Monday, September 23, 2019

Godzilla Chronicles: Destroy All Monsters!

Last time around, I took at look at what some might consider the least of the Showa Era Godzilla films, 1967's Son of Godzilla. Of course, that's not an entirely fair estimation, considering the movie that came after the one we're here today to talk about. But that's a story for another time. Today, we're here to talk about what most Godzilla fans consider one of the very best in the series,  1968's Destroy All Monsters!

Godzilla hanging out in "Monsterland".

Destroy All Monsters saw the return of the two original mainstays of the franchise, director Ishiro Honda, and composer Akira Ifukube. Both had taken a break from the series since 1965's Invasion of the Astro Monster, my personal favorite. The two films in between had taken a progressively lighter tone, both being adventures taking place on small islands. For Destroy, Ishiro brought the series back to a somewhat more serious tone, more or less picking up where he had left off in "Monster Zero", dealing with alien invaders.

The big difference here though, was that while his previous Godzilla movies, Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster and Invasion, really established the "monster mash" motif, having three or four monsters at a time, for Destroy, he and Toho wanted to go bigger. By this time in the late 1960s, the Godzilla franchise was starting to make progressively less money, so at the time of production, there was a very real idea that what they were making would in fact be the last Godzilla movie, possibly ever. With that in mind, they wanted to go out with a bang, and thus in some ways this was the most expensive, and ambitious Godzilla movie to date. This time, they weren't going to have just three or four monsters. They were going to have just about every monster previously seen, even in non-Godzilla Toho films, outside of King Kong.

One of the more obscure monsters, Varan.

As far as the plot goes, because this movie was originally somewhat intended to be the last hurrah for the series, it takes place in the "far future" of 1999 (keeping in mind that this was 1968). By that date, mankind had, in the Tohoverse, reached a technological level where they could deal with the giant monsters of the world more easily. They kept most of them on a remote island which they dubbed "Monsterland" (called "Monster Island" in later films), a place where they could both study these amazing creatures, and through various scientific means, keep them from trampling around the globe. World peace had more or less become the norm by this version of 1999, and mankind even had outposts on the moon.

To this backdrop, we the audience are fairly quickly into the film, treated to these now peaceful monsters, suddenly missing from the island. Instead, they're inexplicably off rampaging around literally the entire planet. One thing this movie did that was unique for these old Toho films, was that it involved the whole world, and not just Japan or some nearby fictional island. Gorosaurus, a monster from the 1967 film King Kong Escapes (displaying Baragon's burrowing ability) trashes the Arc de Triumph in Paris, France. Rodan causes hurricane force winds to smash up Moscow, Russia. A new Mothra larva is seen running amuck in Beijing, China. The great sea serpent Manda, from the 1963 film Atragon, lays waste to a rail system in London, England. And the big man himself, Godzilla, is shown in perhaps the film's most iconic imagery, destroying the United Nations building in New York!

How can Gorosaurus burrow underground with such tiny T-Rex arms?

Godzilla, about to toast the "Big Apple".

Humanity is left scrambling to discover just what the hell caused them to lose control of these monsters, and make them go on this extra-aggressive global assault. And naturally, once they do a little digging, they discover the answer: more goddamned aliens! This time, with those bastards from Planet X out of the way, another race from much further into space come calling. The female-looking Kilaaks are the culprits this time around, and of course what they want is ownership of the Earth. They basically stole Planet X's playbook on controlling monsters to threaten Earth, but they just upped the ante, using about ten monsters instead of just three.

You could even call these chicks Kilaakian K......jerks.

Of course what any Godzilla fan and/or kid worth their salt would care about, was the monster action. And while it could have had more, this movie still delivers. It's cool to see the various monsters all over the planet, but unfortunately those scenes are just tantalizing, short little morsels. The main course isn't delivered until the movie's epic climax. It turns out that all those attacks on other cities, was just a distraction so that the Kilaaks could set up shop in Japan. Soon enough, they have the monsters doing what they do best: attacking Tokyo, etc.

But without giving TOO much away, those pesky Earthmen (and women) eventually pull through, and manage to sever control of the monsters. The aliens are then forced to reveal the final boss, Godzilla's biggest and baddest foe, King Ghidorah!

The King vs. The Demon From Space

My boy, Anguirus, along with Gorosaurus.

Ultimately, the film's highlight is the big battle royal, or if we're using proper pro wrestling terms, a major handicap match, between the seemingly unstoppable King Ghidorah, and practically every other major monster on Earth. In the past, keeping in mind that Godzilla is a badass who is never fully defeated by anyone, even if he "loses" a fight now an then (King Kong, Mothra Larva), the Big G and his enemies/friends, could not fully defeat the evil space dragon Ghidorah. Both times that Godzilla and Co. fought him, they were able to basically drive him away from Earth, and that's it.

That's really saying something, considering Godzilla's track record. He's kicked the shit out of more monsters than he could shake his tail at. But Ghidorah? That dude is made of tougher stuff! So THIS time around, and again bearing in mind Toho was treating this as the last Godzilla film, they threw a TON of monsters at the three-headed sonuvabitch. Godzilla, of course, leads the charge, but almost everyone else gets some kind of lick in. On the one hand, it does seem kind of unfair that Ghidorah is ganged up on by like, EVERYBODY. But on the other hand, it also emphasizes just how bad ass he apparently is, because it takes help from most of Godzilla's pals, to really put him in his place.

One of the best scenes in the movie, Anguirus biting that asshole's neck!

Stomping a mudhole and walking it dry.

Now for my part, this is one of the few Showa Era films I didn't get to see as a kid. During my "Godzilla Craze" years, from ages 8 to 13 or so, as I've related in the past, I got to see most of them in some fashion or another. Whether it was VHS tapes we'd find at Walmart, or my beloved TNT's MonsterVision, I got to see all but four of the fifteen Godzilla movies, as well as related films like the solo Rodan and Mothra movies. But it's really too damn bad I had to miss out on this one. While Ghidorah would have been nice, Son is fun, and Hedorah incredibly unique, Destroy is the BIG Battle action that a kid obsessed with Godzilla, as I was, would have gone nuts for.

Essentially speaking, what I'm saying is that I wish I'd been able to see ALL of the Showa films during that young, raw, innocent age. Because I would have enjoyed them all and gotten a lot more out of them. I didn't get to see Destroy, I'm going to say, until at least age 16 or 17, when I finally managed to rent it. I still enjoyed it, due to my enduring nostalgic love of Godzilla. But I would have absolutely flipped my shit, even at age 12 or 13, to be able to see that climactic battle.

The cover art of the original DVD I owned.

As with almost all of these films, I would eventually come to own it on DVD in my 20s, when I had spending cash to burn. Above, you can see the cover of the original DVD I bought, but as neat as that art is, the disc itself sucked. Yes, the movie was there, but that was literally ALL that was there. The damned thing didn't even have so much as a menu screen! You just popped the disc in, and the movie immediately started, and would play on loop until you stopped it. It was nice owning the movie, but to say that DVD release was a let-down is an understatement. Thankfully, I came to later own a better, more worthwhile DVD release, which actually had, you know, a menu, and subtitles, etc.

Thinking about where this movie stands for me, when it comes to Godzilla movies, I'm not sure it's in my personal Top 5. Keeping in mind that my Top 5, or even Top 10, are made up entirely of Showa era films. While I do like and appreciate the 80s/90s Hesei era films, they just don't compare to the tone, spirit, and fun, to me, of the Showa movies. I like Destroy All Monsters a lot, even though I was sadly robbed of that childhood nostalgia connection to it. But even with the grandeur of its climactic battle, it doesn't quite hold a candle, for me, to my all-time favorite, "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero" (the alternate name for Invasion of the Astro Monster). My Top 3, easily, are Monster Zero, Sea Monster, and King Kong, in that order. I suppose #4 would be a toss-up between Hedorah (Smog Monster) and the first Mecha-Godzilla film. So it's possible that Destroy is #5, if one of those two aren't.

The cast and crew.

As a movie on its own merits, while "cheesy" by many people's standards, for what it is it's pretty solid. The plot is simpler and more streamlined than even, say, Monster Zero or Sea Monster. But it's a well done, entertaining ride. And as far as technical achievement's go, I can't stress enough just how complex and likely difficult it was to pull off that final battle. Keeping in mind that "monster suit" actors were not in high abundance, as you had to have high endurance, be in great shape, and have a high tolerance for discomfort, and be able to act and move in bulky suits where you can barely see, if at all. The fact that they pulled off such an elaborate fight, and involved so many monsters, was a hugely ambitious thing for them in that time. And I think they pulled it off pretty well.

By today's standards, many people look at guys in suits stomping around miniature sets, and say "that looks SO fake". But the thing is, those suits were usually high quality and super elaborate, and the miniature sets were works of art in their own right, taking a long time to build and having a (usually) high attention to detail. The whole "Suitmation" deal was an art-form of its own, that Toho basically pioneered, and it gave birth to later things like Ultraman, and the Power Rangers. It seems to be a dying art, at least in the movies (it's still going strong in Japan with GoRanger, Ultraman, Kamen Rider, etc. shows). Even Toho themselves seem to have mostly abandoned it, which in my opinion really sucks. Much like stop-motion animation, or traditional hand drawn cell animation, it is an art form that I strongly feel deserves to be continued and kept alive. There is something far more organic, and "real", about seeing giant monsters "in the flesh", so to speak, instead of even the best, most detailed, yet lifeless computer graphics.


So as always, if you haven't seen Destroy All Monsters, make sure to put it on your list of "Movies to Watch" this Halloween season. And speaking of Halloween season, stay tuned for more spooky goodness to come in the month of October!

For now, for any who may have missed them, here are the other Godzilla Chronicles articles, in order:

1. The Beginning

2. Gojira (aka Godzilla: King of the Monsters)

3. Godzilla Raids Again

4. King Kong vs. Godzilla

5. Mothra vs. Godzilla

6. Ghidorah, The Three-Headed Monster

7. Invasion of the Astro Monster (aka Godzilla vs. Monster Zero)

8. Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster

9. Son of Godzilla