Sunday, December 8, 2013

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966)

When it comes to Kaiju films (movies featuring giant monsters), Godzilla is king.  Between 1954 and 2004, Japanese studio Toho Productions made 28 movies with the famous Godzilla, starting with Gojira (or Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the slightly reworked 1956 American version), a 1950s science-fiction film that stands among one of the best in the genre of its time.  Although the original movie follows the '50s sci-fi flick standard of containing a serious tone, intense focus on morality, and light yet pivotal romance all revolving around something of an atomic or cosmic nature, the Godzilla sequels quickly devolved into something of a less grand scale.  I use the term devolution as Godzilla movies aren't typically films of high cinematic caliber (for multiple reasons), but through great costume and miniature effects they deliver some pretty cool looking monsters that beat each other up and ravage Tokyo and other earthly locations.  One has to love the Godzilla movies for doing simply that.

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster is one of the more underwhelming entries in the early Godzilla series, so let's talk about it.  Right off the bat, you notice the English dubbing is really bad (with voices reminiscent of The Three Stooges), but it's not just how the lines are read in English because the writing is just poor to begin with.  The phrase "use your brain", which is frequently iterated by the island-stranded human characters, has never sounded so trite.  What really bothers me about the script though is that it largely fails to identify appropriate timing of humor and seriousness.  In one scene there's Beach Boys-esque, '60s beach music playing while Godzilla knocks fighter jets out of the air, resulting upon immediate explosion and certain death for their pilots.  That's later on though; for most of the first hour you see a crappy cast of two dance contest losers, a purported thief, and a man in search of his lost at sea brother mistakenly set sail for open water, get lost and later shipwrecked by a mysterious sea monster, find a secret organization enslaving native villagers on an island, discover the sea monster is being used by the military group, and plan to awaken Godzilla in order to cause a diversion and escape the island.  All of this happens without any monsters fighting each other.

So that's the shit you have to deal with before and between fight scenes with the Kaiju.  Is the majority of the 87 minute duration of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster worth it to see the monsters duke it out?  Not really, but I decided to stick it out anyway.  The sea monster is a giant lobster/crab-like crustacean known as Ebirah that shipwrecks Japanese boats and eats people after snatching them out of the ocean with its giant pincers.  There's nothing very graphic shown on screen, but I will say that the suggested gore in this particular entry is higher than usual.  Godzilla is awoken at about the hour mark of the film, which is fifty-five minutes too late in my opinion, but at least the movie gets speed from there.  Godzilla and Ebirah throw boulders at each other for a while before engaging in sea combat.  Godzilla rips off Ebirah's claws with ease, clearly irritated he had to get wet in order to cause this ugly arthropod to retreat.  There's also a giant condor that Godzilla fights for a few seconds, and then of course Mothra shows up.  For a giant butterfly, Mothra is actual quite rad and is always among the most well-designed monsters in the many Godzilla movies it appears in.  The problem with Mothra though is that you can never just have Mothra; throughout the course of the movie you gotta sit through at least fifteen minutes of the pygmy Japanese twins, the Infant Island villagers, and the God-awful tribal/summoning songs.  It's a real downside of the sub-plot of Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster just for deus ex mothra in the last ten minutes of the movie.  Mothra doesn't fight or do anything in this one except serve as the getaway for the ill-developed human characters you don't give a shit about.

Oh, well. If you're watching a Toho Godzilla movie, particularly one from the Showa era, you know what you're getting yourself into.  As far as this series of the first fifteen movies goes, I'd recommend Ghidrah (1964), Destroy All Monsters (1968), or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974) if you're interested in seeing what these movies have to offer and want to choose one that has more action and monsters and sucks less.  Don't forget the original Gojira or Godzilla: King of the Monsters if you happen to like the previously mentioned style of self-important 1950s romantic sci-fi.

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