GODZILLA VERSUS THE SEA MONSTER or Surf and Turf - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Gordon Hopkins grabs the lobster fork.
After having registered pretty high on the weird-o-meter for the last couple of flicks, Toho Studios decided to throttle back a bit and give us a relatively straight forward tale of a Godzilla doing battle with a giant sea monster.

Technically speaking, isn't Godzilla a sea monster? Doesn't that make this movie Sea Monster versus Sea Monster? In any case, there is no elaborate explanation for the sea monster. No space aliens. No UFOs. It is just a big ole crustacean.

The film opens in a rather traditional manner, with a boat at sea being destroyed by a gigantic something. On board that ship was a fisherman named Yata, apparently lost with all hands. His mother, however, refuses to accept her son is gone. She speaks to a psychic who assures her Yata is nowhere to be found in the land of the dead. Ergo, she insists, Yata must still be among the living.

Yata's brother, Ryota, responds to his mother's entreaties the way any dutiful son would: he attends a dance marathon. Remember, this flick was originally made in 1966, when teenagers dancing until they dropped was actually a thing (as anyone who's ever seen that episode of Happy Days can attest).

Actually, there is a method to Ryota's madness. The grand prize for the marathon winner is a sail boat. Alas, his two knuckleheaded compadres collapse before the end. So instead, Ryota steals a boat, apparently with the owner still on board. I say apparently because a radio news broadcast conveniently informs both Ryota and the audience that a bank robber is on the loose. Yeah, you see where this is going. Rest assured, the bank robber's lock-picking skills will come in handy later on.

The boat runs into a storm and then into the same giant something that destroyed Yata's boat. The unlucky (and, frankly, rather dimwitted) quartet wash up on an island, where they discover sinister goings on. A secret paramilitary organization called Red Bamboo (great name) has a base on the island and is creating weapons, or heavy water for nuclear tests, or something. The actual plan here is not really clear. It doesn't matter. They are bad guys and up to no good. That's all you need to know. Even worse, they are kidnapping the natives from another island to use as slave labor for their nefarious (and poorly defined) schemes.

The islanders are not being forced to make weapons, however. Instead, they are making a liquid from a yellow fruit that grows on the island that is apparently used to keep the giant crab monster at bay. That is how Red Bamboo can come and go as they please but anyone else ends up crushed in the clutches of the colossal crustacean (alliteration is so passe). Did they build their secret lair on the island because it was protected by a giant crab monster or did they find out after the fact? Again, not explained.

A lovely islander, Daiyo, escapes her captors and flees for her life, along with the castaways. Together, they hide out in a cave, which leads to a massive cavern. Inside they discover none other than a dormant Godzilla.
There is no explanation as to why Godzilla is in this cavern or is sleeping away. This is new. Up until now, Godzilla usually just appeared out of the sea. Is this supposed to be Godzilla's home. Is this where Godzilla hangs out when he's not busy stomping on Tokyo?

The rather klutzy castaways accidentally knock a rock down into the cavern and onto the sleeping giant, who does not wake up. That is how we know he is not just sleeping. Is he in a coma? Does Godzilla hibernate?

We then learn that Daiyo is from Infant Island (I never understood this name), home of Mothra. It also turns out that Yata was rescued and is also on Infant Island. Yay!

Like her mother, this new Mothra has also blossomed into a giant, fluffy butterfly. Daiyo prays to Mothra to save her and her fellow natives, but it seems Motrha, too, is dormant. (What? Why?).

Since no help seems to be coming from Mothra, the castaways come up with a brilliant plan. “Let's wake up Godzilla!”

Yeah. What could possibly go wrong?

So they wake up the big “G” with a lightning rod. Lightning? Wait a minute. I though electricity was one of the few weapons the military had that actually deterred Godzilla. It never actually stopped him but he sure didn't like it. So why is it now being used to bring him back to life?

That isn't the only inconsistency with Godzilla's past adventures and there is a reason for that. See, this was not intended to be a Godzilla movie at all but another outing for King Kong. In King Kong versus Godzilla, Kong was shown to be energized by electricity. Even that was a holdover from when King Kong versus Godzilla was going to be King Kong versus Frankenstein.

Anyway, that explains some out of character actions for Godzilla, such as the scene where he sits cross-legged and seems to meditate. Why would Godzilla meditate? I can see Kong meditating. He seems a pretty introspective sort of monster. Godzilla, not so much.
There are some familiar faces in this movie. Daiyo is played by Kumi Mizuni, who played the Martian Princess in the previous film. Her role in this film is a step up from the monotone cypher she played in Invasion of Astro-Monster. Also on hand is Akihiko Hirata, previously Dr. Serizawa from the very first Godzilla movie. He even sports another eye-patch. Instead of playing a dour scientist, here he plays James Bondian villain, the head of Red Bamboo.

One person who didn't return for this outing is director Ishiro Honda. Instead, directing duties are handled by Jun Fukuda. This explains a great many of the Jame Bond-like touches, such as secret bases and secret weapons and secret organizations with plans for world. Fukuda previously helmed the James Bond parody, 100 Shot, 100 Killed.

All in all, the movie is pretty good. The sea monster of the title, dubbed Ebirah, is not an especially memorable addition to Godzilla's roster of opponents but the costume is different from previous monsters and well-designed. It is certainly a vast improvement over the wobbling giant crab monster from Toho's later non-Godzilla kaiju, Space Amoeba.

Overall, the fight scenes are pretty good, barring one rather silly battle where the titular monsters bat a massive boulder back and forth like they were playing a game of ping pong.

At one point Godzilla rips off one of Ebirah's claws and then repeatedly clacks it at him, as if he was taunting him with it. Kind of a dick move, if you ask me.

There is a lot of splashing around, naturally, as the fight scenes take place entirely on a island and in the surrounding ocean. There is none of the urban demolition folks usually associate with Godzilla movies and that will become more typical as the series progresses. That is partly a result of ever-decreasing budgets and partly a move to make Godzilla more of a good guy and more kid-friendly. Indeed, the very next film in the series pretty much goes for broke in the kiddie fare department.
The Denouement: It all goes down pretty much as expected. The captured natives swap out the yellow liquid that keeps Ebirah away, so when the bad guys try to escape, they get an appropriate comeuppance. Godzilla then kicks Ebirah shell. Finally, Mothra wakes up in time to rescue the castaways and kidnapped natives before the island explodes. See, there is a bomb on the island ready to self-destruct, as all good lairs should be so equipped.

But something unexpected happens as well. As they are spirited away, the castaways express remorse that Godzilla is about to get blown up. They holler at Godzilla, trying to get him to leave the island before the big boom. Sure enough, Godzilla escapes and the castaway are happy. Godzilla had been moving towards being a good guy for a while, but this was the first time human characters in a movie actually rejoiced at his survival. And so, the transition from baddie to goodie was complete. Was this a good move for the series? Opinions are mixed.

Sadly, while Mothra's twin fairies put in a brief appearance, the Peanuts, who originated their portrayal, do not. Instead, they are played by a different pair of twins. The fairies would not return again until 1992.

The American Version: There are actually two English-language versions of this film; an American version an an international version. The official English name for this movie is Ebirah: Horror of the Deep. The American distributor, however, insisted Godzilla's name be in the title. Hence: Godzilla versus the Sea Monster, as it was known on Saturday afternoon TV. It isn't just different titles that distinguish the two versions. The American version has a different voice cast.

Strangely, despite a pretty respectable box office for Invasion of Astro-Monster, the film saw a very limited theatrical release, instead being dumped directly onto American television in 1968.

The Odds: As I said before, Ebirah was a good but not especially memorable monster. I see no reason for an encore. I'll give odds at 20 to 1 against.

Irrelevant Trivia: Among the the voice-over artists for the American dub was Hal Linden, later to find fame as Barney Miller.

Read all of Gordon Hopkins previous Godzilla articles here.

Gordon Hopkins is an award winning reporter and columnist for The Fairbury Journal-News, a 130-year-old newspaper in Jefferson County, Nebraska (He hasn't been working there that entire time.) He has also written a couple of crime novels (“Fraudsters” and the best-selling “Broken”) and edited a few non-fiction books.

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