. As the creature continues to wreak havoc and unconventional means of destroying it fail, an even more alarming issue is raised: What greater horror than Godzilla must be unleashed upon the world if the monster’s reign of terror is to be brought to an end?
Directed By: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack
Release Date: April 7, 1933
Starring: Fay Wray, Robert Armstrong, Bruce Cabot, Kong
"Ladies and gentlemen, I'm here tonight to tell you a very strange story... a story so strange that no one will believe it. But, ladies and gentlemen, seeing is believing. And we, my partners and I, have brought back the living proof of our adventure, an adventure in which twelve of our party met horrible death. And now, ladies and gentlemen, before I tell you any more, I'm going to show you the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a God in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization, merely a captive, on show to gratify your curiosity. Ladies and gentlemen, look at Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World!"
Nearly 90 years have passed since Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) introduced an enraptured audience to the mighty King Kong, yet the passage of time has done little to diminish the ape's pop culture status. Though the titular beast lost his life by the end of his 1933 debut, his legacy has continued to live on over the last century in the form of a direct sequel, a number of remakes and reimaginings, theme park rides, video games, comic books, and so much more. He'll even be returning later this month – March of 2021, if you're reading this in the future! – in Adam Wingard's Godzilla vs. Kong.
All this is to say that Kong has an everlasting appeal, both the character and film inspiring generations of creative minds and influencing countless creations that followed in their wake (see: Godzilla). The impact of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack's King Kong is so grand that it almost feels redundant to even try and review the film at this point, as it's been dissected and analyzed the world over for decades. However, with the impending release of Wingard's big monster mash-up on the horizon, I found myself eager to toss my hat into the ring of conversation anyway, to break down why, in my perspective, the film as a whole remains such a vital piece of cinema history despite how – for better or worse – age has affected some of its individual parts.
Before I get started, though, as usual, a quick refresher on the plot: Filmmaker Carl Denham (Armstrong), seeking to shoot an incredible new project, has the crew of the S.S. Venture – spearheaded by Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher) and his first mate Jack Driscoll (Bruce Cabot) – take him and his newly-discovered lead actress Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) to a mysterious island, tempted there by a strange map given to him and the allure of a mysterious being known only as Kong. Upon reaching the island and encountering its natives, however, Ann is kidnapped and given up as an offering to the very real, very dangerous Kong, who takes Ann with him into the heart of the island, with Denham, Driscoll, and others setting out after them in an attempt to rescue Ann.
Pick a Month: