For every long-running franchise, there is that jump-the-shark moment when things take a turn for the worse. For Godzilla, that moment came in 1966 with Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. A surefire sign was when the movie was released in the United States in 1967 as Godzilla versus The Sea Monster…direct to television.
Jon Fukuda assumed the directorial reigns for the first time. He would go on to do four more Godzilla movies, including such “classics” as Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Gigan. Prior to Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, his most well-known flick was the fun Secret of the Telegian in 1960. One of his first and most controversial decisions came when he replaced Akira Ifukube with composer Masaru Sato. Sato did amazing work on many Akira Kurosawa movies, such as Throne of Blood and Yojimbo. However, with Godzilla, he incorporated jazz which, in my opinion, just didn’t work as well. Fukuda would concentrate more on action but did still use Eiji Tsuburaya on special effects.
The story deals with a young man named Ryota (Tooru Watanabe) stealing a boat with some friends in search of his missing brother Yata (Tooru Ibuki). After an encounter with the sea beast Ebirah (which resembles a giant shrimp), they land on Devil’s Island, inhabited by criminals, Red Bamboo, who are making heavy water to use for their evil plans of domination. They have captured natives from Infant Island, and you know where this is headed. Yes, Mothra is going to get involved at some point. However, first it’s time for Godzilla to appear, which he does sleeping alongside a mountain. Godzilla awakens, fighting Ebirah, followed by a giant bird and fighter jets. Let’s not forget the tower with the all-important self-destruct switch. Yes, Godzilla turns Ebirah into shrimp cocktail but the island is ready to blow. Mothra sweeps in to save the day, taking our human cast to safety as the island explodes…right after Godzilla escapes.
If the movie seemed a bit odd for Godzilla, it might have to do with the fact that it was never intended for him. The script originally had King Kong as the primary monster but was switched to include the more popular Godzilla. Unfortunately, it makes Godzilla seem a little out of place. For example, why would lightning revive him? Also, didn’t he become friends with Mothra in the previous movie? Why didn’t he just fire-breathe the base down? Leaving those minor issues aside, it wasn’t a bad entry in the series. It just seemed a little underwhelming considering some of the previous entries.
Some minor edits were made before the US release. The title card would be changed to read a more generic Godzilla versus The Sea Monster, with no other credits listed. Some music was also deleted or altered, contributing to a reduced running time by about four minutes. In 2005, the original Japanese version finally saw a US release. Original VHS tapes can be found for as little as a dollar but the recent DVD is out-of-print and demanding some high prices. Catch the trailer on YouTube (just try not to laugh at the musical selections) and decide just how much you really want to spend. I recommend the movie but go into it with slightly lowered expectations.
The trend towards a more action-oriented Godzilla would continue in the forthcoming years. I have previously reviewed the next eight entries in the series. Some were good, some not so much. However, after 1975, the series would take a nine year rest until 1984, when we were witness to The Return of Godzilla. The 1980s only featured two films and in the next few weeks, it’s time to dive into a rebooted Godzilla franchise!