Man, has it been a long time since I last fired up my laserdisc player. It’s a gorgeous old Pioneer unit (a CLD-V2800 for anyone curious) with a remote control roughly the size and shape of a brick, and still runs like a champ. As someone who’s become increasingly content to stream the majority of his entertainment, buying discs only in those increasingly rare must-own situations, I don’t use this thing nearly as much as I’d like. In spite of and perhaps because of how antithetical the format is to modern viewing expectations (what, I have to physically work to watch the other half of a movie?), I still love laserdiscs. There’s a certain visceral thrill to holding one of those hefty silver platters in your hands, or hearing a player purr quietly into action. For all their obvious advantages and superiority, modern formats will just never compare.
Presented here today is the second oldest disc I own (Paramount’s 1982 issue of DeMille’s Samson & Delilah beats it by a stretch), a release almost exactly two years my younger. This edition of King Kong vs. Godzilla dates back nearly thirty years, premiering in October of 1986 at the bargain price of just under $100 (¥9500). Toho are using a very similar cover design for their upcoming blu-ray, which is due in less than a month. I certainly can’t blame them – the jacket design here is pretty sweet.
Outside of the cover I must confess that there isn’t a whole lot of reason to actually own this release these days. Toho re-issued the film on laserdisc in a superior restored version just five years later, rendering this edition largely obsolete in the process. The one significant catch is that this 1986 release presents the film with its original alternate monophonic track (as it would have been heard in cinemas that either didn’t get or couldn’t play the 4-track stereo mix). This track has been absent from video releases for decades now, an issue Toho finally seem to be remedying with the upcoming blu-ray. It’s slated to include the 4.0 stereo mix and 5.1 surround remix, as well as the monophonic track for the first time since this LD.
The only other point of interest is the state of the re-instated footage here. A 16mm ‘Scope dupe (from which rental prints were struck) has long been the only extant source for the original 97 minute cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla, but I never realized what lousy shape that source was in until I saw the footage here in its raw, un-restored state. It makes one appreciate all the more the efforts Toho took to restore the footage a few years later, even if those efforts fall far short of modern expectations. As in subsequent editions the majority of the footage is sourced from the 35mm elements for the shorter Champion Festival cut of the film. The differences in quality between the two are staggering even on this old disc.
And that’s it really – a cool cover, and a decent film presentation in so far as 30-year-old home video is concerned. This isn’t a must-have by any means, but it’ll have a home on my shelf for a long time to come.
Note: This article is concerned with the Blu-ray editions of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes as opposed to the films themselves. While no coverage of the films currently exists at ExB, old articles about each can be had at Wtf-Film. You’ll find them here and here respectively.
Well this is a bit of a surprise. After so many years without decent home video representation who would ever have thought we’d be sitting around discussing new blu-ray editions of the two Universal-released Toho-produced Kong pictures? The fact that this pair has made the leap to HD home video in the US is obviously just an advantageous move on Universal’s part, what with Godzilla ’14 little more than a month away, but I can’t be bothered with cynicism at a time like this. The American cuts of King Kong vs. Godzilla and King Kong Escapes are two long-time favorites, and I’m just happy to have them in HD regardless of the circumstances. Let me have my fun.
John Beck’s heavily Westernized cut of King Kong vs. Godzilla receives a modest and bare-bones blu-ray debut, with only a pop-up menu available for navigation and language selection options (the film starts immediately after the requisite company logos and anti-piracy statements). Though only single layered the 1080p transfer receives a technically sound encode, Mpeg-4 AVC at an average bitrate of 32.3 Mbps, and while it has its problems it remains a huge improvement over Universal’s nearly decade-old DVD.
Working with the same master, but with some extra attention paid to color timing, Universal’s blu-ray of King Kong vs. Godzilla tends toward a darker overall appearance in comparison to the older DVD. While some may find it pesky I barely noticed myself. The additional color balancing work was unmistakable, however, and is much appreciated. Though there are subtle improvements throughout I found it most noticeable during Kong and Godzilla’s first meeting, a scene which has always looked rather sickly and hazy in past editions – the colors here finally ring true. Detail takes a huge step forward, allowing better appreciation of both the intricate miniature setups and of the suit work (one of the series’ best Godzilla designs, and that ratty love-it-or-hate-it Kong). Beyond the possibility of some minor edge enhancement there looks to have been little if any untoward digital manipulation of the image (sometimes a little neglect is a good thing), but it just wouldn’t be Universal if all was well. Despite looking pretty good in other respects and presenting with only minor print flaws, King Kong vs. Godzilla is an exceedingly noisy transfer at times. I didn’t find it especially troubling in motion, obvious as it can be in spots, but those viewing on larger screens may find it a more damning issue.
DVD (upscaled, top) vs Blu-ray (bottom):
Audio comes in one flavor only – 2.0 monophonic DTS-HD MA English. Where compressed tracks served to obfuscate certain issues with the film’s original mix this track lays it all bare. Certain among the stock music cues (notably the one that accompanies the main titles) can sound very flat, while others (as from Heinz Roemheld’s The Monster That Challenged the World) can sound quite vibrant. The clumsiness of some of the new sound effects editing is now readily apparent as well. That said, this is precisely what the English mix for King Kong vs. Godzilla should sound like, so I’ve no complaints. Optional subtitles are available in two varieties – English SDH and French. Otherwise there’s literally nothing else on the disc to discuss. King Kong vs. Godzilla was released April 1st, is all region compatible (it plays just fine in my region B secondary deck), and has an SRP of $19.98.
King Kong Escapes follows in much the same vein, and presents the film on a bare-bones BD25 with only a pop-up menu for navigation (again, the film begins immediately after the logos / warnings). The encode is once again Mpeg-4 AVC, though this time at a fractionally lower average bitrate of 32.2 Mbps. For whatever reason King Kong Escapes shows a bit more in the way of artifacting than does the earlier film.
There was less wrong with King Kong Escapes on DVD to begin with, so many of the blu-ray’s improvements are quite subtle – like truer colors (particularly flesh tones) and tighter contrast. Detail improves mightily in most respects, and it’s easier than ever to admire the intricacy of the film’s effects work (there’s a lot of it in this film to enjoy). Texture still isn’t quite settled, with at least as much noise here as grain, but the issue isn’t as pronounced as on King Kong vs. Godzilla. Overall the image looks fairly good, particularly in motion, though the framing is worth mentioning – King Kong Escapes looks to be cropped more tightly here than on the older DVD, leading to some loss of image information at the edges of the 2.35:1 frame.
DVD (upsacled, top) vs Blu-ray (bottom). Note the framing:
Audio is again English only in monophonic DTS-HD MA 2.0, but I have no complaints. The original score goes mostly unmolested in the dubbed version (less a few cuts during the final reel), which is great – it’s among the very best of Ifukube’s tokusatsu work, and it packs some decent punch in this track. The rest sounds just fine, including the slightly alienated post-dubbed dialogue. I can never get enough of Paul Frees in any capacity, and his Dr. Hu/Who is a killer (when the madman is exasperated at the end of the show, Frees dubs him as though he’s been up drinking all night). Optional subtitles are once again available in English SDH and French, and that’s it for this bare-bones disc. King Kong Escapes was released on April 1st, is all region compatible, and has an SRP of $19.98.
I’d say “good enough” is the operative phrase for each of these releases, and the benefits of the blu-ray iterations versus the older DVDs are more than enough to make up for their other limitations. These get an easy recommendation for fans, particularly if you can find them going for cheap.
More screenshots. These were taken as uncompressed .png in Totem Movie Player with no filters applied, and compressed to .jpg at a quality setting of 93%.
From Shaw Brothers’ delirious great-ape-sploitation vehicle The Mighty Peking Man to Paul Leder’s dismal camp anti-classic A*P*E, a lot of imitators cropped up in the wake of Dino De Laurentiis’ mega-budget 1976 re-production of King Kong – a film so over-publicized that the Universe was likely aware of Kong’s return at the atomic level. Still, out of all the faux-Kongs that fought over De Laurentiis’ scraps none seems quite so ill-advised as Gianfranco Parolini’s Yeti: The Giant of the 20th Century (Italian title Yeti: Il Gigante del 20° Secolo). The production saw short-lived schlock purveyor Stefano Film (most notable for D’Amato’s Erotic Nights of the Living Dead) working well out of its depth, footing what must have seemed a lavish bill for a cross-continent special effects fiasco that fails on pretty much every conceivable level. Perhaps the only giant monster film to take place in Toronto, Yeti achieves an almost transcendent level of bad before its near 2-hour running time is up, and it’s little wonder that director and co-writer Parolini (who’d previously had a good career in peplums and spaghetti westerns) would slip into obscurity soon thereafter.
From its opening moments of ice inexplicably exploding in the frozen north of Canada, it’s obvious that Yeti is destined to be a dreadful hoot. Out of the tumult of collapsing ice sheets emerges something very special indeed – a huge block of ice, bobbing about in the surf, with two sets of toes poking out the end of it! The block is scooped up by a ship owned by the megalithic Hunnicut corporation (they own a whole building!) and put under the care of paleontologist Wasserman (Paul Stacy, Zeder), who sets about exposing its contents in the only reasonable way imaginable – with flame throwers. Discovered inside is the eponymous Yeti who, true to the film’s Kong pedigree, stands about a dozen meters tall. Wasserman and corporate stooge Cliff (Tony Kendall, The Whip and the Body) concoct a dubious scheme to wake the slumbering giant, some mess involving a helicopter and a big red cage that, like most of Yeti‘s developments, is never properly explained. It all works of course, and Yeti is soon rampaging through the Canadian wilderness with the papa Hunnicut’s grandchildren – mute Herbie and beauty Jane (Antonella Interlenghi!) – in tow. Somewhere between some grotesque Yeti nipple-hardening and a dinner of raw fish Yeti and the tykes become friends, and dear Jane convinces the kindly critter to head to Toronto to be exploited by her grand-pops’ corporation.
Shortly thereafter, Yeti-mania strikes Toronto! Gas stations promise to put a Yeti in your tank, young women buy tight Kiss-me-Yeti T-shirts, super-markets sell Yeti vegetables, and Yeti parades are held where dancers gyrate to Yeti’s theme song, “Yeti”, by who else but The Yetians! Hunnicut rakes in the dough in advance of his star attraction’s public premiere, but not everyone is pleased. Meeting in secret, a consortium of Hunnicut Corp’s top competitors vote to bring Hunnicut and his hairy superstar down by any means possible, and their inside man on Hunnicut’s staff is a face all to familiar – a good guy turned most dastardly of dastardly bastards, Cliff!
Elsewhere, Yeti’s rooftop debut doesn’t go strictly as planned. A few flashbulbs send him into hysterics, and the ensuing panic traps his beloved Jane in what must be Canada’s shoddiest elevator. As the elevator crumbles to bits around her Yeti goes into action, setting aside his fear of flashy lights and scaling the building in an effort to rescue Jane before it’s too late. He does of course, but with the local police in hot pursuit Yeti and Jane are forced to go on the lam. They settle on a warehouse as a choice hiding spot, but more trouble strikes – Yeti, removed from his high altitude habitat, is dying! Wasserman is called in to administer the proper medical care, leading to a choice romantic Yeti hallucination (a dance scene between Yeti and Jane that appears to have been deleted from most international prints), but unbeknownst to him the scheming Cliff and his under-goons are plotting against them all. The baddies kill the good doctor and blame it all on the Yeti, but the beast isn’t so stupid as they think. Even in his boozy near-death stupor he saw everything, and it isn’t long before Yeti is up and at ’em again, and itching for some ferocious toe-choking revenge!
It’s impossible to properly relate the delightful awfulness of Yeti – The Giant of the 20th Century in print. From the utterly indifferent direction and photography to the uproariously derivative score (Sante Maria Romitelli channeling both John Barry’s King Kong and Orff’s Carmina Burana) to the loathsome special effects and beyond, Yeti is an out-and-out catastrophe of a film. One can’t help but feel pity for poor Antonella Interlenghi, to whom Yeti provided an inauspicious film debut, or the rest of the cast, most of whom look to have had much better days. Mimmo Craig gets the worst of it, however, as the Yeti. Not only is his costume (a mess of matted fur topped off with a freakish, fluffy mane) lamentable, the effects used to scale it up to size are some of the worst I’ve ever seen.
Blame for that doubtless rests with Stefano Film’s financial capabilities, which were obviously nowhere near satisfactory enough to support the sort of effects production such a film requires. The rest, however, boils down to effects director Ermando Biamonte and his company, Biamonte Cinegroup S.r.l., who have gone on to do work of varying quality elsewhere (The Pumaman leaps to mind). There are a few decent miniature setups peppered throughout the film’s running time, but the vast majority of Yeti‘s effects are accomplished though process photography. There is a lot of it to be found here, not just with regards to the Yeti, but also bridging Italian-shot dialogue with Toronto-made background plates, and it is almost unanimously terrible. The setups are shaky, the elements transparent, and perspective is all over the map. I honestly can’t think of another film in which a single effects method is utilized so often and so badly.
Of course, that’s all part of the charm for a film as uncompromisingly dismal as this – Yeti wouldn’t be nearly so much fun if its effects had actually worked. In the wake of MST3K and the popular resurgence of midnight cinema there’s a ready-made audience for this sort of thing now, though finding a copy can be something of a challenge. The last official domestic release was to VHS a couple of decades ago, and copies of it go for stupid amounts of money these days. The same is sadly true for the international market, with long-OOP tapes fetching higher prices than Yeti could ever command otherwise. To any of the more suicidally-minded distributors out there, let it be known that I’d pay damn good money for a proper release of this on DVD or, my god, Blu-ray. Here’s hoping for something, as Yeti is a hell of a thing.