The classic feel of an afternoon matinee flick fuels the second of Toho's King Kong pictures. King Kong Escapes had a long gestation period and, while different monster villains were proposed (like Frankenstein), it was finally settled that Kong would battle himself. Talk about some pretty heavy narcissistic issues.
The film was originally released in 1967 – arrived in the States a year later – and was produced by Universal and Rankin/Bass (who had just wrapped up the Saturday morning cartoon series The King Kong Show that would be the basis for the movie). They were eager to see some of their stories make the big screen and high hopes that the cheeky nature of the Kong vs a robotic version of himself would land an audience. They even spiced things up for teens and adults with a blatant rip-off of James Bond with the evil boss character of Dr. Hu (Eisei Amamoto, who steals the entire picture away from the rest of the disinterested cast) and his partner, Madame Piranha (Mie Hama), fresh from You Only Live Twice.
The hope was that this standalone film would be a launching pad for a series of other Kong-led adventures. After all, Rankin/Bass had all these Kong-centered stories to tell. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. Audiences loved it, but the reviews weren’t strong and there would only be three other Rankin/Bass monster productions. King Kong Escapes was the second and final big ape movie for Japan audiences. It’s time to save it from the doldrums of time and now – thanks to Universal Studios trying to cash in on the impending release of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla – we can do just that in sparkling high definition.
Directed by Ishiro Honda and featuring special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, this Japanese-American production was quite the undertaking. Kong got himself a brand new suit; new models to destroy; a new cast to chase; and a new baddie to box: a robot version of himself. The cast – including Rhodes Reason as Commander Carl Nelson and Linda Miller as Lt. Susan Watson (the “apple” of Kong’s eye) – fit the needs of the science fiction meets spy movie script and respond appropriately when tasked to react to Kong getting repeatedly dropkicked by Toho's version of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, Gorosaurus.
While the new Kong suit is an improvement over the one featured in King Kong vs. Godzilla, there are limitations – especially in the water – and it is obvious that a man is in the suit, but that’s part of the charm of these movies. Kong does battle with a sea serpent, too, as he makes his way to Watson. Dr. Hu wants the original Kong and, after fixing his Robotic Ape, sends his creation to beat the real Kong senseless and bring his body back to him. Oh, it’s ridiculous but, really, we expect that. Hysterical, too.
Complete with goofy charm and high octane B-movie adventure, King Kong Escapes delivers the goods if you like yours delivered via comic book pages. This is a picture perfect for Toho fans, creature feature purists and generally anyone with a playfully less serious side to their cinematic kicks. This and King Kong vs. Godzilla is a monster-sized way to pass a rainy afternoon.
MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Runtime: 96 mins
Director: Ishirô Honda
Writer: Takeshi Kimura
Cast: Rhodes Reason, Mie Hama, Linda Miller
Genre: Adventure | Sci-Fi
Tagline: King Kong Escapes
Memorable Movie Quote: "That's right. This is Kong, the strongest living creature on Earth."
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Release Date: June 19, 1968
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: April 1, 2014
Synopsis: King Kong is brought in by an evil ruler to dig for precious gems in a mine when the robot MechaKong is unable to do the task. This leads to the machine and the real Kong engaging in a tremendous battle that threatens to level Japan.
Available on Blu-ray - April 1, 2014
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles for the Hearing Impaired: English
Audio: English (DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono)
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Region Encoding: A
King Kong Escapes is presented in 1080p with a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track. The picture is clean, with minimal flecks, sputters, and scratches. They are sometimes noticeable but never very distracting. The colors pop for the most part. There’s a nice depth to the picture and details are strong for a film of this age. There are a couple of dingy nighttime scenes where crush is noticeable but, again, the joy of the film in HD trumps any negatives there are with the picture…and, really, there aren’t a lot of complaints.