10/25/12

The Bigger and Badder Halloween Top 13: #7: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Snakes, bunnies, crocs, teenagers, rats and dinosaurs have made it to The Bigger & Badder Halloween Top 13 in the past six days, but I bet quite a few of you are wondering when I was going to pull out the big guns and talk about a kaiju film. Now, a few of you are wondering what a kaiju film is. Literally translated as “strange beast” for the Japanese, the term refers to any movie that features a monster, hopping vampire, mummy, zombie or other assorted monster, but the word has come to mean something more specific to American audiences. Stateside it is a descriptive used to talk about giant monster movies from Japan, and frequently it is thrown around when discussing Godzilla movies. That’s right, I'm finally including a feature with The King of the Monsters on this list, but he’s not the only one on board. I’m talking about Minilla, Mothra, Rodan, Gorosaurus, Anguirus, Kumonga, Manda, Baragon, Varan, and the big man himself. (Not Clarence Clemmons, but rather Godzilla) In other words the all star giant monster cast of the finale of the Godzilla franchise, Destroy All Monsters!

For years the world had been plagued by monsters, sometimes friendly, but usually destructive creatures that spent a lot of time tearing down buildings and fighting each other. So, eventually, in 1999, when the United Nations Science Committee rounds them all up, they plop the lot of them on the appropriately named Monster Island and booby trap the whole place so they can’t escape again providing defenses for each of the monster’s special skills. Communications to the island are mysteriously lost, and the gaggle of giant creatures is soon loose on the world attacking Paris, New York, London, and Moscow. Dispatched to find out what’s going on, Captain Katsuo Yamane (Akira Kubo) and the crew of the spaceship SY-3 land on the island only to find out that it has been taken over by the Kilaakians, a race of female aliens who wield the power of mind control. They also have taken control of the monsters, and Captain Yamane and his crew must travel to the moon to stop their monster controlling device and bring it back to Earth. However, the danger doesn't stop there the Kilaakians unleash their secret weapon, the three headed King Ghidorah, and if Earth’s mightiest monsters don’t band together to defeat the enemy, it may spell the end of life as we know it. 

I know many people criticize Destroy All Monsters for being gimmicky or for the couple of slow spots in the film, but honestly, if you're a fan of giant monster movies, what you look forward to is when they square off against each other. The only way to make that even better is to make them team up to fight a common enemy. Destroy All Monsters has the same rhythm as the recent Avengers movie in a way. The first two thirds have cool moments, but nothing to really write home about. Then there’s that last third in which all heck breaks loose, all bets are off, and awesome doesn't begin to describe it. If there’s a monster from the Toho era of Godzilla films, then it’s included in here (even the Son of Godzilla which everyone, including me, should and does hate.)While the film might not descend into a crazed royal rumble where only one will emerge victorious, it is even more satisfying to see all the various creatures take on Ghidorah. It’s not like the first two thirds of the film are not without merit. Anytime you have monsters destroying famous landmarks from around the world, you can sign me up.

I should also mention that despite having watched the film many times before this was the first occasion where I sat down with the Japanese cut with the original dialog track and a solid set of subtitles. Many of the parts I previously found dull now popped with new life as the text translation made more sense than the dubbing and hearing the voices of the original actors also brought a fresh flavor to the film. I didn't have time to go back and check, but I also believe there were some cuts to previous American versions I had seen. It didn't hurt matters that the copy I watched was crisp, clean, and lush with texture and color throughout. It really made this old favorite new again. Destroy All Monsters also marks a special occasion as it was the last time the four men known as the “Godzilla fathers”, director Ishiro Honda, special effects supervisor Eiji Tsuburaya, producer Tomoyuki Tanaka, and composer Akira Ifukube, would all work on the same film together. From top to bottom, it really shows as the monsters are handled well, the characters given personality throughout, the score hits on classic themes of the series without being derivative, and the monsters themselves almost never looked better popping in the rich color palette on display.

There’s little to say about the human actors in Destroy All Monsters because, let’s face it, they are window dressing that gets up between scenes of destruction and monsters throwing down. Akira Kubo, who also appeared in Throne of Blood and Son of Godzilla, provides a stock heroic character, and while he certainly filled the part, there was nothing particularly compelling about him. Providing a familiar face to anyone who has seen a number of kaiju films is Jun Tazaki, this time playing the head of the United Nations Science Committee, Dr. Yoshido. The only character that makes any kind of impact is Kyôko Ai as the queen of the Kilaakians. Cold and stoic, she provides some of the film’s best moments and far outshines the film’s rather bland hero. One thing that I do think makes Destroy All Monsters shine, as well as any of the films in which he appears, is the person inside the Godzilla suit, Haruo Nakajima. He originated the part in 1954 with the first Godzilla film and strapped on the rubber costume twelve times in his career as a suit actor. On a side note, in March, I will be getting a chance to meet Mr. Nakajima, and while his name may be an unsung hero of the franchise, I can't wait to shake his hand and meet the man behind the King of the Monsters. 

You folks may have noticed that I didn't go very in depth into the career of the “Godzilla fathers” or talk really about the background of the beast, and if you think about it, I bet you can figure out why. Yep, this probably won't be the last time you see the big guy pop up on this list, and, who knows, maybe even a pal or two of his from this film might make another appearance. After all, anything can happen on The B&B H13. To those that poo-poo Destroy All Monsters and don't think it deserves the score I gave it or even inclusion on a best of Giant Monsters countdown, first off, that’s a bunch of hogwash. Secondly, show me another movie where a gaggle of Giant creatures like this has a brawl with a three headed dragon and I'll admit that this movie might not be great. Destroy All Monsters was supposed to wrap up the Godzilla franchise, but, as we all know, you can't keep a good monster down. He returned within a year’s time with another installment 1969’s All Monsters Attack. Well, I can promise a quicker turnaround than that for his next appearance at The LBL, but if you want to find out where The Thrilla named ‘Zilla comes in on the list, then you're going to have to wind up the interwebs every evening from now to Halloween as I continue to countdown my last six picks. Until then, make sure you continue to scroll down to see today’s submitted monster list 

Bugg Rating


Today’s list comes to us from a guy that is strange, and I don't think he'd mind me saying that at all. That’s because I’m talking Rondal Scott, the big cheese over at The Strange Kids Club. This is another case of if you don’t know that site, then get to know it. He's got a collection of great writers working over there, and Rondal always does a bang up job with anything he touches. That includes his top 10 favorite giant monsters (in no particular order as his e-mail noted). So without further adieu, take it away Mr. Scott.

10. THEM! (1954)
9. The Blob (1988)
8. The Host (2006)
7. Gorgo (1961)
6. King Kong (1976)
5. Jurassic Park (1993)
4. Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla (1974)
3. Lake Placid (1999)
2. Super 8 (2011)
1. Q - The Winged Serpent (1982)


I see a lot of likely candidates on that list for my next six films, but which will they be and in what order and is it possible that I'm just lying and none of them are on there. To answer those questions and more, set your computer boxes to The LBL every evening right up until All Hollow’s Eve!


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