‘The Eighth Wonder of the World’ vs. ‘The King of the Monsters’ combo review

Godzilla and Kong duke it out before their crossover in March. King Kong photo courtesy of Goldenglobes.com and Godzilla photo courtesy of Syfy.com

Godzilla and King Kong have been some of the most iconic movie monsters for decades, up there with the classics like Frankenstein and Dracula. Both have had their highs and lows, but they’ve stayed relevant in our pop culture for quite a while. With their much-anticipated crossover releasing later in March, I thought it would be fun to go back to their roots and see how both monsters got their debut on the silver screen.

Since the original “King Kong” was released on April 7, 1933, it seems fitting to start here. As I’ve only seen the 2017 “Skull Island”, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it and I’m happy to say that I was genuinely surprised in places.

The special effects were groundbreaking at the time and while time hasn’t been super kind to them, they are legitimately creative and well done in some places. Not only was stop motion used, but the film would often use forced perspective, green screen, or even building a giant Kong to interact with the actors. While the green screen parts of the effects mostly didn’t age well, the stop motion and other effects were really surprising to me. For example, there’s a scene where Kong is trying to grab a guy from the edge of a cliff, the guy has a knife and slices Kong’s hand when he gets too close. What’s amazing about this scene and others like it are the movements and reactions of Kong, the way he turns his head and wrists when trying to grab the guy and how he scratches his palm after being sliced are very animalistic and honestly feel real, this level of detail wasn’t really needed, but it’s very clever and very appreciated. There are other details like this with the other creatures on Skull Island as well, like when a stegosaurus takes a few steps back before ramming into a log and even a T-Rex shaking its tail when fighting Kong. It may sound strange to say, but the stuttering of the stop-motion actually helps sell the illusion with the animalistic details.

The acting for the most part is good, with Robert Armstrong’s Carl Denham, in particular, being the highlight for me. His character is a risktaker but one who’s confident and sure of what’s going on, you can tell that he knows what he’s talking about and plays it serious and straight, which makes his character pretty interesting and mysterious, despite not having much screen time.

The romantic leads, however, aren’t so interesting and sadly get too much screen time. Bruce Cabot’s Jack Driscoll and Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow aren’t really gripping characters and they lack any kind of chemistry, which makes their relationship rushed and unintentionally hilarious at points. For example, there’s a scene where Jack confesses his love to Ann, and they share a kiss. What makes this so funny is that all the scenes they had together beforehand were of him dismissing her and not paying attention to her, often complaining about having a woman aboard his ship. Once he confesses his “love” to Ann with the line, “Say, I guess I love you” it is a pretty funny moment that I’m sure the filmmakers didn’t intend. Ann is just as bland with her personality; she initially shows promise with her passion working with Carl, but once Kong shows up, she devolves into a generic shrieking damsel in distress and there’s not much more than done with her or her relationship with Kong.

The film is also known for having slave trade and interracial romance allegories, while it doesn’t really come into play for me until the last twenty minutes. I can still see potential in that discussion, and it is there for those who’re willing to take a look.

Overall, the original “King Kong has shown its age in many places but there is a good chunk that holds up well today. I can’t say it holds the same timelessness as some of the Universal Monster films do like “Frankenstein” or “Dracula”, but it is still a classic and worth a watch today. If you’re a fan of monster films or just curious to see the origins of one of pop culture’s iconic monsters, I’d say it’s worth at least one watch but not many more. I’m giving “King Kong a score of 2 ½ out of 5 huskies.

Next, we have 1954’s “Godzilla”. I have slightly more experience with the Godzilla films compared to the King Kong films, although it’s not by much. I’ve seen the 1998 and 2014 “Godzilla” and the 2019 “Godzilla: King of the Monsters”, the three range from passable and cheesy to boring and terrible. So, I was slightly anxious when coming to the one that started it all, but I’m happy to say that you can’t beat the first.

The effects do hold up rather well, the usage of miniatures and the suit of Godzilla are mostly seamless with the actual destruction of the sets. The acting is also well done, despite the film not really focusing on a single protagonist, the actors get their moments to shine which is appreciated.

The biggest positive I can give the film is its atmosphere and metaphors. The film has Japan’s perspective of the nuclear holocaust of Nagasaki and Hiroshima portrayed exceptionally well with Godzilla’s destruction, some of the best scenes are dealing with the aftermath of the monster’s destruction and how the citizens of Japan are affected. The acting and the story all factor into this, as the aforementioned lack of clear character focus, allows the film to tackle multiple perspectives of these events. From the reporters trying to discover the truth, the politicians and scientists assessing how to deal with the situation, or even a mother trying to comfort her children in the middle of a burning building (which is my favorite scene).

However, the film isn’t entirely flawless. While the effects are well done, there are a few instances where they sort of break the illusion like the wobbling of Godzilla’s dorsal fins or a fire truck ramming into a building. The film also has scenes dedicated to a few characters, despite the overall lack of character focus. The few characters the film focuses on aren’t especially interesting despite the strong acting, there’s a romantic couple in the film where the boyfriend tries to gain the father’s approval to wed his girlfriend, while it doesn’t get a whole lot of focus, it’s slightly boring when compared to everything else going on.

Overall, “Godzilla” is a thought-provoking, emotionally raw, and well-made film. It’s honestly surprising to me how great it is, which honestly makes the later films I’ve seen worse. If you wish monster movies had more emotion and metaphor behind them, then look no further here. I’m giving “Godzilla” a score of 4 out of 5 huskies!

While both series have had ups and downs, it was rather surprising and interesting to look back at their roots. I’m definitely excited for the upcoming crossover and if it’s not good, there are always the classics to go back to!

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Myles Hoglund

Myles is a sophomore at St. Cloud State and is going for a major in film studies. He's also a member of the film-centered club called Cinescope. He hopes to become a film critic professionally like one of his personal idols, Roger Ebert. On top of reviews for the Chronicle, he also makes reviews on his personal Letterboxd account. So if you like his work here, give his Letterboxd a look.

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