Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2.5/5)
October 1, 2009 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Seen by many as the "last hurrah" in the Showa Godzilla series, this late 1960's entry in the franchise reunites many of the principal staff behind Godzilla (1954) for what was, at one time, intended to be the last movie in the series. Ishiro Honda, Tomoyuki Tanaka, Akira Ifukube, Takeo Kita, and Eiji Tsuburaya all sound out the roll call for the movie's production. Throw in a plot set in the future, and add in an astounding eleven monsters to the proceeding, and one has what sounds to be a recipe for a memorable and great entry in the series. Sadly, it doesn't pan out that way. The film is memorable, that much can be said, but it falters when it comes to plot, pacing, and its characters, leaving great music and special effects that alone are not enough to elevate the overall production.

In terms of story, the year is 1999 and most of Earth's monsters have been contained on Monsterland on Ogasawara Island. The island, and its faculty, are attacked, though, by an extraterrestrial race called the Kilaakian, who administer a mind control over the humans and monsters alike. In short order, a global siege is conducted using the creatures as an attack force. The crew of a spaceship called the Moonlight SY-3 swing into action to investigate Monsterland, learning of the intentions of the aliens. With their ultimatum known, the aliens escalate their attack on Japan. Eventually, after a conflict on the moon with the Moonlight SY-3, the methods of their mind control is discovered and the Earth forces manage to take control of the monsters for themselves. This leads to a final battle at the base of Mount Fuji as the Kilaakian unleash King Ghidorah against the Earth monsters.

The plot is one that features a lot of great ideas, but lacks in terms of execution. On the bright side, one has the concept of Monsterland, which as Monster Island would become a large force in pop culture references. It's a nice idea too, one which sadly is only introduced in the start of the film before being quickly whisked away for the alien conflict. In the end, that is the main problem. The film is more or less a retread of Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965), utilizing the same idea of monster control. It brings new concepts to the table, such as the global strike and a futuristic setting, but in the end is never able to shake off the comparison to the 1965 entry in the series. The aliens here are also sub par. They lack the menace and mysterious sense that the Xilien had, instead feeling more like a means to the end of an all out monster fest. The horrible thing, though, is the lack of focus on their mind control. The race manages to take over the entire human populace of Monsterland. However, the heroes have no problem gunning most of them down, and the plot more or less treats them like aliens rather than human beings trapped in a regrettable situation, which to add insult to injury is not even permanent as seen by Kyoko Manabe being saved from the alien's influence. This is particularly sad as it would have been a great plot device to focus on in order to separate it more from the many other alien invasion flicks that Toho has produced.

Pacing is another issue. The film gets bogged down in its outer space side plot, with the UNSC Moon Base seeming more like an effort to make the movie seem more futuristic rather than something that was created with the intention of serving the mostly Earth based plot. In the end, the film is forced to spend too much time both explaining Monsterland and the Moon Base, the former of which is a much more interesting concept yet the movie tends to favor exploring the moon settings instead. Now, despite its flaws, the movie does feature the very excellent final showdown with King Ghidorah. This scene is probably one of the greatest in any Godzilla feature, and is really the movie's saving grace. The monsters aren't utilized as effectively as they could be, with only Godzilla, Anguirus, and Gorosaurus allowed to fully interact with King Ghidorah, but the sense of scope is still present. Action sequences like Gorosaurus' famous kick that brings down the space demon are still things of legend. Sadly, the movie commits the biggest mistake of all related to this scene and pacing in general: it's not the movie's climax. Instead, a conflict with the Moonlight SY-3 and a Kilaakian UFO is the final action piece here. The sin committed by this is really unspeakable. It shows volumes for how much the staff behind the production was interested in the ship and space setting in general, but even then it's hard to imagine why someone would place any action scene after the amazing group fight with King Ghidorah. It causes the movie to just grind to a halt. Rather than letting the audience soak in the kaiju battle and then enjoy the closure, it instead drags out a slow paced aerial dogfight which due to being placed after the conflict with King Ghidorah makes the whole proceeding seem dull. In the end, Destroy All Monsters is a text book example of how to make a movie anti-climatic.

In terms of the characters, they are completely forgettable. Katsuo Yamabe, portrayed by Akira Kubo, takes the lead role here. His role is more or less the generic hero, and his character never does much to stand out besides being one of action in all situations. His rash thinking could have been a nice element for his downfall or a classic case of misjudgment, but nothing poetic of the such is ever explored as he goes in, guns blazing, in most situations and comes out for the better in most of his conflicts. Kyoko Manabe is Yamabe's girlfriend in the picture, who is controlled through most of it by the Kilaakian. She is never really developed, though, primarily acting as the alien's cold voiced spokesperson while under control and then afterwards reverting to a very meek and under spoken character. No effort is made to develop her, one way or the other, in regards to her being utilized by the Kilaakian and her feelings toward that.

As for the acting, the performers do little to breath life into the paper-thin characters they are meant to inhabit. Akira Kubo in particular is disappointing here. He lacks the charm he had in roles such as Son of Godzilla (1967), left with his more unsympathetic hero portrayal which does not play to his strengths. Jun Tazaki plays the doctor Yoshido here, a similar role to the one he had in Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965) but lacking in regards to the more fatherly qualities his character was allowed to portray in that feature to make him more interesting. In the end, Tazaki is serviceable, although unmemorable in the role. Yukiko Kobayashi plays the mostly mind controlled Manabe. Kobayashi, best known for her excellent portrayal of the title character in Vampire Doll (1970) outside of this movie, gets the most to work with here, and does a good job of portraying the cold and emotionless aspect of her character when controlled. The night and day shift between when the character is mind controlled and when acting of her own free will is also made very clear. It's unfortunate, though, that the character is so dull when not being controlled and really gives nothing for Kobayashi to work with. Finally, rounding out the cast is Yoshio Tsuchiya as the mind controlled doctor. Sadly, since he already played an almost identical role in Battle in Outer Space (1959), this feels like fairly uninspired casting. To be fair, Tsuchiya is natural in the role, seeming distant and slightly otherworldly while also doing well to contrast from his character before being bent to the alien's will.

To end on a positive note, both the musical score and special effects are top notch here. The score by Akira Ifukube is a noticeable bright spot in fact. It's slightly repetitive, as Ifukube always is, but creates such memorable cues as the main title and the battle music at Mount Fuji that one can hardly complain that themes appear again and again. The special effects are also great. The new Anguirus suit, if one can ignore the obvious crawling on the knee aspect, is highly detailed and a real stand out for the ones seen in the film. The movie, as a whole, is much less uneven than most entries in the Godzilla series too in terms of the effect work. Aspects like Gorosaurus destroying the Arc de Triomphe are still to this day great to behold, although it would have been nice to see Baragon correctly placed in the role during the scene.

Overall, the movie has a few things going for it. The final kaiju battle, a great musical score, and the concept of Monsterland save the production. In the end, it's far from a bad entry in the series, but is one undeserving of the amble amount of praise many fans seem to give it due to the cast behind it and the large monster roster it has.