Friday, February 28, 2014

Kaiju Kavalcade #9: DESTROY ALL MONSTERS (1968)

Welcome to KAIJU KAVALCADE, wherein the effervescent Travis Kirkland and myself will be revisiting every single Kaiju Klassik by Toho Studios starring Godzilla, most famous of all giant monsters, in the run-up to the release of Gareth Edwards’ upcoming new take on the big G-dude! Your humble servant is but a novice in all things giant monsters, whereas Travis has been a fan all of his life. This is reflected in our respective titles for the series: if you follow it on Travis’ tumblr Rocket Number 09, KAIJU KAVALCADE will seem like the knock-off Raymond Burr version of MEMORIES OF MONSTER ISLAND!

LUCA:

DESTROY ALL CENSORSHIP! Goddamn, but DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is violent! I guess Honda was tired of the series being pulled into increasingly kiddie-oriented directions, and he really wanted to let us know! Off the top of my head I can recall several bloody gunshot wounds (of which at least one to the head), a mind-control induced suicide (jeeeez!), a graphic surgery scene in which an alien transmitter is removed, and a lady having her fucking earrings pulled out with blood gushing from her lobes! On the kaiju front, King Ghidorah gets fucking WRECKED by all the other monsters (including Minilla!), and one of his necks is visibly bleeding! Godzilla stomps on the three-headed space dragon execution-style, like "Yeah you had this coming for a long time motherfucker!" WHEW! I do have some minor quibbles, but all in all, I have to say that the movie definitely lived up to its title (although almost none of the monsters are actually destroyed) in sheer awesomeness.

Now, lest anyone think this is suddenly a detour into dark-n-gritty Godzilla again, let me assuage your fears. All the violence is done with a sort of matter-of-factness and isn't really dwelt upon in any lurid detail. The earring-pulling is perhaps the most shocking thing, as Captain Katsuo just suddenly realizes what's been mind-controlling poor Kyoko and YANKS em off roughly "for your own good!!!" I haven't been this shocked by the violence in a kids movie since BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (G-rating, contains bloody spike through throat). It's kind of sad that movies right up to the R-rating are completely sanitized of this kind of stuff nowadays. I'm a firm believer in tone having to be a primary motivator in a movie's rating. While the tone certainly isn't as light as in EBIRAH or SON OF, DESTROY still has the urgency but also, let's face it, the camp of a Silver Age Kirby comic. The reveal of the Kiruka aliens' true form is... creative, to say the least!

It's a shame that all the monsters are mind-controlled right up until the very end so, while we do get some good smashy scenes, we're robbed of their distinct personalities. Favorite moment: Mothra headbutting a train, then later, when Godzilla, Rodan and Manda are attacking Tokyo, some UN guy announces, "Mothra is coming...!!!" and she fucking bursts out of the subway like she took the train all the way from the Chinese countryside. Travis, wipe the blood off your face and give me your thoughts!

TRAVIS:

Lemmie get into some personal history first, Luca. When I was a lad, this film was the Holy Grail of Godzilla films. I could easily watch most of the movies via TV airings or the local video stores, yet in the pre-DVD/streaming/torrent years, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS had very elusive availability. I remember even flipping through a New York-based VHS catalog that enticed me to order a copy for $20. Seems crazy now, but for a kaiju fan like me, an AVENGERS team-up of all my favorite monsters was my ultimate dream to chase down. Luckily, years later, I managed to record an airing on the Sci-Fi Channel, and all it cost me was a blank tape. Did it live up to the hype? Fucking YES.

What makes this such a fun romp is the amount of effort Toho put behind it. Box office returns were dwindling for monster flicks, and nine films in, this was destined to be the curtain call for Godzilla and company in one gigantic finale. The budget was beefed up higher than usual, affording set designers to craft all kinds of detailed cities, countrysides, and lunar landscapes (plus a neat Moonlight SY-3 rocket!). This send-off also reunited original GOJIRA masterminds director Ishiro Honda, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, SFX master Eiji Tsuburaya, and composer Akira Ifukube. The plot itself isn't that remarkable (the alien mind controlled kaiju story is basically a redux of INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER), but this was always meant to be the ultimate smash-up for the ages. Whatever you may think of the first two acts, the battle between G & friends vs. Ghidorah is worth the price of a ticket and a buncha concession snacks. Nothing better than to munch on some popcorn while watching eight monsters punch, kick, and electrocute the hell outta each other!

The human acting is fine and perfunctory, the only interesting stuff being when Kyoko and Dr. Otani are evil assholes. Unlike the previous entries, there aren't any personal storylines that weave around the kaiju action. Everyone's too busy destroying all monsters! And what a creature roll call we have! It's great that most of them get a nice spotlight moment too. Rodan gets to be an aggressive jerk again and makes many buildings and aircrafts go boom. Manda gives the best performance of his career by taking down Japan's monorail tracks (that mode of transportation was never gonna take off anyway). Godzilla of course remains the big man of the proceedings, but Minilla gives Ghidorah the final kill shot with his small smoke ring. Way to make poppa proud! Mah man Anguirus proves himself a scrappy fighter by biting and holding on to Ghidorah's neck even as the dragon takes flight. I also like that tactical monsters Mothra and Kumonga get a chance to use their webbing to hold down and create a burial for the space monster. Even Gorosaurus makes up for his loss in KING KONG ESCAPES by delivering the most awesome kangaroo kick ever to Ghidorah's backside. Baragon and Varan sadly get sidelined for most of the movie, although this was apparently due to their costumes being in too poor a condition for combat. Still, what a league we have! Luca, even though Toho would continue the franchise after this, it's hard for me not to get a bit emotional at the end as the humans fly over Monsterland in a helicopter and wave goodbye to our scaly friends. Each kaiju gets a nice close up while triumphant yet melancholy horns are heard in Ifukube's score, culminating in a full orchestral finale to the image of Godzilla and Minilla shrinking in the distance as we depart from the island. Obviously this isn't truly the end, but did you have a tear in your eye, Luca?

LUCA:

I didn't know about this being an intended finale for the series due to dwindling ticket sales! It does account for the time-jump to the end of the 20th century, making it the first Godzilla movie set in a possible future Earth rather than a contemporary one with sci-fi embellishments. I'm assuming here that, for the remainder of the Showa era, we're back to the present for budgetary reasons, actually making DAM (hehe) the chronological capper to that particular bit of Godzilla continuity. Who knows, maybe I'd have gotten a bit emotional had DAM actually come at the end of the Showa era, the innocent age of superhero Godzilla and his little boy literally waving us off as they grow smaller and smaller on the horizon, the very image of our childhood leaving us. As it is in the movie now, and without the benefit of that context, the helicopter scene came across more as a good-natured "let's give a big hand to all our favorite Earth monsters!" than a bittersweet goodbye.

Actually, nine films in, and I've had THU FEELZ (or a close enough approximation of them so as not to matter) four times: the crying little girl and Serizawa's descent scored by the children's choir in the original, the demise of Kobayashi in GRA, and Godzilla's acceptance of Minilla in SON OF. As you can tell, all of these things are self-contained dramatic instances that really aren't influenced by any built up fondness for the monsters. While I like the Showa era's (maybe all eras?) loosey-goosey, one might almost say IDGAF, approach to continuity, it's hard to build up any affection across movies knowing that the next time you see these characters it's gonna be a sort-of reboot anyway. Is it a Japanese thing maybe? I'm reminded of stuff like The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy, where each sequel isn't really a continuation of the last installment's story, but rather a whole different thing with the same name and some core concepts. I actually watched RODAN and MOTHRA before their respective appearances in the Godzilla franchise, but it turns out I might as well not have bothered. As we've discussed previously, Rodan gets burned to a crisp in his original movie, and he just shows up without explanation in GHIDORAH. Mothra shows up in MOTHRA VS GODZILLA, but she didn't die at the end of her first movie, plus Mothra's whole deal is her life cycle with the larvae and the cocoons and the rebirth and whatnot, so she's easy to explain. Anguirus just shows up in DAM after getting his neck snapped and being BURNED TO ASHES in GRA. Kumonga was likewise set the fuck on fire just ONE MOVIE BEFORE THIS. This all contributed to me not trying to squeeze in the origin movies of monsters before their appearance in DAM anymore. I mean, I'll still watch them eventually, but now I'll just check them out one day for love of these silly ass movies, rather than for blog research purposes. If you're curious, I've yet to check out VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE (Varan), ATRAGON (Manda), KING KONG ESCAPES (Gorosaurus), and FRANKENSTEIN VS BARAGON (Baragon). Just out of curiosity, Travis -- how many of these movies have their respective Godzilla-contributing monster killed off in a relatively final way? I'm talking Anguirus/Rodan/Kumonga level certainty here, so no "falling into the ocean" stuff!

TRAVIS:

As far as the B-listers in the DAM cast go, Gorosaurus is the only one with a definite death by receiving an old school jawbreaker from Kong in KING KONG ESCAPES. Otherwise, Varan escapes into the ocean and is presumably bombed in his movie, Baragon falls into the Earth's crust in FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, and Manda gets petrified by a freeze ray in ATRAGON. With all these inconsistent kaiju fates and timeline jumps, is it hard to develop a fondness for a character's movie history? For me, during the monster sign-off in DAM, we're not so much saying farewell to a particular Rodan or Anguirus but to a cast of characters that have entertained us all these years. Like giving a round of applause to a favorite troupe of actors. By the end of our Godzilla run, Luca, you'll be quite used to Toho hitting reset for the franchise, so maybe in reflection you'll be more comfortable with the constant changes. I remember early in our reviews how you theorized that Toho tried out different genres in each film and plugged in Godzilla however well he could fit in. Keep that mentality of the studio merging in the monsters for each movie's plot convenience, and you won't wrack your brain over Kumonga's sudden resurrection.

As it stands, DESTROY ALL MONSTERS is a fine finale for Godzilla. But a force more powerful than a nuclear bomb would soon revive the King of the Monsters -- box office! The monster mash to end all monster mashes was a hit in theaters, and Toho was back in the 'Zilla business. Tough times laid ahead however, and G would go on some strange journeys when he returned to the silver screen. Luca, you seem okay with the child pandering of the franchise, but your limits on the cuteness of Minilla will be tested in ALL MONSTERS ATTACK! Stay tuned, kids!

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