It's hokey, but that's all part of the fun.

James Plath's picture

How do you like your monsters? Straight up, or over-easy?

The original "Godzilla, King of the Monsters" is celebrating a 50th anniversary this year, and it fit the mold of the Fifties' monster revival. Released the same year as "Creature from the Black Lagoon," it was played pretty straight, and in classic black and white.

But "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" hit the theaters in 1966, the same year as "Our Man Flint" poked fun of the James Bond films, and go-go was really in-in. So it's no surprise that this monster flick mashes the original with great big irreverent feet—and in Tohoscope and Eastmancolor, no less.

It's one campy, kitchen-sink of a movie, too.

There's a little "Frankenstein" in it, with lightning manipulated so that it jolts the sleeping Godzilla into action.

There's a little "King Kong" in it, with Godzilla taking a fancy to an island girl and capturing her, then swatting away fighter jets that swarm him like mosquitos.

There's a little "Mysterious Island" in it, with castaways, an air balloon, and a giant crustacean.

There's a little "7th Voyage of Sinbad" in it, with miniaturized girls (who just happen to control the gigantic Mothra as it makes a cameo appearance).

There's a little bit of "Dr. No" in it, with an evil leader calling the shots at a secret island industrial compound aimed at destroying the world.

There's a little bit of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" in it, with an island of people enslaved by villainous men.

There's a little bit of "Road to Bali" in it, with natives engaged in lavish dances for a god (in this case, Mothra), while the heroes observing it all make light of the situation.

And most of all, there's a bit of the old "Flash Gordon" serials in it, with Godzilla looking not all that much more sophisticated than a similar creature that attacked old Flash while he was trapped in a cave.

What's more, is that while the earlier monster flicks were unintentionally funny and sometimes so bad that they became campy, this one heads straight for the camp right away, and without apologies. When Godzilla does battle, cue the go-go music. And don't bother to hide the fact that the filmmakers are using a ton of miniatures to make this movie. Let the good times roll! Why, there's even a playful scene where Godzilla does battle with Ebirah, the Sea Creature, that pays homage to the popular "Pong" video games of the time. The two creatures fling rocks back and forth, sticking out a claw or paw to immediately bounce it back. It doesn't get any funkier than that.

But the best part of this 50th Anniversary release is that you can choose your level of funkiness. If you want all-out camp, then choose the dubbed version. This was the way we saw the films when they were shown on American television, with the English voices not even close to the characters' personalities. One of the dubbed characters is so high-pitched hilarious that it will either have you in stitches every time the character speaks, or it'll drive you up the wall, like fingernails on a chalkboard. Or Urkel. If you watch the film in Japanese with English subtitles, it's still campy, but nowhere near as outrageous. Still, you get three monsters for the price of two.

While Japanese teens participate in a marathon to win a sailboat, a man and his friends who crapped out end up onboard a yacht that the brother then commandeers. You see, his brother had disappeared in the South Pacific, and he's determined to find him. Aboard the sailboat is a man who tried to steal it before them, and together they head for the exotic islands. Naturally, a storm overtakes them, and a giant claw comes out of the sea and crushes their boat. They end up on the island of Letchi, where they realize that a terrorist organization named Red Bamboo has established a base that is developing nuclear weapons and also a hard-water product that keeps the gigantic lobster, Ebirah, at bay. But they've enslaved the natives of nearby Infant Island, and when Daiyo, one of the females, escapes, she joins forces with the castaways. The film follows their attempts to free the brother and save the island from the clutches of the evil Red Bamboozlers. As for the battle scenes, the major battle involves Godzilla and Ebirah waist-deep in the sea, flinging rocks back and forth and eventually wrestling to the bottom of the ocean. Godzilla has scenes where he makes sport of planes and stomps out a military installation (so, are these Red Bamboo planes, or army planes, in which case why didn't the army put a stop to Red Bamboo???), and he also torches a gigantic buzzard (don't ask how or where that one came from) with his fiery breath. And while it's fun to watch these monsters, the miniature boats and houses that the filmmakers use are such obvious models that you never lose sight of the fact that Godzilla is really stomping out a Matchbox village.

Lovers of the original "Godzilla" might find this too tongue-in-cheek, but "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" reflects an era when the Cold War still sent a chill down people's spines and the tie-dye generation gave us parody as a panacea. Hell, we needed laughs, and these films provided them. And they're kid-friendly. This is rated PG for "monster violence," but even the little ones can tell that the buildings the big one is squashing are miniatures.

Though the film has been mastered in High Definition and it's really very good, there is still some graininess—but not enough to annoy. The box says it's presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, but it fills the screen a little more than the average 2.35:1 film. Typical of the period, the colors are pop-art vibrant.

The sound, however, is no great shakes, with Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 filtered through the main and center speakers only. If you want resonant screeches and that supersonic "radioactive" noise that always accompanies these Japanese monsters, you'll need to do a bit of screeching yourself.

What extras? Come on, you've got three monsters, and you can see exactly how they did the special effects. What more do you want?

Bottom Line:
It's hokey, but that's all part of the fun. As with the Sinbad films and the genre monster flicks, "Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster" will appeal to a certain type of movie fan. And you know who you are.


Film Value