Back when I was first discovering the chronology of Toho’s science fiction canon, it always seemed odd that the Godzilla flick succeeding an interplanetary war was limited to a remote Pacific island, and a three-headed,world-destroying space dragon was followed by a big shrimp as antagonist. What could motivate such a sudden shift in tone and scale?
Eventually I heard what many fans already know: it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Ebirah, Horror of the Deep wasn’t intended to be a Godzilla movie at all… when Shinichi Sekizawa first submitted the script (then titled Operation Robinson Crusoe), it featured not Godzilla, but King Kong!
This was the first attempt by Rankin Bass (who were producing The King Kong Show at the time with Toei) to make a promotional cinamatic tie-in with Toho. Rankin Bass weren’t pleased with the pitch (although it’s my understanding that their beef was largely that Ishiro Honda, who’d directed 15/16s of Toho’s big monster projects, wasn’t involved), and pulled out. Toho called a mulligan, and the next year got Honda to direct King Kong Escapes, incorporating more elements of the animated show.
So, without permission to use the Kong character, did Toho shelve the script? Heck no, they crossed out Kong’s name, wrote in Godzilla’s, and the finished film was in the theaters in December 1966, a mere five months after Sekizawa wrote it. Because of this lickety-split substitution, things get a little… wonky.
- This Pacific island has a plant used to deter the monster shrimp Ebirah, quite reminiscent of the wine Kong had previously gotten drunk off of.
- Godzilla is found sleeping in a cave and revived by lightning, a nod to Kong’s electric powers (which were in turn vestigial from when the King Kong vs. Godzilla script was about Frankenstein). Godzilla eventually revisited this idea to turn himself into a giant magnet, because the seventies were amazing.
- Godzilla is suddenly all about the scantily-clad human babes. He didn’t look that way at Kumi Mizuno last time!
- Godzilla’s fire breath is frequently omitted in favor of the Killer Croc approach (“I threw a rock at ‘im!”).
- Remember how Godzilla and Mothra had that truce in Ghidrah? Well, not here.
- Let’s be honest: on the ever-entropic Skull Island, stuff just sort of shows up to get fought, with little explanation or fanfare. Remind you of anyone?
This really does make a lot more sense as a King Kong flick. But would it still have wound up on Mystery Science Theater?