Pre-Ramble Ramble: I think it’s pretty safe to say that in the world of monster movies, this one is pretty influential. It was a low budget film that did so well that film companies started green lighting tons of creature feature and monster films from classics like Them! and The Blob to uh, lesser films like The Deadly Mantis and Reptilicus. As I understand it, the creators of Godzilla were pretty inspired by this film, not only borrowing some ideas from it, but also originally intending to use stop motion animation to bring their monster to life as well, until time and budget constraints caused special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya to turn to suitmation as an alternative instead (which turned out to be a good call cause suitmation is amazing and I’ll argue you on that). This all strikes me as weird, because as influential as this film is, I’d expect it to be good . . . except it’s not.
Plotwise, we start out in the arctic where a bunch of scientists are conducting an atom bomb experiment. While out gathering data post explosion, our hero Tom Nesbitt and his companion are attacked by a fictional dinosaur known as a Rhedosaurus. Tom’s companion dies, but Tom is brought back to safety and eventually The States where he undergoes medical and psychological care. No one believes that Tom saw a great beast though, so Tom seeks out the help of a local paleontologist and his assistant to prove that he’s not crazy. This part of the story takes forever. Soon the monster surfaces, the military gets involved, and then the monster is killed in an anti-climatic fashion. The end.
I know in a lot of my reviews I fail to give the plots their proper due, often glossing over them, but it’s really hard to not do that with this film. The plot is dull and flat and needlessly stretched out to fill run time. Older films tend to have a much slower pace than what we’re used to by today’s standards, but even factoring that in, this movie just crawls. Before you know it though, the movie ends, abruptly, unceremoniously, but unawkwardly. Because there’s nothing really happening in the script, there’s not really enough to make you care about loose ends getting tied up, so an abrupt ending is really as good as any.
There is a scene in this film where the creators force a living shark and a living octopus to fight. It’s actually kind of disturbing to watch and completely unnecessary.
One thing that really sticks out in this movie is that we’re never really given that much of a hint of a motivation for the monster. He’s going back to his old stomping grounds, that’s established, by why does he attack ships and lighthouses and farms and eventually New York City? We don’t know. In some monster movies, the monsters are looking for something, in others, they’re looking for a place to lay eggs, in still others, they’re trying to destroy something that’s annoying them. Why is the Rhedosaurus behaving the way he does? We can only assume that ancient Rhedosauruses are massive jerks who just like to destroy private property and be thankful that there are none left in the present day.
As for the Rhedosaurus himself, Ray Harryhausen did a wonderful job on the guy. He’s dynamic, well detailed, and fairly well animated. While at no point did I ever feel like I was watching a real live dinosaur, what I did see was believable enough. The scenes where he destroys both an ocean going ship as well as a lighthouse, while brief, were well done and are just a treat to watch. All of the other scenes this guy is in though, especially when he’s interacting with the military, just don’t really come across as amazing. They’re not bad, mind you, but they’re not super memorable either. I don’t blame this on Harryhausen, because he did a great job with what he had. Unfortunately, it feels like the script didn’t really give him much to work with. As a result, all of the action scenes are pretty underwhelming (though I will admit, I loved the lone cop trying to take out a building sized beast with just his sidearm). What was additionally frustrating is that the monster reveal happens at the very beginning of the film, with practically no buildup, so there’s no build up of suspense to seeing the monster later on in the movie. It’s very unsatisfying.
All in all, one could give this film a pass in that it’s an early progenitor of the genre, so techniques in special effects and story telling haven’t really been all that well developed yet. Which is a fair argument to make. Personally though, the story isn’t compelling and neither is the onscreen action, so I don’t think that this is a film that many people will really enjoy. I give it a 2 out of 5 radioactive isotopes. If you’re curious about it, watch it, because it’s a watchable movie. But there are better options out there as far as monster movies and kaiju films go.