THN’s Godzilla Countdown #9: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Destroy All Monsters MAINOn 16th May 2014, Toho’s greatest monster will return to the big screen in an American reboot. With just 21 weeks to go, we here at THN are counting down the GODZILLA back catalogue.

Director: Ishiro Honda

Starring: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yukiko Kobayashi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kyoko Ai, Andrew Hughes, Chotaro Togin, Susumu Kurobe, Haruo Nakajima

Plot: The world’s monsters have all been placed on Monster Land, an island that keeps them contained. But after a strange gas attack, the monsters are used to cause mayhem and destruction.

Take a few seconds to bathe in the glory of that phenomenal title. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS has such a definite agenda that it’s hard not to be completely sucked in. This really was a big deal in terms of Godzilla films, as it was intended to be the final film of the franchise, but due to its success it breathed new life into the world of our favourite kaiju. Throwing away the island set premises of the last two films, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS not only included 11 monsters – a number that would remain unbeaten until 2004’s FINAL WARS – but it also included scenes set around the world in huge cities, as well as bringing back a lot of old talent. Had this truly been the final performance of a cinematic titan, then it would have been a bloody marvelous one.

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Ishiro Honda returned to the role of director for this 9th excursion for Godzilla, having allowed Jun Fukuda to take over for the last two, island set, installments. Those two films were actually a way for Toho to train others in the way of kaiju. However, despite doing a decent job, when you’re planning on ending a franchise with a bang, you bring on board the big guns. It’s a move that paid off, and even though this wasn’t the last Godzilla film, it was the last time that the “4 Godzilla Fathers” made a Godzilla film together, those being Honda, Akira Ifukube (Composer), Eiji Tsuburaya (Effects Supervisor) and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka (Producer).

The film begins with some extensive exposition, as the whole landscape of kaiju films have been reconstructed. DESTORY ALL MONSTERS is set in the far off time of 1999, and people were partying as though it was such. Not because of the encroaching millennium, but because all the world’s monsters had been placed on an island called Monster Land (in later films, Monster Island, unless you want to argue that it’s a different place). The island contained – deep breath – Godzilla, Minilla, Rodan, Mothra (in caterpillar form), Kumonga, and Anguirus. But not only did Toho bring back all these Godzilla alumni, they also pilfered monsters from their other franchises making this a real THE AVENGERS of monster movies. These monsters include Baragon (FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD), Gorosaurus (KING KONG ESCAPES), Manda (ATRAGON), and Varan (VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE). They each have a different level on inclusion, with Varan barely noticeable in the background of a later shot, while Gorosaurus and Manda are treated like A-listers. Their island home has been specifically designed to contain them all, where even the sky and sea are regulated in some form. Beneath this island live a team of scientists who make sure everything runs smoothly. Meanwhile, as it’s 1999, there is a base on the moon and there are moon launches every day.

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We get some quick shots of the monsters in their new home, with Godzilla looking more ferocious than he did previously. This is also when we realise that continuity is not such a big part of the Godzilla universe, as Anguirus is back for the first time since being killed in GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN. This may in fact be a different Anguirus, but there is no mention of its origins. The film also sidesteps the ending of SON OF GODZILLA, although many speculate that Monster Land is merely Solgell Island from the previous instalment with a bit of a rebranding. It’s lovely to think that these gigantic beasts get their own home and are no longer a danger to others, but of course this doesn’t last long as we have an exciting film to get underway. One of the scientists working far below Monster Land is Kyoko Manabe (Kobayashi), who happens to be dating the Captain of SY-3 (a moon based ship), Katsuo Yamabe (Kubo). The human element is still present here, but it doesn’t get much of a focus. Although the characters have individual stories, they are played out without much challenge. Then again, with 11 monsters, who can blame the writers?

The underwater base is soon attacked with gas, which knocks all the scientists out. Not only that, but it seems the monsters are also affected by the gas. Before you know it, the monsters are in different parts of the world attacking whatever takes their fancy. Gorosaurus – mistakenly called Baragon since it was originally scripted to be so but his costume was lent out to Tsuburaya’s own production company for the Ultra series – attacks Paris, with Rodan taking on Moscow , Manda in London, Mothra in Peking, and Godzilla stopping over in New York 30 years before Roland Emmerich’s American reboot. This variety of global destruction adds so many awesome elements to the franchise that you wish more time had been spent on these attacks. First of all it removes Japan as the epicentre for such attacks, even though later in the film the monsters soon return to the shores of their country of origin. It also makes clear that human disagreements pale in comparison, as Moscow at the height of the Cold War, is attacked by a monster that doesn’t distinguish between capitalist and communist. Seeing the Arc de Triumph attacked also makes a nice change from the repetitive looking buildings in Tokyo.

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After the destruction, we return to the moon where a flying saucer is spotted. Could these inexplicable events be connected? Yes, yes they can! Katsuo and co. return to Earth and are sent to investigate the Monster Land. They find the scientists, but they are now all under mind control of the Kilaaks, as are the monsters. After a rather exciting shootout – let’s never underestimate the thrill of a few gun firings in a monster movie – the SY-3 crew manage to capture one of the doctors, still controlled by the villainous E.T.s. DESTROY ALL MONSTERS then shows its darker side as the doctor commits suicide by jumping out of a window. This is when more Kilaaks are discovered, one of whom is played by the original Ultraman himself, Susumu Kurobe. I guess Tsuburaya got the Baragon suit and Toho got their hands on Kurobe – a decent swap for all involved. The doctor’s body is soon taken for autopsy, where we get to see some injury detail. It’s not a huge plus, but this paired with the suicide cements the darker tone that had been ignored during the last, child-friendly effort. This autopsy leads to the discovery of the mind control devices.

Although the destruction of other major capital cities was great, it was all a ruse to detract attention from Japan, only for all the monsters to descend onto Japan. This huge level of destruction is captured beautifully. The improved special effects mean that Tokyo looks absolutely alive, with cars and the subway in full operational order. It makes a change from having to evacuate the streets so that monsters can stumble through empty sets. You get the real sense that people are dying during these attacks, even though such footage is never shown. Manda’s long, snake-like neck is put to good use as he wraps himself around the subway tracks. Godzilla and Rodan help out Manda, and Tokyo is left in ruins. It’s a quick shot, but a powerful one.

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If it wasn’t clear already, the Kilaaks wish to take over the world and their base is somewhere in Tokyo. The mind controlled Kyoko makes her presence known by storming a meeting of Japan’s leaders, only for her beloved to tear off her earrings after he realises they are the control devices. After a rather unnecessary trip back into space, which just results in some UFO saucer chasing, the humans soon gain control of Earth’s monsters. It’s short lived however, but after they shake off all control the monsters still wish to fight against the Kilaaks. They naturally know their enemies despite being animals. Lead by Godzilla, the team get ready to destroy the Kilaaks, only for it to be revealed that King Ghidorah is on the side of the Kilaaks, and being a space monster, is not one to be friendly with the Earth monsters. The battle is a furious one, and you have to feel sorry for Ghidorah. Unlike the other monsters, he is unable to shake control. A slave that is beaten, quite severely, with a neck jumping/biting/atomic breath ring burns (thanks Minilla). Another monster appears, but it is revealed to be nothing more than a disguised flying saucer. Our kaiju friends destroy the Kilaaks and their base and soon return to Monster Land.

DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is an excellent slice of popcorn chomping entertainment. The sheer amount of monsters is a spectacle to behold, and the darker tone makes it more palatable than the previous film. Although many of the monsters don’t get a look in, it’s great to see a world where they could all exist. With splendid direction from Honda that builds the action and tension at an expert rate, as well as another wonderful score from Ifukube, this is a Godzilla film that is rightly hailed as one of the best. It’s monster fun without the silly. This is probably how many people envision a Godzilla film, even if they haven’t seen one before. Plenty of monsters, loads of destruction, and just enough human interaction to establish a connection. The only negative is that the huge budget here lead to the awful GODZILLA’S REVENGE.

Dub-Misstep: Not bad, but hardly worthwhile. The voices fit the characters well and there are no major changes to speak of. Other than Kumonga still being called Spiger.

Monsters: Where to begin? This truly was an epic of kaijuness, as Toho brought in monsters from all of their films, and not just Godzilla films. A sort of THE AVENGERS of Toho movies. Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, Kumonga, Minilla, and King Ghidorah join from previous Godzilla films, while we also have Gorosaurus, Manda, Baragon, and Varan joining from other projects. Some are just left in the background, and some have very little to do. However, it’s great to see them all on board and working together.

Notes For GODZILLA (2014): This is the interesting one, as Gareth Edwards has stated this is his second favourite Godzilla film after the 1954 original. He has also hinted that he would like to include more monsters in any potential sequels, so this may very well be the direction we are heading in. It’s doubtful though that we’ll see any aliens.

G-RATING:

4 G

View all the articles in our countdown right here!

GODZILLA will be released 16th May 2014. It stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Ken Watanabe, Bryan Cranston, Sally Hawkins, Akira Takarada, and David Strathairn.

Luke likes many things, films and penguins being among them. He's loved films since the age of 9, when STARGATE and BATMAN FOREVER changed the landscape of modern cinema as we know it. His love of film extends to all aspects of his life, with trips abroad being planned around film locations and only buying products featured in Will Smith movies. His favourite films include SEVEN SAMURAI, PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC, IN BRUGES, LONE STAR, GODZILLA, and a thousand others.

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