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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Ernest B. Schoedsack
Cast:
Terry Moore, Robert Armstrong, Ben Johnson, Frank McHugh, Douglas Fowley, Denis Green, Paul Guilfoyle
Writing Credits:
Merian C. Cooper (story), Ruth Rose

Tagline:
Merian Cooper's amazing adventure in the unusual!

Synopsis:
A slick nightclub owner (King Kong veteran Robert Armstrong) discovers the giant ape frolicking in Africa as the beloved pet of a young girl (Terry Moore). He brings both to Hollywood as a floor-show sensation, until some no-goods ply Joe with booze and the blitzed behemoth goes bonkers. Highlights such as Armstrong's henchmen trying to lasso Joe cowpoke style, Joe playing tug-of-war with musclemen and plenty of Joe-to-the-rescue action make Mighty Joe Young mighty fine entertainment.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 94 min.
Price: $19.97
Release Date: 11/22/2005

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Visual Effects Veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston and Actor Terry Moore
• “A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo Brothers”
• “Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young” Featurette
• Trailer


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RELATED REVIEWS


Mighty Joe Young (1949)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 16, 2005)

While it’s not unusual for a successful movie to inspire imitators, it does seem odd for one of these to come from the same team that made the original flick. But such was the case with 1949’s Mighty Joe Young, a King Kong wannabe created by many of the folks responsible for that classic.

Joe does alter the template enough to stand on its own, however. At its opening, we meet young Jill Young (Lora Lee Michel), a motherless child who lives on an African ranch with her father (Regis Toomey). When some locals pass by with a captured gorilla baby in a basket, she trades some objects to make the simian hers. Mr. Young disapproves but allows her to keep the ape she names Joe.

From there we jump ahead 12 years and meet theatrical impresario Max O’Hara (Robert Armstrong). He plans to open a spectacular new nightclub and wants to capture wild animals as part of it. Max hires cowboy Gregg Johnson (Ben Johnson) and his cohorts to come along and help nab the critters.

All goes well until an enormous ape wanders into their camp and causes havoc. Max attempts to capture this beast but almost gets killed by the animal. Just before Gregg shoots him, an adult Jill (Terry Moore) intervenes and we officially learn that she still pals with a grown-up Joe.

Max decides he wants to feature Joe as a main act in his new Hollywood nightclub, so he lures Jill with dreams of glamour and fame. Unfortunately, the reality doesn’t live up to expectations. Joe’s act becomes a smash hit, but he gets stuck in a small cave and grows depressed. Jill finds out she doesn’t like public acclaim either, and Max soon reduces them to the level of cheap sideshow act.

Matters go farther amiss when some louts get Joe drunk and antagonize him. He batters his way out of his cage and destroys the nightclub. This puts him on death row; authorities declare Joe to be a public danger and plan to shoot him. However, Max helps engineer a plan to help Joe escape and send the ape, Jill, and nascent love interest Gregg back to Africa.

When I went into Joe, I expected it to be a variation on Kong, and that’s exactly what I got. It differs enough that we can’t call it a remake, but it bears many similarities. Essentially Joe is a nicer version of Kong in which beauty tames the beast.

It’s also a much less interesting version of Kong. Frankly, Joe isn’t nearly as compelling a character, partially because he lacks the same feeling of menace or threat. Jill handles him pretty well, so we never really think he’ll go totally bonkers on us. This isn’t a beast who’ll drop innocent women to their death ala Kong; he’s a neutered creature, and that softens him too much.

This also means that the action scenes lack the same spark. In Kong, the ape’s rampage was truly exciting, and the whole episode in the jungle with the prehistoric beasts became magical; it gave you a sense of wonder as you wanted to see what would happen next.

Nothing similar comes through in Joe. His attack on the nightclub seems eminently justified given his treatment there, though I don’t really understand why he takes out his anger on the poor lions; they’re victims the same as him. Actually, I do like the movie’s message about the mistreatment of animals. It seems ahead of its time in the way it makes us feel bad over Joe’s situation and public humiliation.

But that’s a minor component as the movie concerns itself more with general antics. The problem is that these sequences don’t stick. As I mentioned, the action parts of Kong are invigorating, but Joe’s seem more perfunctory and less inspired. I didn’t want to see what would happen next; I just wanted the movie to end.

At least Joe boasts superior visual effects. Still supervised by Kong innovator Willis O’Brien, the Joe puppet seems much better executed and integrated than the Kong doll. Kong was – and is – a surprisingly convincing effect, but Joe looks even more convincing. Granted, you’ll never truly believe he’s alive, but you’ll buy him as much more believable that you should given the fact the movie was created 56 years ago. The animation seems more fluid and the elements combine nicely.

Actually, Joe offers a more convincing performance than some of the humans. Moore is perfectly fine as Jill; she does little to embellish the role, but she plays the disillusioned ingenue well. Armstrong essentially reprises his work as Carl Denham from Kong, so he’s on familiar ground and makes the character reasonably entertaining.

However, we get an atrocious performance from Johnson. He went on to a long and distinguished career in Hollywood that eventually earned him an Oscar for 1971’s The Last Picture Show, but no one could predict that based on his one-note work in Joe. Johnson comes across as a bland sap who maintains a moronic little grin no matter what emotion he needs to portray. Sadness, fear, joy – Johnson always looks exactly the same, and he delivers his lines in a confused monotone. Granted, we’re here to see the big ape, so the humans don’t matter a whole lot, but I still found myself startled by the crumminess of Johnson’s work.

Ultimately, Mighty Joe Young left me cold. It updated King Kong but except for improved effects, it didn’t better its predecessor in any way. This wasn’t a bad movie, but it wasn’t an interesting or exciting one either.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio C/ Bonus B-

Mighty Joe Young appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. A film of this era with so many effects will prove problematic, but I still thought this was a pretty good transfer.

When the flick avoided effects, it didn’t demonstrate many source defects. I noticed occasional specks or grit but otherwise those shots were quite clean. Effects sequences suffered from significantly more prominent defects like marks and whatnot. Given the nature of the photography, these were unavoidable, and they didn’t seem too intrusive.

In an interesting choice that hearkened back to the early days of cinema, the black and white image went to color for the climax. This depicted a burning building into which Joe and the humans went to rescue some kids. Don’t expect Technicolor glory, though, as the movie simply used a reddish tint for this sequence; no other hues appeared. I thought the effect caused distractions but the tone itself looked fine, as it didn’t suffer from bleeding or noisiness.

I thought sharpness was pretty positive. Again, the more complicated images could show some concerns, as they occasionally looked a bit soft. The shots of baby Joe were oddly blown-out and fuzzy, and later effects elements sometimes failed to demonstrate great clarity. Nonetheless, I still thought the movie offered more than acceptable definition due to the way in which it was made. With a few exceptions like those baby Joe shots, contrast was good, and I thought blacks were usually deep and tight. Low-light scenes also came across as clear and visible. For an older effects-intensive film, this was a nice transfer.

I felt the monaural soundtrack of Mighty Joe Young was more mediocre, but it suffered from no remarkable issues. Speech tended to be a little rough and sibilant. Nonetheless, the lines were always intelligible and rendered with acceptable fidelity. Music was occasionally a little harsh and seemed too prominent in the mix. The score did offer better than average range, though, and wasn’t far off the mark. Effects were fine for their age, as they showed good clarity and definition. All told, this simple mono track was perfectly acceptable given its vintage.

Although Joe doesn’t get a roster of extras to compete with Kong, it offers a few pieces. We start with an audio commentary from visual effects veterans Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston as well as actor Terry Moore. All three sit together for this running, screen-specific conversation. While superior to the boring commentary that accompanied Kong, it still has many drawbacks.

At least this one features more notes from people who actually made the film; the Kong chat focused on the remarks of fans Ralston and Harryhausen. Not surprisingly, Harryhausen dominates this commentary with information about his work on the film. He talks about the creation of the puppets and how he did the animation. Moore offers tidbits related to her casting and working on the show, while both she and Harryhausen occasionally give us memories of the film’s director and producer. While we find occasional nuggets of good information, the program drags too much of the time. It suffers a little from “remember when?” syndrome and remains fairly mediocre.

Next comes A Conversation with Ray Harryhausen and the Chiodo Brothers. This 22-minute and 40-second piece features Harryhausen in a chat with effects creators Stephen, Charlie and Edward Chiodo. They discuss how Harryhausen got into effects and his training, aspects of his animation work and character choices, specifics of shooting, stop-motion’s place in the current filmmaking environment, and his favorite scenes.

This featurette is much more informative and educational than the commentary. While Ralston fails to prompt Harryhausen well, the Chiodos get involved with Ray and elicit lots of nice notes from him. This becomes a tight and useful discussion.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young. During the 11-minute and 45-second featurette, we see Harryhausen with Charlie and Stephen Chiodo as they look up-close at the original Joe puppet. He uses it to demonstrate stop-motion techniques and he also discusses other elements of the production. We get some new information not presented in the prior featurette or the commentary. I especially like the notes about why Joe’s fur “chatters” so much less than Kong’s did. This ends up as another solid program in which Harryhausen spells out the details of his work well.

As a technical achievement, Mighty Joe Young is remarkable. More than 50 years after its creation, its effects remain astounding to see. Too bad the movie itself is pretty flat. It lacks the drama and excitement of Kong and usually feels like a tepid spin-off of that classic. The DVD offers good picture with average sound and a small collection of extras highlighted by a pair of good featurettes. Fans will dig this quality DVD, but I think others should stick with Kong to get a big ape fix.

Pursestrings note: you can buy Mighty Joe Young in two different ways. The DVD is available on its own or you can get “The King Kong Collection”, a four-DVD set that features the 2-disc King Kong along with Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. It retails for around $40, which makes it a steal if you’re interested in more than one of the three flicks. Kong retails for $27, while Joe and Son go for $20 each. That makes the boxed set a real bargain if you want two of the movies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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