Saturday, November 26, 2016

Film Review: Son of Kong

"Son of Kong"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

It is not difficult to understand why Hollywood would have made a movie called "Son of Kong" (1933) but one wonders why did they settle on this story.

The original "King Kong" (1933) is considered by most movie lovers as something of a masterpiece. An exciting movie with dazzling special effects which helped define the creature feature genre. It was filled with memorable visuals, including the famous climax on top of the Empire State Building. "Son of Kong" however hasn't secured a strong reputation. Most people have not seen it and fewer have heard of it. We all know the countless remakes that have been made, the most recent example was Peter Jackson's 2005 version starring Naomi Watts (with a new version set to come out next year) but Hollywood actually decided to make an official sequel to the original film.

"Son of Kong" is an example, one of many, of movie sequels that never should have been made. First of all, did "King Kong" end in an ambiguous way? Did viewers wonder if he actually fell down the Empire State Building? Secondly, hearing a movie title such as "Son of Kong" and looking at the art work for the poster, viewers may feel they have the story all figured out. You don't! Trust me. You don't!

That's the problem with "Son of Kong", it doesn't give the audience what they want. Some might argue, but Alex, what did you want this movie to do? Merely be a retread of everything that happened in the first movie? Don't you know sequels never do that. No sequel has ever simply copied the original story. To which I would reply, "are you kidding?" As it stands now "Son of Kong" at best is misleading and at worst is meaningless.

"Son of Kong" takes place nearly immediately after "King Kong" as filmmaker Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) is being held responsible for all the damage Kong caused as he roamed the streets of New York. Now he is being hit with lawsuit after lawsuit. Broke and desperate to get away, Carl takes a job working a cargo ship with friend, Captain Englehorn (Frank Reicher). Each man, without saying it, seems to be intrigued by going back to the island where Kong was found. Neither man however is willing to say it, as they chart a course near the island.

Stopping at a port in Dakang, the two men meet Captain Nils Helstrom (John Marston), who lost his last ship at sea. Now he is mostly a drunk and may be responsible for the death of a man, whose daughter, Hilda (Helen Mack) may turn him in. Helstrom would love to leave Dakang and lures Carl and Englehorn to leaving and head to Kong's Island, where there is a lost treasure. Carl and Englehorn don't need much convincing and soon the three men and Hilda, who has taken a liking to Carl, head to the island.

As the movie's title reveals, the group encounters another giant gorilla, who happens to be the son of Kong. This son of Kong is a bit smaller and as luck would have it, more friendly as Hilda and Carl treat the gorilla as a friend. Carl even feels a sense of responsibility to be nice to the son as Carl blames himself for what happened to Kong, leaving the son fatherless.

If a lot of this is beginning to sound ridiculous to you that's only because it is. If your imagination starts to get the best of you and you start to think oh yes, Carl will want to take the son back to New York to recoup his losses. This son of Kong is more manageable. It won't cause the same level of terror the father did, thus greed influences Carl to make the same mistakes all over again. It is a nice idea and quite frankly what "Son of Kong" should have been. Instead the move has a lighter tone, sometimes looking for humor.

For my cinematic taste buds humor and King Kong doesn't blend nicely together. If Hollywood screenwriters were concerned about repeating their story the answer to that problem was simple. Don't make a sequel. But this idea of turning "Son of Kong" into a light-hearted humorous tale of adventure doesn't work and doesn't do enough to sustain my interest even at 69 minutes. There is not enough conflict, not enough motivation for the characters. The fact that not one character even suggest bringing the son back to New York is astonishing.

In "King Kong" the movie wasn't really about the characters. The star attraction was of course Kong. That may have been the one flaw of the movie. In "Son of Kong" there is more emphasis on the human characters, supplying the viewer with more motivation for why they all end up on the island but once on the island the movie runs out of ideas. It basically has a lot of fight scenes between the son and dinosaurs, which should make audiences think of the classic silent movie "The Lost World" (1925).

That may be the bright spot of the movie; the creatures. The visual effects resemble what Willis H. O'Brien did on the original Kong and "The Lost World" with his stop-motion animation technique. Mr. O'Brien is not given screen credit however as he may have had limited involvement with this movie.

"Son of Kong" was a misguided movie. It didn't need to be made as it does not to further advance the story-line of the original movie, which was complete as it. Having said that, this final product doesn't give audiences what they would have expected a "King Kong" sequel to be. The movie runs out of ideas once the characters reach the island, after doing a more than decent job establishing characters.

The movie was directed by Ernest B. Schoedsack, who would direct a "King Kong" - esque rip-off "Mighty Joe Young" (1949), which is also a bit disappointing. The script was by Ruth Rose, whose first writing credit was "King Kong", she would also go on to write "Mighty Joe Young", the woman has gorillas on her mind and the adventure movie "She" (1935).

"Son of Kong" lack innovation, plot-wise. It doesn't add anything to the Kong brand. It serves more as a curiosity piece for those that enjoyed the original film. Under no circumstances should you see this movie before seeing the original.