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Destroy All Monsters - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

3 Stars - Good

Japanese release: August 1, 1968

American release: May 23, 1969 (released by American International Pictures, a.k.a. AIP)

Direction: Ishiro Honda

Screenplay: Ishiro Honda and Kaoru Mabuchi

Music: Akira Ifubuke

Special Effects: Eiji Tsuburaya and Teisho Arikawa

Producer: Tomoyuki Tanaka

Destroy All Monsters Still. Gadzooks, Godzilla’s blasting the U.N. building!  Gorosaurus is crumbling the Arc de Triomphe!  And Rodan is buzzing the Kremlin!

Never before had we seen Toho’s giant monsters attacking cities outside Japan, but this was one of the core delights of 1968’s Destroy All Monsters, a film that in many ways marked the end of Godzilla’s Showa series glory days.  Indeed, Toho originally intended DAM to be Godzilla’s last movie, one that would end the series on a high note.

To Japanese monster fans, the plot is well-known:  The year is 1999 (which sounded distant back in the late sixties).  Earth’s most destructive monsters have all been captured and confined to the Ogsawara Islands, a.k.a. Monsterland.  However, evil aliens called Kilaaks wrest control of the monsters and send them out on a spree of worldwide devastation.  The never-say-die heroes eventually destroy the Kilaaks’ means of controlling Godzilla and company, and the aliens send King Ghidorah against the earth monsters as a last resort.  After a fierce battle, Earth’s monsters prevail over the three-headed space monster.  Godzilla demolishes the Kilaaks’ secret base, and the kaiju return to Monsterland.

That’s the story in a Gamera shell.  Indeed, some have criticized DAM for offering little in the way of characterization or story intrigue.  But the filmmakers structured the movie as a showcase for a veritable army of Toho kaiju from the fifties and sixties, and on that level, it works quite well.

Spectacle was the order of the day in DAM, and it provided plenty of it.  Unfortunately, despite a higher budget that Godzilla’s previous two entries, DAM’s special effects prove erratic.  Take city miniatures.  The Tokyo set attacked by Godzilla, Rodan, Manda, and Mothra is quite detailed and impressive – indeed, the monsters’ attack on Japan’s often besieged capital is the film’s destructive highlight.  Likewise effective is the Arc de Triomphe model that Gorosaurus obliterates when tunneling up from beneath Paris.  But the shoreline of New York City is obvious and disappointing, and even Godzilla’s ray-blasting of the U.N. building lacks punch.

In addition, the outer space effects appear inferior to similar effects in past Toho efforts such as Battle In Outer Space and Monster Zero.  For example, when either traversing over the moon’s surface or flying to Earth, smoke billows from the SY-3’s engine flames.  Of course, in space, there wouldn’t be any smoke.  And in Battle of Outer Space, Toho’s effects artisans were careful to omit any smoky exhausts in space (save for two or three brief sequences).  To some this might be a minor detail, but it would have been so easy to have avoided this gaff by simply providing animated flames to spurt from the rocket’s engines.  After all, the SY-3 itself looks nifty, so it’s a shame Toho wasn’t more careful with DAM’s space scenes.

Of course, at this point, Eiji Tsuburaya was not actually directing the effects, but simply supervising them.  The scope of visuals attempted in DAM is ambitious, and the SPFX set pieces are entertaining, even when they don’t always come off.

Destroy All Monsters Still.

To some extent, DAM appears to have been rushed – which is the norm for Toho SFantasy films.  For example, Baragon and not Gorosaurus was to have burst up from the earth in Paris, but Baragon’s suit wasn’t ready.  We’re also told that Mothra is attacking Peking (Beijing) and that Manda is mauling London, but we never see either monster in either city.  (It’s easy to imagine Manda coiling around Big Ben or snaking across London’s Tower Bridge.)  This makes one wonder if such scenes might have been planned but scrapped due to time and budget restrictions.

In addition, the film’s script never explains how the monsters were captured in the first place (a couple of flashbacks showing kaiju being ferried to the Ogsawara chain might have been nice).  Especially mysterious is Mothra’s appearance in Monsterland.  Mothra’s twin fairies are nowhere in sight and remain unmentioned – what happened to them?  And for that matter, what happened to the natives of Mothra’s Infant Island – and Infant Island itself?  Also, Mothra was always a “good” monster before, so why is she now caged up with a troupe of kaiju baddies?

Along with the story and special effects, the monster suits appear likewise uneven in quality.  Godzilla’s new costume is vastly better than the ghastly concoction used in Son of Godzilla.  But the suit is a total departure from the Big G’s more menacing and well-known suits, such as the King-goji used in King Kong vs. Godzilla and the Muso-goji used in Godzilla vs. The Thing.  Also, Rodan’s DAM head is something of a disaster with its downturned beak.  And while King Ghidorah’s return is welcome, the suit doesn’t measure up to the original costume used in Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster and Monster Zero.  This time the wings appear less bat-like and organic, looking instead like spray-painted plastic.

On the plus side suit-wise, Angilas’ modified look is first-rate (though there is little if any attempt to hide the fact that the actor in the costume is walking on his knees).  Manda appears more serpent-like, having lost his Asian dragon countenance.  And Gorosaurus remains as impressive as in its debut in King Kong Escapes!

DAM’s sets are well-designed, from the Monsterland interiors to the alien bases to the surface of the moon.  The sprawling model of Tokyo appears less futuristic than practical – which, in fact, is the way 1999 turned out to have actually looked.

Akira Ifubuke turns in one of his best monster movie scores.  The title march is particularly spirited.  Of course, DAM was the “last hurrah” of Toho’s old guard – composer Ifubuke, director Ishiro Honda, and special effects master Eiji Tsuburaya, the three men behind Toho’s best films from Toho’s Golden and Silver Ages.

Despite its shortcomings, DAM remains a favorite of many kaiju eiga fans, and it remains a personal favorite of mine also.  I still recall how knocked out I was when I first saw DAM at a drive-in movie theatre in the summer of 1969.  The film’s got plenty going for it.  For example, the terran monsters knock-down, drag-out battle against King Ghidorah remains one of the best monster wars in creature cinema.

Destroy All Monsters Still.

Highlights of the battle include Angilas clamping onto one of the space monster’s necks and finding himself airborne, only to lose his grip and crash to the earth; Godzilla wrestling with one of Ghidrah’s heads; Gorosaurus drop-kicking the three-headed dragon; and several of the monsters ganging up on the downed Ghidrah and stomping the life out of him.  You actually see a bit of red kaiju blood (Ghidrah’s); in addition, the golden dragon’s death warbles and feebly writhing tails presage the monster’s demise.  It’s refreshing to see a battle against the space monster that ends in a definitive defeat, rather than Ghidorah’s usual flapping off into outer space.

During the seventies and eighties, DAM used to show up on local TV.  Nowadays the film is available on ADV Films DVD and video in a pristine, widescreen edition.  Unfortunately, this is Toho’s “International Version” dubbed by Frontier Enterprises rather than the original AIP dub provided by Titra Studios.  The AIP dub is vastly superior to the International one, and besides that, the AIP dub represents one of the best dub jobs of any Japanese monster movie.  While the film is of course still entertaining, it just isn’t quite the same without hearing Hal Linden (that’s right!) and the many other English voices that enriched the AIP original.

Still, in any version, DAM offers one of the high points of the sixties kaiju eiga scene.  A review of DAM in Castle of Frankenstein #21 (1974 issue) notes that “usual comic book spirit prevails.”  I agree.  DAM is very much like a live-action comic book bursting to the seams with monsters and flying saucers and spaceships and smashed miniatures.  A Toho treat radiating agreeable Saturday matinee vibes, DAM was made for the (monster) kid in all of us.

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