Kong count #55 – Unknown Island

I think this is what we mean by “Fiction vs. Reality”:

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I’m busy today, so I’m reposting a previous review of 1948’s Unknown Island:

Color film was still a relatively hefty expenditure in the 1940s, so I guess Unknown Island managed to pull off the first-ever color dinosaur movie by cutting costs in other areas of the production… such as the actual dinosaurs. Not the best call, IMHO.

The story of the film is nearly identical to King Kong, minus the ape-worshipping natives and final act in New York: A photographer hears about an island full of dinosaurs, so he hires a ship to take him there, bringing his girlfriend along despite unanimous foreboding. Once there, most everyone dies, and they barely make it out alive, the end. There are slight differences, such as the addition of a shell-shocked former visitor to the island as a member of the crew, but the influence is pretty obvious; at the climax the heroes are saved by a giant sloth wrestling the ceratosaur that was chasing them, like a certain famous giant ape who fought a T-rex. While the story is familiar, it’s not poorly written, and there’s some snappy dialogue and decent performances. However, the good there is ultimately compromised by some really shoddy effects work.

First of all, it appears that they only had about 20 square feet of jungle set to work with, so most of the shots are tight on the actors, and the audience is never given any sense of scope. The dinosaurs and the actors don’t appear in the same shots, yielding no sense of scale, let alone menace. The dinosaurs themselves are achieved with very stiff costumes, and move with the excruciatingly shambling, clumsy pace of a junior high slow-dance (there’s at least one shot where one of the suit actors just collapsed, and they kept it in). The “sloth” is ironically the swiftest, most graceful creature effect, because it’s a pretty standard gorilla suit, just dyed red. Sloths aren’t generally known as aggressive, carnivorous animals, but I suspect it was altered from being a gorilla because they were afraid someone would notice Kong-ish similarities. Good thing they nipped that in the bud!

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Unknown Island is available here.

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