The First Giant Monsters: Part 3

Giant Monster vs Giant Monster

Written by Monster Awareness Month team member: Robert Hood

Though it was the rampaging brontosaurus of Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World (US-1925) — along with the use of stop-motion animation to bring the dinosaurs to life — that would most significantly influence following giant monster films (see “The First Giant Monsters Part 1 and Part 2”), Jules Verne’s novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864), did introduce key elements into the nascent “lost world” film template, elements that even the 1925 The Lost World film adopted. One was the whole idea of prehistoric “survivors” in a lost world. Another significant and spectacular trope, however, is the monster battle, as depicted in a scene from the novel where the main characters witness a plesiosaur and an ichthyosaur fighting in the stormy waters of the Central Sea, as depicted below in these illustrations by Édouard Riou that appeared in the 1867 edition of the novel.

Watching the monsters fight: illustration by Édouard Riou from the 1867 edition of "Journey to the Center of the Earth"

Scrag fight in the Central Sea: illustration by Édouard Riou from the 1867 edition of "Journey to the Center of the Earth"

The inhuman savagery of titans clashing had already appeared in scientific illustrations of the prehistoric world before its first depiction on film. By the 1880s the image had become a commonplace of the way the world of the dinosaurs was imagined, as illustrated by the following confrontation (also by Riou) from Flammarion’s Le Monde avant la creation de l’homme.

Dinosaurs fighting: an illustration by Riou from from Flammarion's "Le Monde avant la creation de l'homme"

Caught at the edges of such a scenario all the tiny humans can do is stand back and watch as the monsters slug it out. It’s a powerful image, but also a useful one for special effects artists struggling to integrate humans into their cinematic prehistoric world without the whole thing getting too technically complex and too expensive, especially before the invention of digital imaging. The audience watching the film could join with and relate to the human characters watching the battle of the giants while everyone kept their distance. The whole thing therefore became very immediate — though the separation from the action meant that the effect could be achieved more easily. It would be used often as the years went by.

Godzilla squares off with King Kong in "King Kong vs Godzilla" 1962

Godzilla teams up with Mothra to take on the space monster Ghidrah in "Ghidrah the Three-Headed Monster" 1965

From the 1925 Lost World, through 1933’s King Kong and into later “lost-world” films such as Lost Continent (1951), The Land Unknown (1957), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959), At the Earth’s Core (1976) and Jurassic Park III (2001), prehistoric monsters have fought it out in titanic struggles for the amusement of human onlookers. The Japanese daikaiju eiga [giant monster film] sub-genre, while moving out of lost worlds into the landscape of modern cities, would turn such conflict into a tradition, epic wrestling matches between gigantic monsters becoming a central motif of these films. This would even be reflected in the titles of many of them: King Kong vs Godzilla, Godzilla vs Megalon, Gamera vs Gaos, Gamera vs Viras, War of the Gargantua, Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla, Godzilla vs King Ghidorah, Godzilla vs the Smog Monster and Godzilla vs Biollante.

In Japanese daikaiju eiga, in fact, there are often multiple monsters fighting Godzilla or each other. A good example is Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001; dir. Shusuke Kaneko) — or even more to the point, the last official Godzilla film (until 2012’s US reboot) Godzilla: Final Wars (2004; dir. Ryuhei Kitamura), which, like the 1969 Destroy All Monsters, featured nearly a dozen of Toho’s monsters facing off against the Big G, all under the control of alien invaders. Monsters fighting … and trashing cities in the process: it’s what audiences want to see. And like cinema audiences, the films’ protagonists frequently spend a lot of screen time watching as the titanic monsters do their thing.

The monster prehistoric shark from "Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus" tries to eat the Golden Gate Bridge

The whole giant monster versus giant monster thing was taken up — to great internet enthusiasm — by current exploitation film studio, The Asylum, in their prehistoric-shark monster mash, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (US-2009; dir. Ace Hannah). Though less than classic, and suffering from budgetry bulimia, the film had a nice tongue-in-cheek ambiance and several outrageously effective giant monster scenes, and proved very popular. It has even spawned a sequel, Mega Shark vs Crocosaurus (US-2010; dir. Christopher Ray), not to mention the soon-to-be released Mega Python vs Gatoroid (US-2011; dir. Mary Lambert).

Even King Kong creator Willis O’Brien had clearly seen this as a trend with potential many decades ago. In the 1960s he conceived a script that he called “King Kong vs Frankenstein”, a planned second “sequel” to his original 1933 film. It was never made, though in the end, as “King Kong vs Prometheus”, it was sold to Toho Studios in Japan, who re-conceived the project as Kingu Kongu tai Gojira [King Kong vs Godzilla] (1962) — and then again, sans Kong, as Furankenshutain tai chitei kaiju Baragon [Frankenstein vs the Subterranean Monster Baragon] (1965).

Below is a conceptual sketch O’Brien made for the film, illustrating city-based confrontation between the two humanoid titans.

Conceptual art by Willis O'Brien for his unmade Kong sequel "King Kong vs Frankenstein"

A pity that one was never made for real, eh? It may have been a more worthy sequel to the 1933 King Kong than the charming, but decidedly minor, Son of Kong (US-1933; dir. Ernest B. Schoedsack).

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