Meet Robert live

Check out
Robert Hood's
Shades series

Buy Immaterial:
Ghost Stories by Robert Hood at Australian Online Bookshop




The following article appeared in King Kong Is Back! edited by David Brin (BenBella Books, 2005). Many thanks to BenBella Books and the publisher, Glenn Yeffeth, for providing the opportunity and for helping me make the most of it.

Divided Kingdom: King Kong versus Godzilla

Robert Hood


For several decades following King Kong's 1933 release, the great ape was top of the gargantuan heap—the unchallenged King of Celluloid Monsterdom. He was like nothing that had existed before and no challengers could put the slightest dent in his crown. But that clear title had become significantly less clear by the 1960s, Kong's direct simian descendants having proven remarkably impotent. From Japan, a genuine pretender arose, splitting the Kingdom down the middle. Even a confrontation between the two in 1962 failed to resolve the matter, so that today two very different giant monster superstars command their own hordes of loyal supporters. Kong or Godzilla? King of Skull Island or King of the Monsters? Where should our loyalties lie?

Given you're reading this in a book celebrating Kong, you might think the answer obvious. But I have to confess to some seriously divided loyalties. Yes, King Kong came first and is an unchallenged classic. But Godzilla's iconic presence has been huge and ongoing—and his first film, at least, is a world-cinema classic. Moreover, the Big G's birth in 1954 initiated a whole sub-genre of films—known as kaiju eiga (or daikaiju eiga), Japanese (giant) monster films—that are distinctive in form, imaginatively fertile and long-running in popularity and influence. Their impact is still seen today: in the ongoing production of Japanese kaiju eiga, in proliferating anime and in U.S. products such as Tim Burton's demented Mars Attacks!, the CGI extravaganza Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and, arguably, Stephen Spielberg's recent War of the Worlds remake. Even the U.S. animated film Rugrats in Paris pays very distinct and extended homage to Godzilla and Co.!

I'm not old enough to have seen King Kong during its initial release, or even during its re-release in 1952. But as a kid, I certainly knew about Kong, and I knew he was King. All the monster magazines said so. I had the pictures. I had the Aurora model kit, which I carefully assembled and painted. Like most young boys I was fascinated by the very concept of dinosaurs (for which read “Really Big Monsters”) and I knew that Kong had wrestled a Tyrannosaurus Rex into submission. A T. rex! How impressive is that!

I must have seen the film at some point on late-night television, no doubt expurgated; I watched the creature features all the time—or at least whenever I could get mum to let me stay up past my bedtime. However, in the mid-1970s there was a special showing at my local flea-pit cinema (part of an oddly inappropriate double with Andy Warhol's Heat, I recall)—and I went along in a lather of anticipation to see it. Needless to say, the sheer overwhelming power of the old film left me stunned. On that big screen, Kong was a towering menace and an inhuman tragic hero whose fate rivalled anything in Shakespeare. The film was mythic poetry. Seeing it like that, large and imposing, proved a turning point. From then on, Kong was confirmed in my mind as the King of Giant Monsters, and giant monsters were re-instated (if they'd ever been deposed) as primary inhabitants of my persistently monster-oriented imagination—along with all the zombies, vampires and bug-eyed greebies from outer space that have since proliferated in Hollywood and beyond.

All this time, however, I had been conscious of the other King through the same magazines and books, but his presence was more distant. It was only as an adult, edging past middle-age, that I finally saw Gojira—subtitled, on ethnic television in Australia, completely bypassing the harshly re-edited and heavily Americanised version starring a displaced Raymond Burr that went under the more popular title, Godzilla, King of the Monsters. I therefore knew the film as a serious piece of cinema, not just as another somewhat clunky ‘50s giant monster film. It was powerful and resonant and immediately ensnared me in its dark, and morally complex, anti-nuclear vision.

Since then I have seen all but the last of the twenty-eight Japanese Godzilla films in their original, undubbed and unre-edited formats. I am therefore familiar with Godzilla's varied history—ranging from powerful and entertaining to cheesy and childish. Everyone the world over knows Godzilla in some form, even if they haven't seen the films: as an icon of nuclear terror and simultaneously as a monstrous hero, or just as a sort of kitsch fire-breathing dinosaur. He is not merely recognizable as an historic artifact, but has a cultural presence as a continuing, viable franchise and a useful merchandising tool. On the surface, it seems that the Kong line stagnated, whereas Godzilla, the nuclear lizard, gave birth to a virile dynasty. Clearly his claim to being King of the Monsters is authentic.

Kong or not Kong?

To many people the whole question could be considered a non-starter. It comes down to critical acceptance. King Kong is a film with deservedly immaculate credentials. Critics worldwide place it in their top twenty. Godzilla, in contrast, is often dismissed as cheap, poorly produced nonsense. Here isn't the place to argue about that at any length (though I do argue vociferously about it whenever the subject comes up at SF conventions, while lounging at bars or around the dinner table). Right now, I simply want to point out in passing that much of the scorn is based on badly re-edited  U.S. versions of the G films, on the mistaken belief that suitmation and the attendant model work (“man-in-rubber-suit wrecking cardboard buildings”) used by Godzilla's makers is cheapjack and lacking artistry, and on the worst, dullest and least effective of the series. To judge on this basis is rather like judging King Kong not on the original film itself but on some poorly dubbed foreign re-edit, the King Kong cartoon series from 1966 or King Kong Lives!, sequel to the ill-conceived 1976 Dino de Laurentis remake—or by adopting the nonsensical attitude that its once-advanced stop-motion techniques lack effectiveness in the face of the most recent CGI advances. The original unre-edited version of Gojira was not seen on American cinema screens until 2004, during celebrations of the film's fiftieth anniversary. The positive critical response that followed, amounting to a sort of collective gasp of amazement, speaks for itself.

My point here is that there are films in the Godzilla canon that are worthy of a King, especially the first—so the question of which contender should rightfully inherit the crown can't be decided through casual dismissal.

So, with two such heavyweight cultural icons as King Kong and Godzilla duking it out for the title of Supreme Monster Monarch, is it even possible to decide on a clear winner? If so, on what basis? In the remainder of this essay I want to examine a number of issues relating to King Kong and Godzilla, in particular tracing their origins and how the two films are related, both directly and as part of a tradition of giant monster films. Are these two Kings connected in any way, beyond their obvious monstrousness? What were their respective contributions to the giant monster sub-genre of fantasy/horror films? What do they reflect of the respective social environments in which they were forged? In answering these questions, I hope it will become clear that while Godzilla might hold a strong ongoing claim on the crown, Kong is the patriarchal giant from which the whole monster sub-genre (in both its U.S. and Japanese manifestations) was born, and hence the ultimate origin of the Big G himself.

Kong as Giant Monster

The template for giant monster films was forged from a novel, The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle. In 1925, Willis O'Brien, who would go on to create Kong, was involved in filming Doyle's story of Professor Challenger and the historically backward Amazonian plateau to which he journeys. Several elements of the tale have become standards: the concept of a lost world and/or creature that is discovered, awakened or (sometimes) created by modern man; battles between monsters in which humans can be no more than victims or helpless observers; and the creature brought back to (or simply arriving in) civilization, where it then goes on a rampage. This last is not really part of Doyle's original book;though Challenger does bring back a prehistoric creature, it is only a smallish pterodactyl that escapes from its cage and flies away. Its narrative purpose is to verify the professor's story; it does no menacing or rampaging. But the 1925 film turned the pterodactyl into a brontosaurus, which escapes from captivity and rampages through the streets of London for a bit, scaring the milling crowds and wrecking a few monuments and buildings. It finally plunges into the Thames when London Bridge collapses under its weight, and is last seen swimming out to sea.

It is easy to see how these elements could be developed into Kong's lost Skull Island where an ancient wall keeps back the denizens of a prehistoric wilderness; a god-beast who, lured into captivity by his fatal attraction to a diminutive blonde Beauty, is transported by commercial interests back to New York where he is put on show, escapes in a fury of possessive wrath and goes on a rampage; a last stand made atop the world's tallest building before the creature is brought down by the then high-tech weaponry of the “little people.”King Kong took the template provided by the earlier Lost World and reworked it, giving it a personality and a mythic quality that hasn't diminished to this day. So powerful is its imagery, and so superbly crafted its theme and central character, that its old-fashioned aspects and perceived technical limitations can be appreciated as a positive boon. Moreover, in thus creating a classic—and in becoming such a huge box-office success at the time and on re-release two decades later—King Kong would inspire a whole new genre, both in its own country and more particularly in the East.

Oddly enough, however, given King Kong's success, that was pretty well it for giant monsters in the 1930s and 1940s, simian or otherwise. A few minor parodies of Kong appeared and there was the odd dinosaur, but no one really pursued the genre. A sequel, Son of Kong, was produced on its predecessor's heels, but the film comes over as the rush job it was and didn't do particularly well, even though O’Brien's limited effects are excellent. It remains a minor offshoot of the Kong legend. What it lacked was the parent film's scope and emotional depth, its complex social and psychological subtext and its central character's awesome ferocity. King Kong created a myth, while his Son was merely a more family-friendly franchise entertainment. Likewise, O’Brien’s 1949 ape-on-the-loose film, Mighty Joe Young, though designed to replicate Kong's success, was too small-scale and benign to have had any influence on developing the genre to come.

King Kong’s original popularity arose from the film’s rich reflection of a society living with the threat of economic deprivation (the Depression), tapping into a desire for the exotic and playing upon a sense of innocent awesomeness that had not yet become jaded by the apocalyptic terrors of a second world war. Early scenes of Ann Darrow on the streets with other homeless and hungry vagrants, subsequently given a chance to go on an exotic adventure, set the story against a background of familiar social anxiety and desire for escape. On its initial release, indeed, King Kong was marketed as a jungle adventure movie, an escapist appeal that plays a strong role in the storyline itself, as Denham's intent to film the legendary Beast in its native habitat is motivated by the need to produce a jungle travelogue that would be a follow-up to his previous wildlife documentaries (thus reflecting the actual history of Cooper and Schoedsack, as a matter of fact). Even his cynical inclusion of a female/romantic interest makes ironic reference to the making of King Kong itself—“the public, bless ’em, must have a pretty face to look at,” says Denham. It has always struck me that as a work of cinematic art King Kong is remarkably self-reflective. The first lines spoken, by theatrical agent Charles Weston as he approaches the Venture, are: “Is this the motion picture ship?” Of course, that is exactly what it is: a motion picture ship—and the line places us in a very specific cinematic context. That the final tragedy is the result of a ruthless drive to entertain at any cost (bringing Kong from the prehistoric jungle into modern civilisation in order to “attract an audience”) in fact offers an ironic comment on Hollywood's own exploitative tendencies.

Then there's the scene in which Denham guides Ann through a screen test, anticipating what is to come: 

Look higher . . . still higher . . . . Now you see it! You're amazed. You can't believe it. Your eyes open wider . . . . It's horrible, Ann, but you can't look away. . . .  There's just one chance . . . . If you can scream. But your throat’s paralysed. Try to scream, Ann, try . . . . Perhaps if you didn't see it, you could scream. Throw your arms across your eyes and scream, Ann, scream for your life!

So Fay Wray, playing actress Ann Darrow, who is in turn playing at seeing something huge and frightening under the direction of filmmaker Denham, screams her now-legendary scream into empty space. Even though we know what she will eventually “see,” we feel the thrill of anticipation tingle up our spines. The scene works in a complex, multi-layered manner that perfectly captures the excitement of watching monster movies of any kind: knowledge of artistic separation and the correspondent fear that it will be breached, anticipation of the marvellous, the expectation of exquisite terror. That's the magic of cinema: we can be led to see the unreal, to be scared and thrilled by it, even when there's “nothing” there.

King Kong was, then, an effects-driven film that consciously referred to its own technical milieu—a work whose appeal was its exotic subject matter and use of a remarkable cinematic technique. These factors—along with the emotive strength of Kong as a personality (something hitherto unknown in large film monsters) and the film’s effectively-worked romantic theme—may be identified as the source of King Kong’s initial (and on-going) success.

A New Appeal

Though King Kong seen as exotic adventure and metaphor for Hollywood itself did not initially inspire a giant monster genre, this would change upon its later re-release. The film's new appeal would be to a society substantially changed by the spectre of a terror even greater than Depression—and this time its cinematic influence would be wide-ranging. The film would soon be seen not as an exotic jungle adventure, but as a rather more generic “monster film,” first in a line of entertainments that at least pretended to offer a moral lesson as to the mortal dangers that can arise from human arrogance. In King Kong, it is unethical greed and ruthless exploitation that lies at the heart of the problem. Despite Denham's famous last line—“It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast”—it is in fact Denham himself who is responsible. That he is still refusing to recognise the fact at the end is part of the tragedy. This “metaphorical quality”—the theme of responsibility, of the Beast brought into civilization through careless greed and allowed to run riot—could be adapted to reflect on larger problems, and the biggest problem in the 1950s was the recent War and what it implied for the future. The Bomb loomed large in 1952—and inevitably it was that fear that molded the “new” genre inspired by Kong.

The big change for giant monsterdom came with the release of a different giant monster film, one fuelled by the 1950s’ nuclear, scientific and ideological anxieties. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) was inspired by KingKong’s re-release success and its monster, like Kong, was created using stop-motion animation, the work of Ray Harryhausen—O’Brien’s protégé. Unlike Kong, however, the Beast is a reptilian throwback, awakened by nuclear testing in the Arctic. It comes to New York and rampages through the streets, spreading radiation sickness as it goes, until it is destroyed by the very science that provoked it. The film was a significant hit, offering up a variant on the King Kong formula that over the following decade would be more-or-less replicated in films such as the giant ant epic Them! (1954), It Came From Beneath the Sea (featuring Harryhausen's giant five-tentacled octopus) and Tarantula (both 1955), Behemoth the Sea Monster (1958) and a host of others, most of them fuelled by concerns about what science and the War had wrought—nuclear paranoia and the fear of invasion by irresistible and inhuman (though human in origin) forces. The trend would continue into the 1960s, in particular with non-U.S. films such as Gorgo (1961) and Reptilicus (1962), before largely petering out in the 1970s and beyond (though examples sporadically re-emerge still, from time to time, usually without the nuclear subtext).

During its short life, then, the 1950s U.S. giant monster genre, though clearly borrowing elements from King Kong, quickly became something quite different from its ancestor. Thematically, however you read it, Kong's story, with its complex mythic overtones and humanistic emotional structure, is a far cry from the direct nuclear and social allegories of the post-war genre, however much it can be seen to reflect on these in retrospect. We remember Kong as a personality more than as a threat. His command of his prehistoric domain, his obsession with the diminutive blonde, his resentment and anger, his humiliation at the hands of modern technology: these give him character and psychological resonance. He has a name, unlike the majority of  U.S. giant monsters, which are generally referred to by some generic tag such as Beast, It or Them.

Moreover, despite the possibility of various symbolic, sociological and psychological readings of the film (say, as an allegory of Depression-era economic problems, the battle between the Ego and the Id, the integration of the Shadow into the psyche or the development of sexual envy, whether adolescent or inter-racial), it is still closer to our actual experience of the film to see it as a well-structured adventure story with strong romantic, visual and emotive elements. The 1950s giant monster genre it spawned in the U.S. produced films that seem more directly sociological and much less humanistic in approach. In general their monsters remain “Other” and have not been taken to heart as individual personalities. They are the Enemy and that’s all. There is little sympathy felt for them, and no guilt over their fate.

In the 1960s, however, this  U.S. giant monster genre, left behind by the evolution of nuclear paranoia into a sort of cold-war hedonism, would be completely swamped by a unique Japanese version of the giant monster genre, one that also traces its origins back to King Kong and its 1952 re-release—and to nuclear fears. This genre is known as kaiju eiga, of which the Godzilla franchise provides the best-known example.

Kaiju Eiga

The Japanese version of the giant monster film offers a direct contrast to the nameless giant monsters of the 1950s. Like Kong, the monsters in these films tend to be less separated from humanity than the giant ants, reptiles and other mutated fauna of  U.S. equivalents. They have names and personalities. They can be both monstrous villains and monstrous heroes—often at the same time. Simply killing them is rarely enough and is bedevilled by ethical and moral uncertainties. In short, while these monsters are totally “Other,” their Otherness is accepted and owned. This approach—and the strange, colourfully absurd creations it gives birth to—has been said to reflect differences in cultural constructions of Otherness and in approaches to visual realism. Whatever the dynamic, it produced a sub-genre of film that is quite different from the short-lived giant monster genre that existed in the West.

The film that began the Japanese kaiju eiga genre was, of course, Gojira (1954). Godzilla's genesis has been much written about, but what seems certain is that producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, seeking a new film project, put together the box-office success of the Kong re-release and the new The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms with a then-current news item concerning a fishing boat crew that suffered radiation damage from secret  U.S. H-bomb tests in the Pacific, and came up with his own idea for a giant monster film.

In Gojira, director Ishiro Honda wanted to, as he put it,“make radiation visual” (Galbraith, 1998, page 23, reporting an interview by James Bailey in Tokyo, c.1991). But he has also stated that he was initially inspired by the original King Kong, which had performed well in Japan during its re-release. This inspiration is celebrated in the monster’s name, “Gojira” being a combination of two words—the Japanese for “ape” and for “whale” (even though in appearance Godzilla looks like neither). At first Honda and SFX designer Eiji Tsuburaya had intended to create Godzilla using stop-motion techniques similar to those used by O'Brien to create Kong. Time constraints and lack of familiarity killed this aim—so they went with the use of a carefully-designed suit and miniatures instead. The decision helped structure the genre, so that even now, when computer graphics have redefined SFX, kaiju eiga are still made using “suitmation” techniques.

Interestingly, Gojira wasn't actually the first Japanese attempt to make a giant monster film. An earlier foray into the field was even more directly inspired by King Kong. It was called Edo ni arawareta Kingu Kongu(King Kong Appears in Edo) and was released in 1938. Unfortunately the film has been lost, but existing stills show a giant ape (man-in-suit) running rampant in Edo with a doll-like female figure clutched in hand. The special effects were created by Fuminori Ohashi, who would have a part in designing the Godzilla suit sixteen years later (as well as undertaking uncredited work on Hollywood's Planet of the Apes in 1967).

This early film does not seem to have had much effect on the industry. Gojira, however, was so popular it spawned not just an immediate sequel (like Kong's sequel, Godzilla Raids Again was rushed into production and remains a minor effort), but an ongoing sequence of (to date) twenty-eight Godzilla films. Unlike Kong, who was never effectively “resurrected” after his death in the first film, Godzilla as a monster has been notoriously hard to kill (both in the films themselves and at the box-office). Moreover, other Japanese studios tried their hand at similar giant monster epics, particularly once the sub-genre morphed into its more colourfully extreme, non-naturalistic form. They produced everything from the flying, jet-propelled turtle Gamera to the vengeful stone giant Majin, to Gilala, the giant space chicken. Other developments in the genre produced the long-running Ultraman series—in which a humanoid space giant comes to Earth to help humanity battle giant monsters of all shapes and permutations—as well as ever-popular mecha (giant robot) offshoots and such anime as the influential Akira, the gruesome and confronting Urotsukidoji (Legend of the Overfiend) and the hit TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion. Even the beautiful animated films of Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, such as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Winds and Princess Mononoke, have been influenced by the sub-genre to a large extent and feature giant monsters of their own—often giant monsters that are representations of the natural world reasserting itself against human destructiveness.

In short, kaiju eiga—which grew from the original Gojira—has been an incredibly prolific form. It came into its heyday in the 1960s, as the  U.S. giant monster tradition was petering out, and offered a much more lively and varied set of tropes and possibilities for filmmakers to play with. Its metaphorical strength was obvious. In turn, it influenced  U.S. fantasy films, which became slightly less concerned for documentary realism, at least among the exploitation filmmakers—though in the end kaiju eigaremained a distinctively Japanese form that provides imagery to  U.S. filmmakers, but is rarely replicated in the West with any great success (as witness the 1998  U.S. remake of Godzilla). Its underlying dynamic is a powerful sense of apocalyptic possibility; the impact of Gojira, remember, was driven by the fact that it was directed at a society that had actually experienced nuclear attack (most of its initial audience would have had immediate memory of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki or would have known people who had). Elsewhere in the world the fear was real, but less immediate. This metaphorical dynamic became a formative influence on kaiju eiga as a genre, drawing upon the images of destruction that were a strong part of KingKong's appeal and making them thematically central. Even today that sense of apocalypse resonates within kaiju eiga in all its forms, though its meaning has been widened to include not just the Bomb but a general humanity-driven destructive potential. In such works as Akira and the Neon Genesis Evangelion series that potential includes the possibility of a monstrous evolutionary rebirth.

The Japanese Kong

Interestingly, there are other connections between King Kong and the kaiju eiga sub-genre. A quick glance at these shows the sort of changes wrought by Kong's translation into the new film tradition.

In 1960, Willis O’Brien tried to bring Kong back via a story he developed under the title “King Kong vs. Frankenstein.” In this story, Dr Frankenstein creates a new, rather bigger monster that escapes and goes on a rampage. A group of  U.S. promoters captures it to bring it back to San Francisco at the same time as another group sets out to fetch Kong from Skull Island. Plans are made for a big stadium extravaganza but the monsters escape and fight through the city, causing more mayhem. O’Brien’s idea met with some approval at RKO Studios (Kong copyright holders), who gave him permission to pursue the project, but in the end, via a series of rather tragic betrayals, producer John Beck took O’Brien’s story (now called “King Kong vs Prometheus”) and sold it to Toho (Godzilla's production company), who had been trying to acquire the rights to use King Kong in a Godzilla film. Reportedly, when O’Brien heard the news, he was “heartbroken” (Ryfle, 1998, page 81).

Why was he so forlorn over this news? Well, on the surface it looked pretty bad. Toho, whose monster films were not considered highly in the U.S., took O’Brien’s stop-motion ape, turned it into a man in a suit, replaced Prometheus with Godzilla, gave Kong a relative height that enabled him to stand up to Godzilla (Kong in King Kong was about fifty feet tall, Godzilla in Gojira was fifty metres or 164 feet tall—quite a difference), and transformed the story into a satire of Japanese corporate business—a comedy, in fact, featuring several prominent Japanese comedians.

King Kong vs Godzilla premiered in Japan on August 11, 1962 (with no credit given to O’Brien). O’Brien died on November 8 that year; he may have seen the film, though it is unlikely (and the awful, hacked-about  U.S. version didn't premiere until the following year—that really would have depressed him). At any rate, Toho's effort would not have come close to O’Brien’s own concept for continuing the story of his most famous monster—which had thus been effectively removed from his control. Nevertheless the movie was a huge box-office success, the first Japanese sci-fi film in colour and widescreen, and it deliberately appealed to a wide audience, including kids. The film, the third in the Godzilla canon, was already pushing the newly developing sub-genre toward its pure kaiju eiga form—colourful, spectacular and absurd—and it remains one of the highest grossing of all the G films.

Despite ongoing  U.S. critical disdain (a disdain exacerbated by the fact that King Kong vs Godzilla was vandalistically re-edited by distributors), the original King Kong vs Godzilla is a unique and entertaining big-budget monster film. If the situation had not been so bedevilled by betrayal and deceit—and if he could have distanced himself from the idea of Kong as a stop-motion creature—O’Brien might even have enjoyed it as an eccentric reworking of his own story. Part of the ongoing scorn levelled at King Kong vs. Godzilla by Kong fans arises from the fact that, apart from the disappointing Son of Kong, this film is the only extant sequel to the 1933 classic; yet it is so unlike that film in every way that the response of all those expectant multitudes could only have been one of tragic disillusionment, like O’Brien’s. My advice to those who still resent the film, however, is to find a copy of the original Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla, and enjoy it as a strange offshoot of Kong that has actually had greater continuity and influence than King Kong's own more direct descendents.

Interestingly, O’Brien’s original “King Kong vs. Frankenstein” idea was at least partially re-used by Toho a few years later, though this time they removed Kong altogether. Made in 1965, Frankenstein vs. the Subterranean Monster Baragon (otherwise known as Frankenstein Conquers the World) tells how the monster’s brain is brought by Nazis to Hiroshima toward the end of the War, is irradiated in the bombing of that city and subsequently regenerates into a gigantic version of the monster. This film is pure kaiju eiga and an extremely odd legacy for Kong’s creator to have left behind him. In its non-naturalistic strangeness—and its use of underlying apocalyptic metaphors to address developmental and scientific concerns—it encapsulates the differences that exist between King Kong and the genre it inspired in the East.

Once and Future King?

As of this writing, Peter Jackson's much anticipated new remake seems set to recreate Kong as the King rather than as the absurdist impostor that even the best of previous post-Kong Kong films have produced. Once again Kong's iconic power may be brought into the consciousness of a new generation.

Will that secure the Ape-God's claim to the Crown?

I would argue that the question is irrelevant. Whatever the outcome of Jackson's endeavours, King Kong was central to the creation of the new virile kaiju eiga sub-genre and as such Kong will forever hold a unique place in the giant monster pantheon. It is valid to trace Godzilla's dynasty—as distinctive as it is—back to O’Brien’s 1933 giant ape film; Godzilla, the iconic nuclear reptile, may have a strong claim to sovereignty as “King of the Monsters,” but his evolutionary development from the Great Ape also allows us to see how strong King Kong's influence really was. In particular, its thematic undercurrents regarding responsibility and primeval threat gave the sub-genre its metaphorical power, as nuclear paranoia offered up a new vision of apocalyptic destruction. Yet it also says a lot that the original Kong's humanistic aspects are what survived most strongly into the new sub-genre, while the line of development from Kong that produced the 1950s giant monster films in the U.S.—based more on surface plot structures and cold realism, though also having a role in the creation of Godzilla and his clan—dwindled quickly and was largely abandoned.


Erb, Cynthia (1998), Tracking King Kong: A Hollywood Icon in World Culture, Wayne State University Press: Detroit.

Galbraith IV, Stuart (1998), Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films, Feral House: Venice, CA.

Goldner, Orville, and George E. Turner (1975), The Making of King Kong: The Story Behind a Film Classic, Ballantine Books: New York.

Greenberg, Harvey Roy (1996), “King Kong: The Beast in the Boudoir—or, ‘You Can't Marry That Girl, You're a Gorilla!’”, in Barry Keith Grant (ed.), The Dread of Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, University of Texas Press: Austin, reprinted from The Movies on Your Mind, Saturday Review Press, 1975).

Hood, Robert (2005), “Man and Super-Monster: The Metaphorical Undercurrents of Daikaiju Eiga as an Expression of Sensory Apocalypse,” paper delivered at Swancon 30, Perth, on 28 March 2005.

Internet Movie Database, <>

Ryfle, Steve (1998), Japan's Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of “The Big G,” ECW Press: Toronto, Canada.


copyright©Robert Hood 2002-2005

home - the latest - new projects - faq - bio - biblio - scribblings - obsessions - links

Contact Robert Hood: