Monday, October 29, 2012

Why can't monsters get along with other monsters?

The headline is from the chorus of Silver Jews' sublime 1998 rock-out ditty 'Send in the Clouds.' And here's another quote: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” The words will forever belong to Hamlet, but I rather like the fact that they’re spoken (uncredited!) by some omniscient voice of god over the image of the Earth, or some Play-do facsimile thereof, as it spins at what seems like a precarious gallop, right at the top of King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962). For while the country in immediate danger of giant monster apocalypse in this, the third installment in Toho’s Godzilla franchise, is Japan, once again, the film’s canvas has become decidedly global. At least that’s how it seems in the American version (the only version I've seen), in which nearly all Japanese characters sport Western clothes and hairdos and speak English. Many of them sound like Alan Arkin.

Though still credited to Ishirō Honda, the director of the original Godzilla (1954), the US version not only overdubbed everyone's voices but deleted scenes from Honda’s cut and added several new ones, many of which feature an American broadcaster filling us in on exposition—cutting away to a lovely painting of a satellite every time he speaks to another broadcaster in another country—before becoming something of a sports commentator once the rediscovered Kong and the resurrected Godzilla—who fronts some bravura Hulk Hogan flexes—go at it. As with the original Godzilla, which functioned as an eerily explicit metaphor for our proximity to atomic holocaust, the story is rooted in unease with the proliferation of looming disasters: the balls get rolling following an earthquake, unregistered radiation, and early signs of global warming. But the initial underlying seriousness quickly falls away in King Kong Vs. Godzilla, which makes lame use of an Abbott and Costello-like duo and ultimately make little sense at all, plot-wise. We gradually come to realize that we’re watching the sci-fi equivalent of a monster truck rally.

Even in colour, Godzilla still looks pretty fierce, but the rebooted Kong has nothing on the presence, pathos and flickers of intelligence found in Merian C. Cooper’s original King Kong (1933). We’re told that Kong has a much bigger brain than Godzilla, but he sure looks dumb, perhaps because he has a habit of getting wasted on some rare hallucinogenic juice, tripping on trance music and passing out. (Like some party guests I know.) But honestly, nobody seems too bright in this: the Japanese can’t even say Hokkaido properly. Still, it’s an awful lot of fun. And if you wanted to watch it with your kids, rest assured that not nearly as many civilians get crushed to death and screaming bloody fucking murder in this one. 

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