Fay Wray    Ann Darrow
Robert Armstrong    Carl Denham
Bruce Cabot    John Driscoll
Frank Reicher    Capt. Englehorn
Sam Hardy    Charles Weston
Noble Johnson    Native Chief
Steve Clemente    Witch King
James Flavin    2nd Mate Briggs
Victor Wong    Charley

Directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack. Screenplay by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose (based on a story by Cooper and Edgar Wallace). 1933. Running time: 103 Minutes.

may2.jpg (22107 bytes)Somebody once remarked that children are fascinated by dinosaurs because they are “big, scary and extinct.” The same can more or less be said of film audiences’ fascination with the various enormous creatures that have stomped their way across cities like New York and Tokyo and also across our cinema and television screens. Godzilla, the Smog Monster or whatever simply doesn’t exist . . .

Part of the appeal of those movies is that we in the audience definitely know that they don’t exist. After all, there’s no mistaking a stunt man in a rubber suit for a 50 foot lizard stomping through a city. The appeal of all those old Japanese Godzilla and other monster movies is their pure hoakiness. Grab a six pack beer, some pizza and spend a late night in front of television laughing at the pathetic models (one I saw actually used real toy trucks - Tonka was very clearly painted over it!), stupid story lines, etc. But this month the makers of Independence Day wants to do what Steven Spielberg did with the last ten minutes or so of The Lost World: have a big realistic lizard run amok in a city with the expensive remake of Godzilla . . .

Will they get it right? Probably, but the big question is will we care? Big budget Hollywood movies nowadays impress us with their digital wizardry but it is seldom that we actually care for the humans that populate those fantastic worlds. Who cares if the two annoying brats in Jurassic Park gets eaten by T-Rexes? We in the audience didn’t - we just wanted to be amazed by the special effects . . . and some people even complained that there weren’t enough blood and gore in that movie!

Godzilla, of course, wasn’t the first gigantic creature to have wreaked havoc upon the unsuspecting populace of any large metropolitan area. Neither was the original 1933 King Kong. Yet both have remained enduring icons of our cultural consciousness. Godzilla may survive in its Mystery Science Theatre 3000-ness, but King Kong is an altogether different story. Shortly before its 1976 remake, I saw the 1933 original on television as a very small boy. It was to be an experience I will never forget. When the much hyped 1976 version of King Kong hit the big screen, it was a disappointment. The scary thing was that not only was the special effects of the original actually better, but the first King Kong itself was simply better. Somewhere in its translation to our modern era, something got lost. Perhaps the word that best summarizes that something is soul . . .

may1.jpg (29483 bytes)Much was made of how the new 1976 version would feature all the latest technological innovations - yet in the end what we got as a stunt man in a gorilla suit - nothing compared to the brilliant stop motion effects employed in the original. (No wonder director Tim Burton fell in love with the stop motion process, one employed brilliantly in The Nightmare Before Christmas and which proved to be too expensive for Mars Attacks! and CGI effects were used instead.) Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that the new Godzilla remake would be technologically inferior to the old versions - there’s really no chance of that considering how badly done those original Godzilla movies were - but what I’m expecting is a hollow experience much like Emmerich and Devlin’s previous Independence Day blockbuster.

Whereas War of the Worlds in the final analysis proved to better than Independence Day, so the 1933 King Kong will still be the mother of all big monster movies. The problem is that directors seem to have forgotten that the special effects are supposed in aid of the story and not the other way around. (James Cameron’s Titanic seems to be the only recent notable exception to this rule.) And don’t get your hopes up high for the rumored remake of King Kong by the director of The Frighteners either. You see, the point is: they don’t make them like they used to . . .


Copyright © May 1998  James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page




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