Thursday, December 26, 2013


Despite the massive number of kaiju films released in 1967, most of them aren't particularly memorable. Many were new entrants into the field by studios that had never endeavored to make a giant monster film before. Even Toho's franchise was running out of steam, with the disappointing performance of Son of Godzilla, as well as the flooded market. Godzilla just wasn't as special as he had been. To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the Godzilla franchise in 1968, Toho decided to get the band back together.

And with immaculate timing, my DVD player has decided it no longer likes my copy. Pictures will come later, sadly.

Destroy all Monsters is the last film with the five original artists from Godzilla; Ishiro Honda, Eiji Tsuburaya (although only in an honorary fashion, he was very ill as this time), Tomoyuki Tanaka as producer, Haruo Nakajima in the suit, and Akira Ifukube writing the music. Some call this the end of an era, but to my mind, it's a Hercluean effort before economic and social forces turned the kaiju film into a cheap and poorly thought-out spectacle.

The year is 1999, and as in several previous films, Japan (or, really UNSC) has a space program. They have also managed to confine all the monsters to a location, Monster Land. The space program trope fades a bit after the excitement of the space race cooled off, but the Monster Island idea is one that stuck with the franchise until the end of the Shōwa era. Moonlight SY-3 is a stylish, almost art deco spacecraft, combining attributes of a high-tech jet as well as a rocket.

Ogasawara Island, called Monster Land, is the culmination of several ideas previous films, such as Mothra vs Godzilla and Ebirah, Horror of the Deep. Although the monsters are not under human control, they are at least confined. If Godzilla and the other monsters are still seen as a metaphor for nuclear testing, this may coincide with the rise of nuclear power in Japan, with the Mihama Nuclear Power Plant beginning construction outside Tokyo in February of 1967. On the other hand, this is the ultimate expression of Dr. Serizawa's desire to study the monsters. Now that they are controlled, they can be understood.

The Kilaaks, the alien antagonists, can control the monsters. Japan can never do so, merely containing the monsters, but alien invaders and terrorist corporations such as the Red Bamboo seek to control the giant monsters for their own ends. Ghidorah is, again, the puppet of an alien intelligence just as he was for the Xiliens and the Futurans. They are all female, all Japanese-looking (despite the more international bent of the film) but this is a disguise. They really look like slugs, and are made of 'living metal.' It turns out that they can control humans just as easily as they can monsters. This creates a paranoia in the film similar to the 1956 film Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Anyone could be a Kilaak agent (until they discover the transmitters which allow the Kilaaks to control humans and monsters).

Strangely, Mothra has shed her unique status as protector of Infant Island, and has been confined in the same way that the other monsters have. Also gone from this film are her twins, the Shobijin, Mothra's interface with humanity. She's just another destructive monster. She's also back in larval form. It's possible (pardon me while I fan-theory) that this is the other larva that hatched in Godzilla vs Mothra and didn't become the Mothra we saw in Ebirah, Horror of the Deep, which I assume is the peacemaker from Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster.

The film is very much a retread of the tropes and ideas from Ghidorah. Alien invaders, all the monsters ultimately ganging up against Ghidorah, Godzilla pulling a turn from implacable enemy to unstoppable hero. But where Ghidorah has three monsters attacking the three-headed monster, some seven attack him here. More spectacular, sure, but not as challenging a fight. But more than any previous film, Destroy All Monsters takes a look at the international problem of monsters. Rodan attacks Moscow. Gorasaursus, unseen since King Kong Escapes stands in for Baragon, who was on loan to Tsubaraya's Ultraman. Which is why it is misidentified, as well as shows some rather unlikely tunneling abilities. We are told that Mothra attacks Beijing, and that Manda attacks London, but we don't see these. We do see Godzilla show up in New York harbor and blast the United Nations building with his radioactive breath. 1998 Godzilla is not the first time the big guy took a bite out of the Big Apple.

In the middle of the film (XXX minutes), we have a beautiful miniature of 1999 Tokyo. Small card move along her streets, an elevated train trundles along tracks. The set is large and took a lot of attention to detail. Ironic, really that the construction boom made Tokyo so much more impressive thirty years later. The destruction of Tokyo by Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and Mothra is beautiful in its mayhem.

For the first time since Godzilla Raids Again, the camera pans over the charred and ruined city. This was one of the most effective shots of the original Godzilla film, and it's a reminder that these films aren't completely fun and games. But it's brief, and the devastation isn't as total as it was in 1954.

Part of the bigger budget for this film shows in the miniatures. The military vehicles are a bit more fanciful, including tanks with missiles on their turrets and strange-looking radar antennae. It's as ineffective as the military always is, but it's a pleasure to see some fantasy deigns come from Tsubaraya's studio. There is also the implication, and a prescient one, that the tanks are drones.

The last battle happens, again like Ghidorah, in front of Mount Fuji, where the Kilaak base is. This is our only glimpse of Baragon in the fight, mostly through a thicket. We get a better shot of him in the farewell section, however. But you have to wonder what the Kilaaks were thinking when they deployed Ghidorah. Godzilla, Rodan, and Mothra got rid of him last time, now Gorosaurus, Anguirus, Manda, Baragon, Varan and Kumonga (I'm not counting Minilla as a threat) are added to the team. It makes for a more impressive fight, but the outcome is pretty inevitable. Godzilla and Anguirus do most of the heavy lifting (the footage of Ghidorah flying with Anguirus firmly attached to one of its necks will be repeated a few times in later films) in the fight.

Once the fight is over, the Kilaaks deploy their Fire Dragon, a flying saucer burning with energy. Even though Godzilla puts an enormous foot through the Kilaak base, the Fire Dragon keeps coming. Ghidorah's inert body falls into the earth, similar to the way Frankenstein and Baragon ended. Only with more explosions, but it's up to the humans to solve the last problem. Which they do with Moonlight SY-3. This represents a major shift in attitude from Toho's previous films. Honda, who experienced WWII, had never allowed the military solution to be anything but show before this. And, although the conclusion is rooted in science fiction, Moonlight SY-3 fires missiles, causing the saucer to go down. The humans have taken the lead, controlling the monsters, no longer the ir helpless victims.

Destroy All Monsters was intended as a finale to the series, the end of monster films. However, it was so successful (admittedly selling only a hundred thousand tickets more than Son of Godzilla), but in a period of sharply declining attendance, this was seen as a major coup. And so the series continued, albeit with declining budgets.

Next up, Boy Scouts in trouble, and loaded with stock footage.

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