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Arts & Culture

'Godzilla vs. Kong' Has Big Screen Appeal

Kong and Godzilla are about to square off for the first time in "Godzilla Vs. Kong," opening throughout San Diego in cinemas on March 31.
Warner Brothers
Kong and Godzilla are about to square off for the first time in "Godzilla Vs. Kong," opening throughout San Diego in cinemas on March 31.

Giant monsters should lure audiences back to recently reopened cinemas

Companion viewing

"King Kong" (1933)

"King Kong Vs. Godzilla" (1962)

"Rampage" (2018)

"Godzilla vs. Kong" is a big movie about gigantic monsters facing off and it is proving to be exactly the type of film to draw people into recently reopened cinemas.

’'Godzilla Vs. Kong’ Deserves A Big Screen
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Box office draw

According to Variety, "Godzilla vs. Kong" will open in more cinemas (more than 3,000) than any other pandemic-era release and "The film kicked off in 28 countries with a combined $121 million in ticket sales. Those figures mark the biggest opening weekend sales for a Hollywood movie at the international box office amid the pandemic. ('Tenet' previously had the best overseas start of the pandemic with $53 million.)"

GODZILLA
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

The film has been a particular hit in China where it has grossed $70 million in three days. The film will also be available streaming on HBO Max.

Audiences seem to be embracing the film but for a fan of monster movies like myself I have to confess to having an issue with its very premise. It's problematic because Godzilla (introduced in Japan in 1954) and Kong (introduced in America in 1933) are my two all-time favorite cinema creatures. There’s no way I could pick between them. It would be like asking a parent to chose which child gets to pummel a sibling into submission. I mean why couldn’t this be "Godzilla AND Kong Vs. the World"?

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I know the answer, it's because Hollywood thinks the two screen giants will sell more tickets fighting each other than working together. I know that most people will not come to the film with such emotional attachment to the characters but I do.

The 1963 American poster for the Toho film "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." The original Japanese version of the film was not readily available in the U.S. until recently.
Toho/Universal
The 1963 American poster for the Toho film "King Kong Vs. Godzilla." The original Japanese version of the film was not readily available in the U.S. until recently.

Some kaiju history

This is not the first time the two legends have faced off. The first time was in 1962 when it was publicized as a kind of top tier boxing match between the world's A-list movie monsters. But "King Kong Vs. Godzilla" was a satire on crass commercialism so the tone and style was very different from this current face off and even in many ways different from other films in the Toho Godzilla franchise.

A-listers King Kong and Godzilla square off in the 1962 Toho film "King Kong Vs. Godzilla."
Toho/Criterion
A-listers King Kong and Godzilla square off in the 1962 Toho film "King Kong Vs. Godzilla."

But "Godzilla Vs. Kong" comes after decades of audiences falling in love with these monsters and the face-off now feels like, well, crass commercialism.

The new 'Godzilla Vs. Kong'

"Godzilla Vs. Kong" marks the third film in the new American Godzilla franchise that started in 2014 (I will not mention that tuna eating lizard from the previous century). That reboot film directed by Gareth Edwards saw Godzilla, a kaiju or giant monster, awaken from his deep slumber. That film established Godzilla as a force of nature that mere humans could not really defeat. Then in 2019, "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" had some fellow kaiju wake up for a monster battle. Now Godzilla is seen as a threat to humanity and the world, we're told, needs Kong to save it.

OK, but this is Godzilla’s franchise, right? And although Godzilla gets top billing, Kong, who is an American creation and looks more human, gets more screen time and is made more empathetic. Not fair, I say!

Godzilla, as played by suit actors in Japan, developed quite a personality and humanity, and we really don't get to see that here. Once again Hollywood has made Godzilla a supporting player in his own film.

Godzilla on the attack in "Godzilla Vs. Kong."
Warner Brothers
Godzilla on the attack in "Godzilla Vs. Kong."

To the film’s credit, though, it does resolve — sort of — the taking sides issue; it thankfully reduces the presence of annoying human characters; and it serves up some genuinely impressive scale for the monsters. But director Adam Wingard just doesn't seem to have a real love for the monsters. He has a by the numbers predictable script with some uninspired callbacks to the original Kong and some Godzilla films, but I don't think he has any particular passion for these characters or their history.

Personally, I don’t find computer effects quite as compelling as the old Godzilla suit acting or Kong’s original stop motion animation. I never feel convinced of the weight of these CGI versions of these creatures.

Destroying a massive and very pretty CGI landscape just doesn't feel as impressive as when carefully constructed miniatures that took a long time to build are destroyed by men in suits. I just appreciate all the work so much more because if that shot did not go off right then all those miniatures would need to be painstakingly rebuilt.

I don't want to belittle the incredible work that CGI artists do, but it is just a different craft and I have a true fondness for the old school effects.

I also feel Godzilla's character design has unfairly shortened his arms from his Toho counterpart so that he has T-Rex-like arms that give Kong a huge reach advantage in battle. I did watch the film right after a slate of UFC matches and it fit right into the program as these two celebrities pummeled each other and leveled a city or two. But, on the plus side, the film definitely makes you look up in awe at these magnificent creatures that have been seriously scaled up for this fight.

I do feel that Hollywood still does not quite get what makes a Godzilla movie work, at least not in the same way that Japan’s Toho Studios has been demonstrating for decades. The only American film that gets that kaiju feeling right was the ridiculously fun "Rampage," in which Dwayne Johnson was a human kaiju. But as a film to draw us out of our pandemic home theaters, "Godzilla vs. Kong" certainly has epic appeal.

I also wanted to add that cinemas are offering private screenings or "buyouts" where you can book a smaller cinema for yourself and friends. I am testing this out on Friday at Reading Grossmont. The buyout was $170 for 20 people, which is not a bad price to have a cinema for just you and your friends. That made me feel safer about going out because I know my friends would obey all the COVID safety guidelines. I will report back on how it goes.