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DVD Review: Son of Kong

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Even on its own without comparisons to its predecessor, Son of Kong doesn’t work. It’s obviously cheap, quickly slapped together, and created for the sole purpose of using the Kong name. It lacks the intensity of the original, and the slapstick comedy provided from the younger beast is almost embarrassing.

It’s nice to see a returning cast, especially Robert Armstrong reprising his role of Carl Denham, now ruined by lawsuits brought on by Kong’s trek through civilization. From the start, there is far more comedy, and it’s obvious that’s where this sequel is headed. Fay Wray’s character Ann Darrow is absent without reason, and Helen Mack (now the leading lady) is no Fay Wray.

Where the early exposition in the first film served a purpose, here it’s drug out until it’s almost unbearable. Audiences could learn all they need to about the lead characters with a few lines of dialogue, and instead the fact that Denham is in financial trouble never seems to leave the film. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a problem if it wasn’t obvious how cheap this production is, and that’s the sole reason human dialogue continues to go on: to avoid costly special effects sequences.

While the animation that is here is easily on par, little Kong is just too playful and accepting of humans. The locales are few in number, and there are scene transitions in the midst of brutal action that stop the film cold. When half of the crew is attacked by a dinosaur and become trapped in a tunnel, the film fades and we’re taken to more human interaction on another side of the island. The few struggles between beasts are fun romps, just nothing that offers the needed tension or danger.

Once on the island, Denham never leaves a small hill that contains a treasure that was far too easy to find. Another Max Steiner score that is perfectly appropriate accompanies Kong, dressed in a non-threatening white fur. It’s a shame the film around it isn’t anywhere near as strong, and it’s just over an hour, far too short to offer some real drama.

The only truly memorable sequence is the finale, one that both excites and prevents a future sequel. Anything before it just bores or clashes with the tone set in the previous film. Not even the original writers, directors, and actors can work their way out of a time constraint. (** out of *****)

Presented on DVD for the first time, Son of Kong looks amazing. The clarity offered by the format is surprising, especially considering how disappointing the first movie looked after years of restoration. There are certainly moments of grain and plenty of scratches at a few points, but nothing to ruin the picture significantly. The special effects can be appreciated here, and sequences with the actors look even better. (*****)

While a slight step up, Son of Kong is still too scratchy in the audio department. The 1.0 mono keeps the sound in the appropriate format for purists. It’s possible to date the film just by listening to it. It’s admittedly remarkable any of the dialogue is understandable given the age, but in this era of digital audio, expectations are raised. (**)

The only extra is a theatrical trailer. It’s not a film that deserves some deep, involving documentary, but anything would be appropriate given how little information is available anywhere on the movie. (No stars)

It would be 15 years before the team of Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack returned for another giant ape film. A hiatus was necessary if Son of Kong is any indication. If you’re desperate for a Kong follow up, head straight for Mighty Joe Young.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for Pulp365.com. His current passion project is the technically minded DoBlu.com. You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Kooshmeister

    I rather liked this film. The human drama is a lot more interesting than it was in the first film, and the subplot about Helstrom being a scuzzball and trying to get control of the ship makes up for the lack of monster action close to the end. It’s also interesting comparing Helen Mack’s Hilda Peterson to Fay Wray’s Ann Darrow. Hilda is an early example of a (relatively) strong and heroic female in a movie, especially the scene after the fight between Helstrom and her father has started a fire. She doesn’t panic at all, sets all of the circus animals free and pulls her unconscious dad from the burning tent. And later on Skull Island she’s at least as good as Denham and the other men at trekking through the jungle. But the movie is about Kong’s titular son, named Kiko even though this name is never actually spoken onscreen. Most people severely dislike him for being so cutesy compared to his dad, but what do they want? If Kiko was exactly like Kong was, he’d be, well, Kong. But he’s not Kong. He’s Kiko. And that’s all right with me. As for the other denizens of Skull Island, it’s nice to see the native chief again, if only briefly, and the dinosaurs that turn up are a lot of fun, even if they don’t get much screentime. I’m especially fond of the styracosaurus that chases Captain Englehorn, Helstrom, and Charlie the cook, and the spiney sea serpent that grabs Helstrom and, er, shakes him to death. The man-eating brontosaurus from the first film even makes a brief reappearance! Anyway, it’s a fun sequel I think, regardless of being cheaply made. The returning characters are played by the same actors, the plot is a logical progression from the end of the first film, and we get to learn a little more about Skull Island and the backstory of where Denham got the map. Even if it isn’t a perfect movie on its own, it’s a good sequel, story-wise anyway.