Tuesday, April 8, 2014

60 Years of Godzilla - Destroy All Monsters


Godzilla: The Final Chapter. (?)

Toho Studios had gone smaller with the last two Godzilla films, Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla, and while those desert island-based entries had been cheaper to make than some that had come before, they had also seen a dip in audience attendance. It was possible that the series could be coming to an end, apparently there was a chance that 1968's Destroy All Monsters might be the last film to feature the King of the Monsters. But if he was going to go out, Toho was going to make sure he went out in a big way.

After a two film absence, director Ishirô Honda, the man behind the original Gojira and most of the sequels (he only missed Sea Monster, Son, and Godzilla Raids Again) was brought back to once again bring Goji to the big screen. The return of Honda also meant the return of composer Akira Ifukube, who had created the series' most iconic sounds and music.

Honda co-wrote the screenplay for the new film with Takeshi Kimura, a screenwriter with whom he had previously collaborated on Rodan, Frankenstein Conquers the World, The War of the Gargantuas, and King Kong Escapes, among other films. Together, Honda and Kimura crafted Destroy All Monsters to be an epic monster mash, fitting into the story as many of the creatures from Toho's stable as they could. The final film features what was at that time the most monsters of any Toho movie yet, a record that it would hold for decades.

The monster line-up includes: Godzilla, Rodan, Anguirus (returning to the screen for the first time since Godzilla Raids Again in 1955), Mothra in larval stage, Gorosaurus (from King Kong Escapes), Goji's son Minira/Minilla/Minya (who is no larger than he was in Son of Godzilla, despite this presumably being thirty years later), Kumonga/Spiga (from Son of Godzilla), Baragon (from Frankenstein Conquers the World), Manda (from Atragon), Varan the Unbelievable, and King Ghidorah.

Ebirah, the lobster-like Sea Monster, and Maguma, a giant walrus creature from the 1962 sci-fi feature Gorath, were also considered and were even written into early drafts of the script, but they ultimately didn't make the cut.

Up to this point, most of the Godzilla films had basically been set in what would have been the present for its audiences, the 1950s and '60s. Even when 1965's Invasion of Astro-Monster went slightly futuristic, it still kept the setting in the same decade in which it was made, the year given was just the vague 196X. That's not the case for Destroy All Monsters, which moves the setting all the way up to the year 1999.

Honda and Kimura's script predicts that by '99 the United Nations Scientific Committee will have established a permanent exploratory base on the moon, with spacecraft departing Earth for the moon from a Rocket Departure Center daily. The UNSC also set up an underwater base near Japan's Ogasawara Islands.

One of the islands is now called Monsterland, as twenty years earlier all of Earth's monsters were gathered up and placed on the island to live there in peace. Security measures were taken to ensure that the monsters would never escape and wreak havoc anywhere on the planet again. Godzilla, first seen onscreen at 3 minutes into the movie while a narattor tells us about life on Monsterland, is kept from wading too far out to sea by sensors that spray out some kind of repellent gas. The same tactic allows Mothra, and presumably other monsters, to go no further than the beach. The flying monsters are kept on the island by a magnetic wall that surrounds it.

Things on Monsterland are kept running smoothly by workers in the island's underground command center, who also monitor and study the monsters that are under their remote care. That twenty years of smooth running is abruptly disrupted when unknown assailants somehow shut down the power in the command center and cut off all communications before gassing the entire island. The gas quickly overcomes all of the workers in the underground base, as well as the monsters on the surface.

The UNSC committee watches in shock from Tokyo as live images from Monsterland show the mountains on the island crumbling. And that's not the only horrific footage they're witness to at their emergency meeting. News reports start coming in showing that Monsterland's monstrous residents have been set loose and are attacking major cities all around the globe.

Rodan destroys Moscow. Baragon burrows his way out of the ground in Paris - or so they say. The Baragon suit wasn't available when this special effects mixture of suitmation and miniatures was created, so Gorosaurus is actually the monster that surfaces a bit too close to the Arc de Triomphe. Manda turns up in London. Mothra messes up either Peking or Beijing (Beiping?), depending if you're watching the Japanese or English version.

Godzilla attacks New York City, blasting the UN building with his atomic breath.

The people of Tokyo are so used to being attacked by giant monsters that they're baffled as to why none of them turned up in the city this time.

On the moon, the crew of the spacecraft Moonlight SY-3, led by Captain Katsuo Yamabe, who has a personal connection to a woman named Kyoko Manabe, who just started working at Monsterland as a research assistant, are called away from pursuing a flying saucer by an official order that sends them back to Earth much earlier than intended.

The Moonlight SY-3ers are tasked with finding out what's happening on Monsterland. Landing on the island and infiltrating the command center, Yamabe and his crew find... the workers going about their business, conducting themselves very calmly and acting like it's just another day at the office. They only ask that their visitors cooperate with them. Doctor Otani of the Monsterland research team explains that even though the monsters are no longer on the island, they are still under the control of the workers in the command center. The monsters haven't chosen to attack the cities they have, they've been sent to do so.

Otani then introduces the crew of Moonlight SY-3 to the inventor of the remote mind control device, a lady in a sparkly outfit who is said to be from Kilaak, one of several small planets located between Mars and Jupiter. The woman from Kilaak wants the people of Earth to cooperate with her plan to take over the planet and build a new and advanced civilization.

Rather than cooperate, the men of Moonlight SY-3 instead try to attack the woman, but find that she's surrounded by an indestructible force field. The command center again fills with gas, the Monsterland workers fight back. The astronauts make a narrow escape with Doctor Otani in their custody.

An attempt is made to interrogate Otani, but when he jumps out a window to his death rather than answer questions, it's discovered that all of the Monsterland employees were being controlled by the woman from Kilaak, just like they were controlling the monsters, receiving transmissions in metal devices that were attached to or implanted in their ears.

Small objects that relayed the remote control signals to the monsters are then found in Dover, in church steeples in Spain, buried in ice in the Alps, in the mountains of Japan, even in a coconut tree in Guam. Discovering and removing these devices is certainly a good thing for the world at large, but unfortunately the Japanese authorities have been so focused on events occurring outside of their own mainland that their inattention to what was happening on their own soil enabled the Kilaak forces to vacate Monsterland and set up another base somewhere within Japan proper... And then they strike Tokyo, devastating the city with the remotely mentally controlled foursome of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and Manda.

As on Sea Monster and Son of Godzilla, Sadamasa Arikawa was the director of special effects on Destroy All Monsters, with Eiji Tsuburaya, the innovative special effects artist who created the way that Toho brought their monsters to life, took on a supervisory position since he was busy running his own company by this point. (In fact, it was Tsuburaya's company that was using the Baragon suit when it was needed for the Paris scene.) The Tokyo sequence is a shining example that Arikawa was quite capable of delivering jaw-dropping, impressive miniature work, too. The Tokyo that Arikawa and his crew built looks incredible, complete with cars driving on the streets and a commuter train making its rounds on an elevated track. Then the monsters show up and wreck the joint.

Once Tokyo is in ruins, the monsters move on, and a mind-controlled Kyoko arrives to negotiate a deal: if everyone  allows themselves to be controlled by the Kilaaks, the monsters will be returned to Monsterland. Of course, this deal is a no go, and Kyoko is returned to her own mind when Yamabe tears off her transmission-receiving earrings.

Japanese forces increase their efforts to put an end to the Kilaaks' tyranny. Military forces are sent to find and destroy the Kilaaks' new base of operations, which is believed to be in the area of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Their search is greatly impeded by the fact that the forest is being patrolled by the likes of Godzilla, Anguirus, Baragon, and Rodan.

Taking back control of the Monsterland command center, technicians are able to figure out that the signal controlling the monsters has been coming from the moon since the Kilaaks left the island, so Moonlight SY-3 are sent back up there to deal with the aliens in orbit. The flying saucer SY-3 saw earlier was a Kilaak ship. If they had been able to continue pursuing it, they might have solved these problems fifty minutes earlier in the running time.

The SY-3 crew's action on the moon destroys the Kilaak's moon base, shuts down the transmission being sent out to the monsters, and reveals their enemies in their true forms: the Kilaaks are wormy creatures made of living metal that have figured out how to achieve eternal life but must hide and go dormant inside rocks when temperatures aren't warm enough for them.

Now the UNSC has an idea for how to fight the Kilaaks - they can use cold against them. They can also use their own technology against them by taking control of the monsters and sending them in as part of the assault on the Kilaaks' stronghold at Mt. Fuji. As the monsters close in on their base, the Kilaaks call in a defense measure from space to face Godzilla and his cohorts in a climactic battle: their own monster, King Ghidorah. Will the combined forces of Earth's kaiju be enough to stop the three-headed monster?

With the monsters galore, scenes set all over the world, an incredible sequence in Tokyo, travel back and forth between the Earth and the moon, and interplanetary threats, Destroy All Monsters is a welcome return to the large scale type of Godzilla film after its two low-key predecessors.

DAM is a spectacular sci-fi adventure that's filled with action, there's almost always some kind of battle or monster destruction going on. The story is perfectly simplistic... although the element of moving around between Kilaak bases all the time gets a bit tiresome, things don't get much better than the core idea of "aliens try to take over the world by destroying cities with giant mind-controlled monsters". Sure, that was already done in Invasion of Astro-Monster, but this time it's done bigger!

The effects are awesome, and having so many monsters on the screen at one time is a great sight. Watching Earth's monsters team up on King Ghidorah, who's always deserving of a beating, is a whole lot of fun.

Suitmation performer Haruo Nakajima, who had been playing Godzilla since the first film, once again stepped in to play big G in this one, wearing a newly redesigned suit with a look which has been very well received by the fans. This suit also got quite a workout onscreen, as it was used as the primary Goji costume for not just this film but also the three that would follow.

Yes, even though there was a possibility that Destroy All Monsters could be Godzilla's last stand, and the film functions as a grand finale if it had been, we all know that was far from what really happened. Godzilla would be back many more times. Destroy All Monsters was a success at the box office, making it clear to Toho that there was still life left in the franchise.

However, given the fact that it was a large scale entry that revitalized the series after two smaller ones put it in question, Toho did make a very odd choice in what to follow Destroy All Monsters up with. A choice that made DAM sort of an anomaly, a big movie surrounded by little ones. The next film, which would bring Godzilla and his son back to theatres one year later, would be very small, cheap... and very oddball.

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