In the end I had to fold laundry to keep myself from falling asleep during this movie. It was my third night trying to get through it, and I'd had enough. Of course I want to love every movie featuing a stop-motion dinosaur terrorizing a city. But I will never love you, Giant Behemoth. And the reason is marine biologist Steve Karnes.
I've talked a lot about the human armature of every monster movie and how it can make or break it, and I've also gabbed about the oddly recurring character of the Obnoxious American. The Obnoxious American is the lead male character in sci-fi and monster movies of the 50s and 60s. He is meant to be the hero because he gets things done and doesn't listen to any guff, and the dames wind up liking him and he's always right... but along the way somebody forgot to make him appealing in any manner whatsoever. Take another look.
Steve Karnes starts the movie lecturing a roomful of guys about radiation levels in marine life as if they were all four years old and the atomic bomb was their fault. The first five minutes of the movie is him pounding his fist into his hand and wagging his finger while standing in front of a chalkboard with science on it. The sense of entitlement on this guy is appalling, he gets in your face and spreads around his miserable attitude, spitting in everybody's collective Cheerios and then demanding a ride home. I think he's pissed because he's spent his career trying to dispel a rumor that, as a student, he had a porcupine fish removed from his ass.
Watching this guy I realized I never should have bitched about anyone in Reptilicus, because clearly here was the lovechild of the repugnant marine biologist Dr. Otto Martens and dough-nosed Obnoxious American Colonel Grouchy McSourpants.
Steve Karnes's point is that the bigger the fish, the higher the level of radiation, which is his way of calling "monster" without actually saying it. Despite the fact that everyone he meets must hate him, he is waited on hand and foot by the British military and not one doubt is ever raised in response to anything he says.
The only good thing I can think of is that the movie doesn't attempt to saddle some woman with the job of pretending to find Steve's perpetual scowl attractive. Instead we get a fat dose of silly science, and it's not even the fun kind with bubbling test tubes and electricity. It's the "have all of your regional marine research sub-stations take some water samples" kind. Then the water samples come in and then we get to watch an oscilloscope for a while and generally see Steve do science.
The only part of this that was at all fun at is when Steve goes to browbeat Dr. Sampson, an adorable paleontologist, who gets all delightfully wistful when informed that the animal they're talking about is actually still alive.
One of my favorite elements in monster movies are the scientists who have done a ludicrous amount of thinking about actual living monsters, even though none existed before the current crisis. For Steve Karnes, it's clear that marine biology had become a horrid, joyless chore, and rooting out the monster will be a grim, serious affair. Dr. Sampson, on the other hand, has never lost his childlike wonder as he admits he's known all along that dinosaurs would return, but he never dared admit it. I realized immediately that he's the guy I've always wanted to be in a monster movie, and I suddenly wished this dino-turkey had him in the lead role.
As for the monster, when he's popping out of the water he's a stiff-necked puppet with no movement whatsoever besides rearing out of the water and plunking back in. Lots of tight closeups and slow motion try to make it better, but the result completely fails to be engaging. I would nod off during these scenes just as easily as I would during the scientific padding.
When the beast finally makes landfall, it's a stop-motion puppet animated by Willis "original King Kong" O'Brien, except according to Wikipedia: "O'Brien's assistant Pete Peterson did most of the animation on this film, which is remarkably fluid, considering that he suffered from multiple sclerosis at the time."
Actually I can't fault the animation, it's fine. But the monster is uninspired on a very basic design level and the stop-mo puppet is a wreck (which is of course a professional pet peeve of mine). Here's a shot of the beast with his head raised mid-roar; this is the bottom of his jaw.
Look at that awful jagged seam! It's a mess! No production I've worked on would let such an atrocity on camera, and I worked on Celebrity Deathmatch for three years.
In the end, I don't know how much time I accumulated doing that special Horrorthon dance that goes "Oh, I shut my eyes? Damn, I gotta go back a little bit." But this movie threatened to put me out three nights in a row, and only by dumping out a load of laundry on the couch and diligently folding it could I grind my way to the end. I'm bumping it half a star up from one just out of respect to the medium of stop-motion, but I recommend avoiding this one for all but the most thorough completists.
When I started hunting for screenshots I just watched the whole movie once at 32x just to make sure I'd taken all of it in. As the images whipped past I had to laugh: I seemed like a full third of them were of one particularly unhappy and unpleasant face seen in a variety of settings and different lighting conditions. Hopefully I won't be seeing that face again.