After the random lameness of Species II, I decided to kick things off right with Destroy All Monsters, known in Japan as Kaiju Soshingeki or All Monsters Attack. I'm pretty sure this was the very first Godzilla movie I ever saw, paired up with Destroy All Planets on Creature Double Feature one Saturday afternoon. My Dad saw it in TV Guide that morning and thought I might like it. Did it play as well as it did all those years ago? Was it still the mad monsta thrill of a lifetime?
No, of course not! How could you even ask me that?
Taking place in the far-off year 1999, our story opens with some boisterous narration about mankind's glorious moonbase and equally glorious island-based monster containment facility known as (cough) Monsterland. The monsters are restrained by "scientific walls" and watched over by a bunch of dudes who all wear orange jumpsuits. Suddenly their underground base is flooded with yellow gas, and so is the entire island. Moments later (so it seems) the formerly docile monsters are carrying out attacks on major cities worldwide.
Here's a picture of a giant spider.
Japan sends some of the guys on the moon to check it out, which makes complete sense, because in a time-sensitive situation you'd really want to send the folks who are a quarter of a million miles away instead of somebody closer, i.e. ANYONE ELSE ON EARTH.
The moon dudes all wear orange jumpsuits, too, which makes the fight with the island staff very confusing. It turns out that everyone on Monsterland, human or monster, is the victim of alien mind control. The aliens all wear diamond-studded bathing caps and short capes because their civilization is so much better than ours.
The dubbing in this flick is exactly the kind of bad you can't believe really happens. There are long pauses where none should be thanks to repeated half-assed attempts at lip synch: "I think... that we should use handcuffs on this fool." At one point a man who is clearly 40 or younger speaks with the voice of a cartoonishly withered old coot. Moreover, the sentences are spooled out with little regard to what was just said or what's going on. This one speech by the Scientist In Charge really stuck with me:
Scientist In Charge: All I can say is what I said 20 years ago. (pause) Remember that typhoon? (pause) We must be on our guard! (Murmurs of concern from the gathered press) Quiet! QUIET! (pause) We know nothing. (pause) Every one of us fears the very same thing. (pause) We're trying to find the answer to this.
Reporter: Sir, why was Tokyo spared when all the other cities in the world were attacked?
SIC: (suddenly enraged) That is something I would like to know MYSELF! (pause) (now subdued) Would you all please go now. I'm tired.
The good thing about this movie is that they do trot out a lot of monsters from the quarter century of monster films Toho Company Ltd. had churned out by then. Some of them are obscure ones like Manda here, who is sort of like a real live Chinese dragon. And also Varan below:
Both of these weirdos only appeared in one movie of their own, but they were later folded into the mass narrative that is Godzilla cinema. And I love that. That's why this movie was so cool to watch as a kid. Because you know in your heart there should be a whole bunch of monsters way back there.
The problem is, "way back there" is exactly where -- and only where -- some of these monsters appear during the movie. Here's my picture from the top again.
See that flying dude on the right? The one that looks like he might be some sort of monster frog that just hopped off of Godzilla's back? That's Varan, who is actually as big as Godzilla but he's waaaay back there. And that's where he is in the movie, in the mere two shots he appears in. And because he flies, it looks very strange. "Who's that bipedal monster just floating back there?" I thought, bewildered.
Worse than that, they kind of skimped on the monster fighting in general. Too much time is spent on the human characters, and while I know you can't have a movie that's just monsters fighting,* the people are never what the audience tunes in for. So you gotta do it right. It's not the travesty of Godzilla: Final Wars, but it could have been better.
(*I can't? Who says I can't?!)
I delved into the Toho universe a few years ago and was quickly stymied. I feel another attempt coming on. We'll see how far I go. The best thing about this movie besides the too-little monster action is the 60's styles. Some of those jumpsuits look pretty cool. But honestly, it barely scored the three stars. Ze choice is yours.