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Monster Zero - Review

A Review by Mike Bogue

3 Stars - Good

Japanese release: Dec. 19, 1965

American release: July 29, 1970 (released theatrically by Maron Films)

Direction:  Ishiro Honda

Screenplay:  Shinichi Sekizawa

Music:  Akira Ifubuke

Special Effects:  Eiji Tsuburaya

Producer:  Tomoyuki Tanaka

Monster Zero Still. Get up and boogie!

Yes, this is the infamous Big G entry in which Godzilla dances a victory jig after he and Rodan route the evil King Ghidorah on Planet X.

But why stop with Godzilla?  Hey, imagine the whole menagerie of kaiju in Destroy All Monsters joining in a jumping shie chorus line!

Yo, Gorosaurus!  Yo, Angilas!  Yo, Minya!  Yo, Mothra!  Mothra?  Well, okay, I guess a big worm might have a bit of trouble mastering the move.  But wouldn’t it have been GREAT watching all these once mighty monsters reduced to kaiju court jesters???

And just in case you’re wondering, yes, my tongue is implanted so far in my cheek that I’ll probably have to employ a forceps to remove it.

Of course, Monster Zero is a lot more than the jumping shie, and thank goodness for that.  A sequel to the previous year’s successful Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster, Monster Zero represents Toho’s comic book universe at its most wide-eyed and diverting.

The story is fairly straight-forward but revealing: The discovery of Planet X prompts World Space Authority to send an earth spaceship to the barren planet.  There, astronauts Glenn (Nick Adams) and Fuji (Akira Takarada) discover subterranean aliens sporting wrap-around sun glasses and toe-curling footware; the Controller of Planet X (Yoshio Tsuchiya) asks for the “loan” of Godzilla and Rodan to defeat their Monster Zero, a.k.a. King Ghidorah, which is supposedly ravaging their planet.

Earth complies, and Planet X saucers ferry the two earth monsters to Planet X, where Godzilla and Rodan quickly send the triple-domed Ghidorah packing.  But when the earth protagonists return to earth, they discover that the “miracle drug” the Xians promised is bogus – instead, the dastardly double-crossers announce that they want to rule earth as their colony!  Furthermore, if we don’t comply, it’s curtains!

It turns out the Xians were in control of King Ghidorah all along -- the duplicitous nogoodniks -- and having also gained control over Godzilla and Rodan, they order the three monsters to raze Japan, where of course all alien invasions of earth begin (at least in Toho movies).

Monster Zero Still.

Ingenious earth science shatters the Xians’ control over the trio of kaiju, and an intrepid inventor’s blaring “Ladyguard” noise is broadcast throughout Japan, disrupting both the Xians and their so-called “invincible computers.”  However, rather than surrender, the aliens blow themselves up Real Good.

Meanwhile, Godzilla and Rodan attack King Ghidorah, and after a brief skirmish, the three monsters tumble over a cliff and crash into the sea.  Only King Ghidorah arises from the churning wake, but one of the protagonists assures his girl friend that Godzilla and Rodan can’t be killed because “They’re too tough.”

The End.

This was the first Godzilla film to mix the Toho subgenres of alien invasion and kaiju eiga, and it serves up this mélange admirably.  The aliens themselves, pale and oddly costumed, are pure pulp magazine bad guys.  This is cybernetic iniquity, of course, as the Xians are controlled by computers and are forbidden by law to reveal emotion.  However, the Controller of Planet X, the Xian head honcho, seems to be above this law, as we hear him laugh wickedly early in the film; he can hardly contain his glee over successfully tricking the naïve earthlings.  Their stupid minds – Stupid!  Stupid!

Nick Adams turns in a lively performance as Astronaut Glenn, though at times his thesping scales melodramatic heights almost as lofty as King Ghidorah.  Adams gives his all to pulpy lines such as “Double crossin’ finks!” and “You stinkin’ rats!”

The lovely Kumi Mizuno fares well as the Xian spy Miss Namikawa.  Falling in love with Glenn of course violates Planet X law against showing human emotions, and she pays the price in true space opera fashion.  Mizuno and Adams share a warm on-screen chemistry, despite the language difference, and it’s too bad they didn’t get to star in a kaiju eiga epic in which the two wed.  (They also played together as co-scientists in Frankenstein Conquers The World.)

Monster Zero Still.

Kaiju-wise, Monster Zero supplies plenty of the Right Stuff.  Though brief, Godzilla and Rodan’s two battles against King Ghidorah prove fun and fast-paced.  Of course, Godzilla does indulge in some fancy boxing moves on earth, if not to mention his flying tackle of the triple-headed space dragon on Planet X (though I actually thought this was an interesting tactic).  Then there’s Godzilla’s “Mexican hat dance” (as one of my friends calls it).

I know I seem to be harping on the few seconds of screen time given over to the jumping shie, but it only takes a few seconds to throw a movie’s tone out of kilter.  As others have noted, Godzilla’s victory jig may be amusing in and of itself, but it doesn’t fit within the reality level the movie has established.  Director Ishiro Honda objected to the shie, as did cameraman Teisho Arikawa and even Haruo Nakajima, the man inside the Godzilla suit.  Eiji Tsuburaya championed the kaiju dancing, however, and while his intentions were certainly benign – he noted “it will make the children happy” – the results were dismal.

As for the monsters themselves, King Ghidorah appears as imposing as in his debut film.  Rodan’s costume here is a marked improvement over the awkward suit used in Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster.  On the other hand, Godzilla’s costume looks baggier than before, and after Monster Zero, the Showa series would never again see Godzilla suits of the caliber of those used in King Kong vs. Godzilla, Godzilla vs. The Thing, and Ghidrah itself.

Probably the best scenes in Monster Zero are those of Godzilla and Rodan (and later Ghidorah) routing the Japanese countryside and cityside.  Many matte shots are skillfully employed in which we see Godzilla composited in the background while Japanese citizens flee midst real life settings in the foreground.  The highlight of this sequence is the spectacle of Godzilla, Rodan, and King Ghidorah obliterating much of the city.  However, stock footage from Mothra and (especially) Rodan is used extensively, albeit effectively.  Still, the film’s original destruction effects are good, especially those involving King Ghidorah.

Monster Zero Still.

Even the non-monster special effects are generally handled well, and are certainly above-average for the period.  Of particular note are the scenes involving the Xian flying saucers.  They impressively and ominously arise from Lake Myojin, pillars of white vapor billowing in their wake like vaporous ghosts.  Later, when one of the saucers breaks formation and lands on the shore, the matte effects are flawless.  And finally, the sequence in which the Xian saucers find Godzilla and Rodan, encase them in egg-shaped force fields, and whisk them through space is a fine piece of craftsmanship.

Towards the end, the saucers lose credibility as they wobble and omit smoke, revealing themselves clearly to be miniatures.  And their battle against earth, in hindsight, seems a bit undernourished, given that we never see more than three Xian saucers at one time, and that the only things the Xians seem to be attacking are the military vehicle convoys.

Too bad a space battle on the scale of that in Battle in Outer Space couldn’t have been going on above earth while the monsters continued to menace Japan below.  But you can’t really blame the filmmakers for lacking the funds or time to achieve greater spectacle.  As is, Monster Zero is a solid kaiju eiga entry with enough interest invested in both human and monster plots to keep the average giant monster fan satisfied.

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