Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Friday, March 28, 2014

Series Report Card: Godzilla (1968)

9. Destroy All Monsters
Kaiju Soshingeki

By 1968, Toho’s science fiction and giant monster films had enjoyed over a decade of popularity. However, the last few Godzilla films had seen a decline in ticket sales. Thinking giant monsters might have played themselves out, the studio decided to retire their super-sized gallery of beasties. But not until after one last hurrah, an epic kaiju film that would mash together many of their creations for one giant monster rumble. Thus, “Destroy All Monsters” was born, bringing together eleven of the studio’s most popular monsters. (Though a few interesting choices were left out, some rather understandably.)

Set in the then future year of 1999, “Destroy All Monsters” takes place in a near-utopian world. A global science league has established far ranging scientific advancements. A command base has been set up on the moon and rocket trips there are routine. Most pressingly, all the world’s monsters have been rounded up and placed on Ogasawara Island, subsequently renamed Monsterland. The peace of this future world is interrupted when the Killaks, invading aliens, attack Monsterland and take control of the daikaiju. The monsters are then siced on the world, destroying major cities. Astronaut Katsuo Yamabe and his rocket team are tasked with hunting down the aliens and their supporters while the scientists attempt to stop the monsters.

Despite its reputation as a non-stop monster brawl, large sections of “Destroy All Monsters” play out without the kaiju. Big portions of the plot revolve around Katsuo and his crack astronaut team. After the Killaks take over Monsterland, they float down in their rocket ship. After the aliens explain their plan to them, a fight breaks, the astronauts shooting at the alien-controlled mooks. They capture one of the controllers, attempting to interrogate him. This doesn’t go as well as planned, ending with a dramatic dive to a beach and another shoot-out. A major middle portion of the film involves the astronauts returning to the moon, trying to shut down the Killaks' operation. A lot of time is devoted to the astronauts driving around in a moon rover, blasting through a door, and attempting to burn through the controlling device with a malfunctioning laser.

I’m not putting down these parts of the film. They’re actually a lot of fun. Akira Kubo, making his third Godzilla appearance, finds the character best-suited to his charm. Katsuo is a man of action, straight-forward and driven. His moments piloting a rocket ship or arguing for humanity’s strength against the Killaks' fascism work very well. Kubo manages to make moments when he smacks his alien-controlled love interest around actually charming. The moment on the moon, burning through the control antenna, is dramatically stretched out. The music mounts, the camera cutting between the laser, the antenna, Kubo’s face, and the burning cord. It’s a ridiculous moment but very entertaining, a good summation of the movie’s fun, goofy streak.

As always though, the monsters are the main attraction. The kaiju smashing is mostly isolated to four major sequences. We get a brief introductory tour of Monsterland, meeting the critter cast, displaying the specific safe-guards put in place to control each monster. After that the invasion starts, the monsters are let loose. “Destroy All Monsters” has a more global reach then previous Toho creature features. A quick montage shows the monsters wrecking specific cities. Rodan blows away the Kremlin. Gorosaurus wrecks the Arc de Triomphe. Godzilla burns down UN HQ. Mothra, rampaging through Beijing, crushes a… random train? When so many previous entries took place solely in Japan, it’s a real treat to see Toho’s kaiju crashing specific landmarks from all over the world.

Of course, all the action shifting away from Tokyo is misdirection. Four different monsters converge on Japan’s capital. Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and surprise guest star Mothra wreck the city. And it’s spectacular. Manda proves a surprisingly dynamic creature, slithering around a bridge, shattering it with his coils. While this happens in the foreground, Godzilla burns down a bay in the background. The military is powerless, naturally, missiles bouncing harmlessly off the monsters' hides. My favorite moment from this set piece is when Mothra comes up through the subway, exploding out of a building. For monster fans, it’s a great sequence and puts a strong exclamation point in the middle of the movie.

“Destroy All Monsters” is building towards something though. There’s a cool, brief bit of monster action where Godzilla stomps a few tanks. After the human heroes best the Killaks, the UN scientists take control of Earth’s kaiju back. As a final defense, the aliens call in Toho’s resident super villain: King Ghidorah! This leads to the movie’s grand battle, six of Earth’s mightiest beasts against the space monster. Godzilla leads the show, climbing on Ghidorah’s back, holding the dragon down to Earth by its feet, blasting the multiple heads with some atomic breath. Anguirus, reappearing for the first time since “Godzilla Raids Again,” establishes his never-say-die attitude. Anguirus isn’t a particularly powerful kaiju but is endlessly tenacious, grabbing hold of one of Ghidorah’s throats and not letting go. Gorosaurus proves a surprising addition, jump-kicking the enemy monster in the back, taking a hit and keeping on tickin’. It would have been nice to have seen more of Mothra and Kumonga, both of whom stand back and spray silk, but their inclusion is fun nevertheless. Heck, even Minilla joins in, getting King Ghidorah with a smoke ring while he’s down. After defeating him, each monster lets out a victorious cry, roaring towards the heavens. Sure, the battles are spaced out evenly over the movie’s run time. Yet who can complain when they deliver like this?

Weirdly, the movie keeps going after that deeply satisfying conclusion. Katsuo climbs into his rocket ship against for an air duel with one of the Killaks’ saucer. A burning shield around it, the UFO crashes through a building and makes a nuisance of itself. However, the SY-3 shuttle proves stronger then that, even surviving when the burning saucer attaches itself to the ship. I really like the shots of the astronauts inside the ship during this moment, especially when the camera whirls around them. It’s kind of a strange moment though, for the action to continue after King Ghidorah is vanquished and Godzilla does a field-goal kick into the alien’s base.

Plot wise, “Destroy All Monsters” owes a lot to previous monster-fest. As in “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero,” Earth’s kaiju are controlled by alien invaders. Both movies feature flying saucers floating above the giant monsters. The twist is that the Killaks only appear human-like. They look like Japanese women in chain link ponchos but are actually silver worm-like creatures, made of steel and weak against heat. Unlike the Planet X residents in “Monster Zero,” we never get a proper explanation for the aliens’ invasion plan. The Killaks want to take over Earth but never provide a reason why. The movie had an obvious effect on the Godzilla series, many of the future entries featuring aliens with human disguises hiding grotesque appearances.

The Killak plot has quite a few holes in it too. The script does too. The monsters are controlled by silver spheres spread all over the world. The spheres aren’t hidden very well, perched in palm trees or on riverbanks. You’d think they'd be better hidden buried deep underground or something. The Killaks obviously underestimate humanity’s ability. It only takes a few laser blasts to knock down their moon base. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to have the monster battle take place right outside their doorstep. Their sleeper agents are controlled with implants behind the ears. Except for Kyoto, Katsuo’s love interest. Her mind-control probes are hidden as earrings. Maybe they could have done something less obvious? Or, at the very least, not send her walking into the human base. “Destroy All Monsters” progresses too quickly for its audience, especially its intended audience of kids, to notice.

Toho smartly brought back Ishiro Honda and Akira Ifukube for such an epic monster flick. Honda manages to sneak in a few memorable visuals. An interrogation is shown behind the strange, iron swirls on the wall. My favorite small moment involves the still Killak-controlled Kyoto smiling as the kaiju destroy Tokyo. Even if Honda was largely bored by these later kaiju flicks, he never let it show. As for Ifukube’s score, it’s a great bit of music. The heroes of the film are given a strong, militaristic score, driving and catchy. Ifukube manages to incorporate the monster’s traditional themes as well, blending the two fantastically.

The supporting cast of “Destroy All Monsters” has some stand-out players. Jun Tazaki has some campy fun as the head scientist on Earth. He cuts a stern figure, with his glasses and pencil mustache. Yet the infectious fun of the project gets to the actor too, like when he excitedly announces he’s taking back control of the monsters. Yukiko Kobayashi is also notable as Kyoko. She has good chemistry with Kubo during their earlier conversations. She actually manages to convey some sinister intent when under the alien’s control.

“Destroy All Monsters” ends with the heroic kaiju returning to Monsterland. From their helicopter, the human protagonists wave goodbye. The camera pans around the island, focusing in on each monster. They roar, each getting one final moment to themselves, even cameos like Baragon and Varan. Finally, we come to Godzilla and Minilla on the beach. The King of the Monster and his son wave back. If you know that “Destroy All Monsters” was intended to be the final Toho kaiju film, this scene plays very differently. Ifukube’s music is quiet and slightly forlorn. It’s a fond farewell to a lovable band of characters and, as an aged monster fan, tugs at my heart a little.

Of course, “Destroy All Monsters” wasn’t the last Godzilla film. The movie was a huge hit, reviving interest in the series and carrying it into the seventies. On one level, I would have missed the even crazier films of the late Showa period. On the other hand, this would have been a great note to take the series out on. Silly though it might be, “Destroy All Monsters” is massively entertaining and sure to please any monster fan. [Grade: B+]

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