King Kong (1976) vs. Godzilla (1998)
King Kong (1976) vs. Godzilla (1998)
Released in 1976, King Kong is a remake of the original 1933 King Kong, which follows a film crew (changed to an oil company in the 76 version) that sets out to find a mysterious island. When they arrive, they discover a giant monkey. You know, King Kong. The 1998 Godzilla is the first American remake of the original 1954 Gojira, which follows some scientists who discover a giant lizard mutated by nuclear testing in the Pacific who emerges and begins a rampage through Toyko (New York in the 98 film.)
Now if you missed the first two last week, this is another in a series of Godzilla v Kong reviews, which started with the original 1933 Kong against the 1954 Godzilla, then a review of the two versus movies from 1962/63 and 2021. Now we are going back to two remakes that, thanks to further remakes from both monsters, have been pretty much buried by much better versions of these monsters in film. But as they are both direct remakes of the original film released in the usual 10-15 year gap that comes with most Kong and Godzilla movies, they seemed perfect to pit against each other! So let’s see which one is… better?
Story and Adapted Material:
The stories in these two films are loose, but straight forward adaptations of the original. In King Kong, we still have a group of people who set out to find a mysterious island, discover King Kong, capture him, and return with him, where he escapes in New York. Godzilla also follows scientists who, while investigating disappearing and sunk ships, discovers a giant mutant lizard caused by nuclear testing, and must find a way to stop said lizard, who begins to rampage through- huh, also New York. Kong is definitely a little closer to the original, as Kong doesn’t lay eggs and turn his film from a larger-than-life creature feature to a swarm of unstoppable things creature feature. But while I want to just award Kong a point to avoid talking more about these movies, let’s dig in and see it little change can go a long way…
Each movie makes a critical error in changing the original material. That isn’t to say that change is bad, as both films display honest intentions in replacing key moments, like swapping the iconic Empire State Building for the World Trade Center, or using New York instead of Toyko. Gotta destroy those bridges! However, being a 70s film, King Kong’s subplot about an evil oil baron feels- very unnecessary. Instead of seeing an analogy for the greed of man, we get- corporate greed instead? I guess that kinda works, but it also doesn’t make as much sense. Putting Kong on display because you are a theater and film producer? Yeah that works. Putting him on display to… advertise for oil? What?
But while Godzilla’s story changes feel less on the nose, they are also painfully reminiscent of another blockbuster that killed it in the US just five years earlier: Jurassic Park. The changes made to Godzilla don’t feel all that confusing on their own, but when you think about the way the film’s tone, action sequences, and characters work together to create a painfully obvious Jurassic Park knockoff, you get one of the many reasons this movie is so bad. I’m not saying that the ’76 Kong is good, but as an adaptation, it’s definitely better. Plus, you know, King Kong isn’t a giant iguana. Kong: 1; Godzilla: 0.
Characters and Monsters:
Speaking of iguanas, now would be a good time to mention that the titular kaiju resembles the original so little that the Godzilla series brought this one into canon as “Zilla” in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004). On top of that, the characteristics for Godzilla don’t make a ton of sense. You find out that Godzilla’s goal in the film is simply to lay eggs, which COULD being some sympathy to the character. Instead, it asks more questions than it answers. But the biggest question that this movie beings up: Why New York? Surely there are better and safer places to lay eggs… Right? RIGHT??
Ugh, Kong isn’t much better though. While Godzilla sacrifices its themes for blockbuster action, Kong swaps its themes for- stranger, less likable themes. At the heart of this giant monkey movie lies the relationship between protagonist Ann, changes to Dwan in the ’76 film- BAHAHAHAHAH Dwan! Oh gosh I can’t, that’s the worst movie name ever. Gosh, Dwan?? DWAN?!? Sorry, anyway, Ann and Kong have a strange love story in the original that is defiantly more symbolic. Kong represents something Ann’s life is missing, and Ann offers the same feeling to Kong. But nooooo, just make Kong a pervert. That’s just what the ‘76 film feels like anyway. Except the characters in the film also know that Kong is just straight-up in love with Dwan. Gosh I can’t type that seriously. Anyway, whatever sympathy for Kong there was is mostly lost, and despite little sense, Godzilla being a mother gets the point. I guess? Godzilla: 1; Kong: 1.
Ugh that said maybe I should be taking away points. I mean what sounds more appealing here: A terrible miscast Matthew Broderick, an out of place Jean Reno, and Michael Lerner as the most annoying movie mayor I can think of; or Jeff Bridges obviously having a bad time on set, a rookie Jessica Lang asked to act opposite a giant gorilla, and a terrible performance from Charles Grodin as the evil oil baron? Yeah I don’t know. On the one hand, I want to give it to Godzilla. That cast is obviously having a better time, to the point where I actually enjoy that the protagonist is a worm scientist. Ironically, I think. On the other hand, The Kong cast might be better. Ah you know what, point to Godzilla. Godzilla: 2; Kong: 1.
Effects and Filmmaking:
Well only one of these films has an Oscar nomination, and it isn’t the giant lizard. That said, I think there is some quality in Godzilla, courtesy of experienced blockbuster director Roland Emmerich. When the film isn’t focusing on the CGI of the titular Godzilla, which was simply too ambitious for the technology, it’s not terrible. The effects for the rapto- I mean, baby Godzillas are pretty decent, and the film is full of genuinely cool effects, stunts, and pyrotechnics throughout. I’m not saying I thought it made the film better, but, well it did make for a few pretty exciting set pieces. And speaking of set pieces, I know that Godzilla looks terrible, but every time it’s a giant set instead of CGI, it’s pretty fun! I mean it’s like a big, dumb 3D ride. You know it’s fake, but you have some fun anyway!
While King Kong has certainly not ages well, the effects are undoubtedly better for the time. I am not a fan of the gorilla suit, and often, the cropping for making that suit look huge is downright bad. But for the 70s, it’s not THAT bad. The film also boasts some pretty decent production design, a few very cool effects shots (thanks to another experienced director), and some costume design that is probably the most culturally accurate for the locals on Skull Island for where the film sets the island. So with a heavy heart, I think Kong gets this point. For effects that have aged worse than the original… Kong: 2; Godzilla: 2.
Success and Influence:
Well we are all tied up, so the only thing to look at now is how well these films have stood the test of time since their releases. The 1976 King Kong did receive a surprisingly positive response from critics, including two Oscar nominations. That said the film just barely doubled its budget at the box office and is now widely considered as a film that nobody asked for. It received a sequel that most people call one of the worst sequels ever, and since then it has been largely forgotten. Godzilla on the other hand was so reviled upon its release that it is talked about much more. But while the film barely made its budget back domestically, it almost tripled its budget internationally. That international “success” led to an animated series follow-up, and the inclusion of “Zilla” in the 2004 Toho Godzilla film Final Wars. That said Toho had also planned in restructuring what I believe is the second iteration of Godzilla to follow the American film. Something that did not happen. And of course the US rebooted the film in 2014 to MUCH more success. But still, while Godzilla is clearly a worse film, it is arguably a more enjoyable one, either ironically or just because Godzilla is stupid, but King Kong is dull and silly. So I guess this point, and this versus match, goes to Godzilla! Both films though? Yeah maybe 4/10 for the pair of them based on both hos much I enjoyed/suffered through all 4 hours, 40 minutes of them.
Either way, these two films are very bad. But while Godzilla is objectively worse, I do think it is a lot more fun! (Ironically if course.) But don’t let us have all the fun! Which do you think is the better film? Is there anything in these that we forgot to talk about? How about that time Jessica Lang teleported herself from the top of the World Trade Center to the bottom in the drop of a Kong? Or the time that you can outrun dinosaurs as long as you throw things on the ground for them to slip and trip all over? Whatever your thoughts, be sure to weigh in in the comments!
-review by Ryan Prince