THE BOOTLEG FILES: CODY LEE’S KING KONG VS. GODZILLA Image

BOOTLEG FILES 560: “Cody Lee’s King Kong vs. Godzilla” (2011 fan film by a precocious filmmaker).

LAST SEEN: The film can be found on YouTube.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Nope.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: Can you say “copyright infringement”?

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Not for many years.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s in New York City, there was a peculiar tradition that occurred every Thanksgiving. A local independent television station, WOR-TV Channel 9, devoted Thanksgiving Day to the three RKO big gorilla classics – “King Kong,” “Son of Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young” – and the day after Thanksgiving to the Toho Studio’s Godzilla flicks, which usually included “King Kong vs. Godzilla.”

Now, the obvious question is: What the f*ck does King Kong and Godzilla have to do with Thanksgiving? Yes, this was a time when kids were home from school, so the juvenile audience in the pre-Internet/pre-cable television era was captive to the charms of the old-style monster flicks. So while most of America saw Thanksgiving as a time for turkey dinners and football games, wise guy New York kids like me associated the holiday with Fay Wray and the endless destruction of Tokyo by fire-breathing dinosaurs.

But that was my childhood. While today’s youth has been exposed to various reboots of the old-school monsters, most recently this year’s “Godzilla,” I would fear that the charms of the RKO stop-motion animation and the Toho men-in-monster-costumes approach to special effects might seem quaint or even stupid to the savvy CGI-obsessed kids that keep the cinemas packed.

Mercifully, there are still some kids that appreciate the glories of the golden era of giant monsters on the loose. And one of those delightful young people is someone named Cody Lee. Definitive biographical information on Mr. Lee is scant, but from what I can gather he is now in his early teens and has been making short films for the past five years that pay tribute to some of the best action/adventure and science-fiction works. This includes fan films inspired by the Indiana Jones franchise (Mr. Lee’s version is “Indiana Cody,” complete with the stylish fedora), “Star Wars,” the Lego characters and assorted film classics including “Halloween.”

Mr. Lee’s films – which can be found on YouTube – offer a wonderful parallel universe occupied entirely by pre-teens that engage in life-and-death settings amid exotic environments that resemble somebody’s living room or backyard. Yes, these are no-budget efforts, but that is nothing to be critical about. The beauty of his films comes in the spirit of his creative energy, his genuine talent as a performer and his desire to put his vision on the screen. Or, to be less fancy, the kid is a lot of fun.

And this circles back to the beginning of this essay. This Thanksgiving, I propose a new tradition: watching a 2011 effort called “Cody Lee’s King Kong vs. Godzilla.”  While there has been a great deal of controversy over the past half-century about the differences between the Japanese-language Toho version and the English-language Universal version of “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” I think that most people that view the Cody Lee version will agree that this fan film is the most entertaining version of the giant monster smackdown concept.

“Cody Lee’s King Kong vs. Godzilla” takes place after the 1962 original concluded. As you may recall, Godzilla disappeared beneath the ocean while Kong swam back to his native land. (And, no, the urban legend conspiracy theorists are wrong – there is no separate Japanese version with Godzilla emerging triumphant.)  The film opens with an intertitle that reads “Setting – Bottom of the Pacific Ocean.” We don’t see much water – in fact, we don’t see any water – but we see rocks, pebbles and Godzilla. Or, at least, an inanimate model version of the Big G. He abruptly rises (though he remains completely inanimate while supposedly moving about) and the soundtrack booms with the creature’s celebrated roar. At that point, the opening credits inform us that we are watching a “Tichyo Productions” film and that “no copyright infringements are intended” while Akira Ifukube’s classic kaiju music plays on the soundtrack.

The film then switches to Skull Island, where Kong is back to his 1933 shtick of fighting a local Tyrannosaurus Rex behind the great gates that separate him from the island’s human residents. As with Godzilla, this Kong is an inanimate model operated by someone directly under the screen’s frame.

The film goes into intertitles to inform us that “Kong has escaped! The T-Rex woke him up from hibernation and now he out to reign terror.” Alas for Kong, the U.S. military captures him and he is brought to Los Angeles for a display as the “8th Wonder of the World.” Meanwhile, Godzilla emerges from beneath the ocean and somehow knows that Kong is living near Chris Gore. (Okay, I made up that last part – he just heads for Los Angeles without any specific Film Threat-related reason.)

Then, the film switches to a live action segment where a young boy (played by Cody Lee himself) is fiddling on his laptop while an infant sibling rests in a cradle. The boy asks his mother if she purchased tickets to see Kong, so he obviously has a thing for monsters. Then, the room begins to shake violently – or, at least, the camera shakes and the soundtrack rumbles while the cast tumbles around as all of the furniture in the room remains completely still. The mother takes the sleeping infant and runs outside with the boy. They look up and see Godzilla.

Then, we go to another house where a younger boy with a somewhat rambunctious behavior is sitting on a couch with his grandmother. They see the news of Godzilla on TV and the boy demands that he gets “the big lizard’s autograph.”

Godzilla heads through downtown Los Angeles, which consists of large skyscrapers made of cardboard. He confronts Kong, who escaped from captivity, and the two of them engage in a fight that results in several skyscrapers being knocked down.  We then switch back to the grandmother and her loud grandson, who watch the TV report of Godzilla and Kong heading to Las Vegas. Mercifully, they don’t waste their time at Criss Angel’s boring show at the Luxor. (Okay, that is me interjecting my own sh*t into the review.) The monsters fight and Kong winds up being killed when a skyscraper falls on him. Godzilla is triumphant, but his glory is short lived as King Ghidorah, Mothra and something that might be Varan shows up before the closing credits.

Considering the resources that Mr. Lee had to work with, I would say that his version of “King Kong vs. Godzilla” is the most charming fan film I’ve come across in a long time. It is grand to see a much-needed sequel to that old classic, and I am happy that it resulted in the destruction of Las Vegas, the most atrocious cesspool I’ve ever wasted money in. (Hey, it’s my review and I can throw in whatever irrelevant stuff I want!) And I am especially glad Godzilla won – the Toho version of Kong was a bore.

I don’t know what Mr. Lee is up to now, but I sincerely hope that he keeps on making fan films while laying the groundwork for his own original creations. Quite frankly, young Mr. Lee has more imagination, drive and panache than many adult filmmakers, and I gladly count myself as a fan of his work.

And a few years from now, when this gifted young auteur has matured into an A-list filmmaker, please remember that you heard about Cody Lee here first!

IMPORTANT NOTICE: While this weekly column acknowledges the presence of rare film and television productions through the so-called collector-to-collector market, this should not be seen as encouraging or condoning the unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either through DVDs or Blu-ray discs or through postings on Internet video sites.

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