A co-production between Rankin-Bass and Toho made in 1967, King Kong Escapes was, like the earlier King Kong Vs. Godzilla, directed by Ishirô Honda and it was essentially made as a spin-off of the then current The King Kong Show animated series airing on ABC. Remember that one? It had a great theme song. At any rate, this is brought up really just because this particular feature film has more in common with that animated series than with the original King Kong film made back in 1933.
So what's it all about? First we voyage to the North Pole where Dr. Who (Eisei Amamoto, and the character is no relation to the BBC Doctor Who series) and his evil cohort Madame X (Mie Hama) are in the process of building a massive nuclear stockpile to not only rival but outdo those held by both the United States and the Soviet Union. In order to make this happen, they need a copious amount of something called Element X which is buried deep beneath the surface of the Earth. Extracting this won't be easy, so Who has built a giant mechanical King Kong robot to do all of the work in place of his men. Things get hairy when the robot Kong gets short-circuited by the radioactivity emitted by Element X and so Who decides he'll need to get his hands on the real thing. So he heads off to Monod Island where he knows the real King Kong lives where he intends to kidnap the poor beast.
Of course, Who's activities aren't going to go unnoticed, particularly because a trio naval officers made up of Carl Nelson (Rhodes Reason), Jiro Nimura (Akira Takarada) and foxy nurse Susan Watson (Linda Miller) have recently popped out of their submarine and started to explore Mondo Island. When they're attacked by a man eating dinosaur, none other than King Kong himself shows up to rescue them, and Kong being Kong, he shows a special affinity for pretty blonde Susan. Who is bound and determined, however, and before you know it King Kong will be battling it out against his mechanical doppelganger across the streets of Tokyo.
Fast paced, pulpy and a whole lot of fun, King Kong Escapes is a ridiculously enjoyable tale of a super villain talking on a kinda-sorta heroic giant monster. Who has got all the trappings of the classic villain here, from his gadget filled laboratory hidden away in the arctic to his gigantic robotic thug and Eisei Amamoto plays the role really well. Who is as sinister as they come, he's sneaky and conniving and he's a blast to watch. His on screen chemistry with Mie Hama is fun, and Hama, fresh from playing Kissy Suzuki in You Only Live Twice, is quite beautiful here. Her character is mysterious and ominous, from her look to her name, and Madame X and Dr. Who wind up making a great team here. And on the flip side, we have a threesome of completely noble heroes who only want to do what's right. Reason, Takarada and Miller are a little plain here but they all look the part and play their traditional good guy roles well. Miller in particular gets a bit more to do once she winds up in Kong's massive hands and she's just as cute as a button in this movie.
Of course, the real stars of the show are King Kong and his robotic counterpart. The Rankin-Bass style is evident in the design here as well as in how both characters are brought to life on screen. As such, this isn't all that realistic but fans of sixties era effects work will find a lot to love about all of this. The film culminates in a massive battle between the two foes atop the Tokyo Tower, an obvious wink to the finish of the 1933 original film, and it's pretty exciting stuff loaded with rampant destruction. Even if, unlike some similar films, it's aimed squarely at a children's audience there's a whole lot of free spirited fun to be gleaned from this one. It holds up well and remains as deliriously entertaining as it is delightfully silly.
King Kong Escapes arrives on Blu-ray framed at 2.35.1 widescreen in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and while the transfer won't blow you away it looks pretty decent. Colors look really nice here and detail is considerably improved over DVD releases. The obvious grain in the image has thankfully been left intact rather than turned into a smeary noise reduction nightmare. Black levels look pretty good and are fairly deep while texture is decent throughout. There isn't any obvious edge enhancement to complain about nor are there any evident compression artifacts of note. There is some minor print damage here and there but it's never distracting. All in all, this looks pretty nice, really.
Audio chores are handled by an English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track with optional subtitles provided in English SDH and French. The audio here is alright. The dialogue is clear enough and the levels are properly balanced. The grunts and roars from Kong sound pretty strong and there aren't any issues with hiss or distortion. This isn't a fancy mix by any stretch but it works.
Extras? Not a single one outside of a pop-up menu.
King Kong Escapes is impossible to take seriously but as a good old fashioned goofy monster movie it is a whole lot of ridiculous fun. The effects obviously show their age and limitations but there's plenty of nostalgic charm to be taken away from this one and while it's a shame that this release is as barebones as it is, the transfer is pretty solid. Recommended for fans.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.