FACE-OFF: Seaview vs. Gotengo
Two more movies go at it tooth and claw to establish their supremacy in the giant-techno-sub-adventure-under-the-sea genre as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA goes man-a-mano with ATRAGON.
VOYAGE is a 1961 Irwin Allen flick that was later turned into a fairly popular television show. ATRAGON (1963; original name KAITEI GUNKAN) is the Ishiro Honda film with a suspiciously familiar theme, but which was by no means based on the very successful earlier film but an obscure nineteenth century Japanese novel, or so Toho has claimed. I seeeee….
Anyway, here we go with the ten point per round must score system as thoroughly explained in my first FACE-OFF review. Please consult that review if you have any questions regarding scoring.
Round 1: BEST SUB. It’d been awhile since I’d seen VttBotS, but I had recently viewed about half a season of the television show. In watching VttBotS for purposes of this review, I was pretty surprised to discover that the Seaview of the movie though roughly similar to the one used in the movie is by no means identical. Seaviewtv had much more refined, one might say almost sensual, lines than the Seaviewmovie which basically looks like a pretty normal sub with a couple of picture windows at the bow. Also, it doesn’t carry a two-man flying sub like in the tv show. Disappointing. Gotengo (which means Roaring Heaven) doesn’t need a two man flying sub as it CAN FLY ITSELF. Also, instead of picture windows at the bow it has a big, sharp, screw-head thingy which it can use to burrow through rock. Nifty, and useful. Besides the normal weaponry, it also has an “Absolute Zero Cannon” which proves efficacious during the movie. The Seaview has an electrified hull, though I do not believe that it could actually be used as depicted. In any case, Gotengo 7, Seaview 3.
Round 2: PLOT. In VttBotS the Van Allen Radiation Belt catches on fire
(really?), increasing the temperature of the Earth. Admiral Nelson (the sub’s inventor, played by Walter Pidgeon) and his pal Comm. Lucius Emery (Peter Lorre) figure out that they have to shoot a missile into the belt to put out the fire (really?) but the scientists at the UN who are in charge of responding to this catastrophe (The scientists are in charge? Really?) won’t even look at their equations (really?) so Admiral Nelson says, screw it, let’s just take off and blow up the Van Allen Belts, anyway (really?). Along the way a bunch of the sailors mutiny because they don’t trust this guy (really?) and the ship’s captain, who knows even less about equations and the Van Allen Belt than the screen writers decides the Admiral is nuts so HE’s going to take over (and then do what?), but they come across a derelict yacht and Nelson says, well, okay, all you guys who don’t believe in my equations can now just go home to your families (really?), so they do. They eventually reach the PRECISE SPOT on the globe where they have to shoot the missile for it to put out the fire (really?) when they’re sabotaged by the female psychologist who’s on board to study the effect stress has on sailors, who then falls into the open-top shark tank in the sub’s basement near the atomic engines (bad design, that) BUT the deranged religious fanatic that they’d picked up near the North Pole with his gratuitous dog then holds them hostage with a grenade. Fortunately the captain exits through a torpedo tube and hits the missile with a hammer or something and it shoots up right into the PRECISE SPOT in the Van Allen Belt where it goes off and, phew, the admiral’s equations were right after all. The fire goes out and in the Earth is saved. In ATRAGON the world is invaded by armies from the undersea continent of Mu.
Now, I know that Mu actually doesn’t exist, but by the simple application of Occam’s Razor, Gotengo 8, Seaview 2.
Round 3: CAST. On the VttBotS side we have Walter Pidgeon as Admiral Nelson. He does all right, but the man is a human smokestack (Cigars no less. Do they really let you smoke cigars on subs?). His opposite number is Jun Tazaki (Capt. Hachiro Jinguji) who was in a boatload of films from RAN to GODZILLA VS. KING KONG. Yoko Fujiyama plays the demure love interest in ATRAGON vs. a young Barbara Eden who wears the tightest uniform in naval history.
VttBotS also has Peter Lorre in a supporting role. Sure, it’s the old, fat Peter Lorre, but he still mutters some funny asides. Unfortunately, he’s canceled out by Frankie Avalon, who also sings the movie’s theme (one of the worst, ever). Floyd, the barber from Mayberry, shows up as a snoopy U.S. congressman,
but quickly falls through a hole in the plot. The supporting cast of ATRAGON is basically a who’s who of late 1950’s/early 1960’s Japanese cinema, including Ken Uehara, Kenji Sahara (star of RODAN, THE MYSTERIANS, and MOTHRA, three of my favorite films),
and Akihiko Hirata (as Mu Agent #23, GODZILLA’s Dr. Serizawa his own self).
Close, but because of the Frankie Avalon factor, we have to give it to Gotengo 6, Seaview 4.
Round 4: Giant Monster. What’s the use of having a giant submarine if it doesn’t fight a giant monster? VttBotS does have a promisingly big octopus,
but the actual battle sequence is lame as they taser it with electrical shock generated by the Seaview’s hull. How would that work in a salt water environment? Not well, actually. Atragon has Manda, a chinese-looking dragon,
who may not be the best kaiju monster of all time, but he does get frozen by the Absolute Zero Cannon after a fairly tense scene of back and forth underwater tag, so that’s something. Gotengo 6, Seaview 4.
Round 5: Legacy. Neither of these films spawned theatrical sequels. Of course, VttBotS did end up with a three season run on American television. Although I didn’t watch the show religiously, I did have some fond memories of it. I remembered lots of exciting adventures revolving around things like man-eating squids, so I picked up a DVD of the second season and actually found it lacking in the man-eating squid department, but full of encounters with Asian-looking agents of the People’s Republic which were probably more in line with a television budget. Although there were no direct sequels to ATRAGON, the Gotengo shows up in disguise in some later films and a revised version of the flying sub plays a major role in the great monster round-up GODZILLA: FINAL WARS, captained by American mixed martial arts fighter Don Frye. Gotengo 6, Seaview 4.
Another sweep, with ATRAGON defeating VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF SEA, rather handily at 33 to 17. Not unsurprising, as my over-all rating for the two movies would clock in at 8 and 6 respectively.