The Godzilla 28 Movie Challenge: Number 9 - Destroy All Monsters (1968)

After Son of Godzilla, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Godzilla movie franchise was running out of steam, or at least budget!

After a considerable amount of success in the Kaiju genre, Toho decided to end the Godzilla franchise with a big-budget extravaganza resulting in a film squeezing in a collection of different Kaiju, including ones which hadn’t appeared in Godzilla movies but had instead featured in their own Toho feature. The result was Destroy all Monsters – something of a fan favourite. If this film seems to recapture some of the magic lost in the last few features then it’s probably no surprise given that we have the producer/director/visual effects/score supergroup of Tanaka/Honda/Tsuburaya/Ifukube (though Tsuburaya is limited to supervisory role rather than actual director of visual effects). This was planned as the final Godzilla film and it almost feels like a little gift to the fans…

The opening credits are the funkiest yet with strange blocks of colour superimposed over various scenes of technology which highlight the futuristic space-age setting. It’s also a welcome return to Ifukube’s music which straightway incites both nostalgia and excitement! 

Set way ahead in the future during the late 20th Century, the film starts with the launch of the Moonlight SY-3, one of many rockets which shuttle regularly to a base on the moon. Not only do we have frequent commutes to the moon, in this future we also have “Monsterland”; a controlled environment where the worlds Kaiju exist without causing bother to humanity, big beasts require a big appetite but Monsterland is surrounded by a huge undersea farm which caters to the dietary needs of the Kaiju there. With the worlds monsters safely secured, everything seems pretty well sorted in the late 20th century! The Kaiju are no longer feared, they are admired and studied.

The monsters are shown early in this film, but there’s no great entrance now due to their captivity, they are showcased rather than emerging from the deep or from underground in dramatic fashion. This is a film which concentrates more on the overall story rather than monster-mashing-mayhem and they don’t feature that prominently for some time. Instead the film focuses on the idea that an alien race (the Kilaaks) has used some sort of telepathic device to remote control the Kaiju and the humans who work at the basecamp – imagine if in Jurassic Park the park-keepers were brainwashed into releasing the dinosaurs, well in Destroy all Monsters these ain’t dinosaurs (although Gorosaurus blurs the distinction somewhat!) and they have been manipulated into attacking some of the words greatest cities – London, New York, Paris. What follows is a kitsch Sci-Fi story which fits in with the dodgy science fiction stories of the 50s, 60s and 70s. It’s an enjoyable film even if sometimes you are left questioning some of the events (how did the lumbering Gorosaurus get from Paris to Tokyo in what seems like 2 or 3 hours?!).

As I mentioned previously, this is a bigger budget film and because of this we get proper model-work with buildings and cities rather than shrubs and woodland! The cost of miniatures in terms of both physical resources and time is high, and it’s great to see a return to detailed cityscapes and crumbling bricks, it’s much more of a spectacle than rocks being thrown. Some of the technology may seem a bit dated but the retro-futurism looks cool and some elements are excellent, the Moonlight SY-3 looks wonderful, the rocket itself is fairly generic, but once the shuttle detaches it is a meaty looking craft. Nice shiny metal with a muscle-car vibe. It moves smoothly too, instead of wobbling on strings into view it powers along at speed.

In addition, other vehicles look great; military trucks have rotating antennae and it’s little details like that which add realism to things which otherwise could look just like toys. The rocket even has little landing feet which extend and retract.

It has to be said that yellow seems to be the most popular colour in the future, it looks like a Minions convention at times!

And if you look closely, the astronaut’s gloves are actually rubber gloves – the sort you wear to wash up the dishes!

The destruction of Tokyo is impressive not just because of the actual models but because of the way things are destroyed. Structures split and tear, debris falls and the truth is that in a post nine-eleven world we know how dusty and smoky the streets become after a scene of absolute destruction, and instead of a few toppled buildings and a clean skyline we get to see Godzilla emerge through the dust. After the rampage the city is in ruins, it feels like destruction on an epic scale. My only criticism would be that we don’t see enough of the excellent model work, as the Kaiju attack in America and France we only see snippets of action, but what we do see looks fab – the Arc de Triomphe being brought down was very impressive.

Before we have a look at the monsters, just a quick note that familiar faces Akira Kubo, Yushio Tsuchiya and of course Jun Takazki  are back in the film. It’s a shame that (as this was seen as a farewell to Godzilla) that Akira Takarada and Akihiko Hirata didn’t make an appearance. But I guess not everyone can come back!

Let’s look at the featured creatures now….

So, Godzilla. In the last film (Son of Godzilla) he was ugly. In fact, I believe I said that he looked like a fan-made costume. Impressive if you’ve made it during your spare time, but not impressive for a big-screen outing. Thankfully that suit seemed to be dumped in favour of a new design which captured some of the great elements of earlier suits. The body is nicely proportioned, the dorsal spikes are fat and the neck and head don’t look overly cumbersome. From the side there is a lovely chunkiness and no sense of bagginess.

The head is nicely detailed and goes back to a more Godzilla-like shape. I was surprised to see the moving eyes not make a return but even without these the face seems to convey expression. The eye sockets and the brow give a very defined look which (depending on Godzilla’s actions) can emphasise anger or a more sanguine amicableness.

His teeth look quite like crocodile teeth, long and razor sharp – and quite neat (previous suits have seen more erratic orthodontic angles!).

So Godzilla looks cool, thankfully! He’s not the only bipedal lizard here though. Gorosaurus (from King Kong Escapes) is an upright dinosaur with a generic t-rex kind of look. He actually looks pretty amazing, the suit is scaly and he is quite an impressive dinosaur.

The main problem is, compared to the atomic breathing Godzilla and the three-headed lightning spitting King Ghidorah, some of the creatures (including Gorosaurus) seem a bit underpowered. Gorosaurus Stamps and kicks, which to be fair isn’t much more than Anguirus does. Although at least Anguirus does some biting – even if it does mean getting lifted into the air and dropped.

The last time we saw Anguirus (in Godzilla Raids Again) he was dead, he’s looking much perkier in this film and the suit looks good apart from the mouth which I personally think is a bit too curved when open at times.

Rodan is an old familiar, having appeared in his own film and then two Godzilla movies. Infact, with 4 films under his belt here, he’s a Kaiju veteran! I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a huge Rodan fan. He seems a bit stiff and never really impresses. The way Rodan’s flight has been handled in Destroy All Monsters really does add to the character though. Taking off might seem a little odd as he tends to just rise into the air, but his actual flying and landing looks quite natural. His wings move better than they have done previously and as he lands he angles himself so his feet are down and then perches down softly.

Baragon is another dinosaur type Kaiju in this film. I actually like Baragon, it looks very monstrous with that horn amid a very bat-like face but in this film he was underused. Blink and you’ll miss him. He never has a major scene and tends to just be in the background. There’s a famous blooper in Destroy All Monsters, there was a last minute switch and the scene where Gorosaurus attacks Paris (screenshot below) was meant to feature Baragon. This is why Gorosaurus is seemingly able to burrow like Baragon, roars like Baragon and is called Baragon by the newsreader  - clearly the script wasn’t changed last minute!

As I say, Baragon appears so little that it’s easy to miss him. You never really see him in his full glory. The Toho suits were sometimes borrowed for other franchises (even Godzilla suits have had bits added and used as different Kaiju in the Ultraman/UltraQ TV series) and that’s what happened here, the Baragon suit gets so little screen time because it was on loan for other work. As with Gorosaurus, this was the first Godzilla film for this Kaiju having first appeared in Frankenstein Conquers The World.

Speaking of monsters who don’t do a great deal, Minilla doesn’t seem to have aged much by the end of the 20th Century since we saw him in Son Of Godzilla (must be drinking the same elixir as Anguirus!). Minilla is probably one of the most disliked creatures in the entire Godzilla franchise, he does little to increase his popularity here and is mostly a bystander. He doesn’t look too bad though, it’s his (even) younger form which was the most hideous and thankfully that only seemed to last a few scenes in the previous film.

Mothra. Well, not much to say – this is the larval form of Mothra so not the majestic creature you think of when you hear the name. I am a big Mothra fan, so I find it difficult to say anything bad about the big moth baby. At least Mothra gets her hands dirty and gets in the brawl by spraying her silk over the nasty King Ghidorah!

Having not yet seen the 1963 Toho Kaiju film Atragon, this is the first time I’ve seen the monster Manda – and I am impressed! This dragon which resembles a traditional Japanese folklore dragon has a long sleek body and looks almost like a cross between Godzilla and a snake. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Manda head was based on a Godzilla design as there is some similarity, the movement is a little clunky at times (more a stuttering folding action than a slither) but when it wraps around a bridge in Tokyo it looks menacing – especially with Godzilla in the background!

The final beast in the allied-monster team is Kumonga. I personally feel that Kumonga was reason enough to watch Son Of Godzilla, it’s an excellent monster. A giant spider and one of the few Kaiju to be genuinely quite scary – especially for those who aren’t big spider fans! The operation of Kumanga (from a technical perspective) is completely different to any other beast because of all the legs.

All the Kaiju pictured above need a decent foe to battle with, step forward King Ghidorah!

This three headed, golden dragon who can spit lightening is a fan favourite and always looks superb. In Destroy all monsters he’s as mean as ever, he might be armless, but he’s not harmless – although I suppose we’ve already seen him defeated a few times now by Godzilla and his Kaiju brethren so you expect an easy defeat this time given how outnumbered he is.

The fight climactic fight scene isn’t doesn’t feel as epic is it ought to do.

The truth is that it’s over pretty quickly. However, some moments are the most brutal since Godzilla Raids Again, but they’re in full colour now and I was quite shocked when Godzilla stamps on King Ghidorah’s neck and blood flies from his mouth!

You may think that this film is all about the monsters, but it’s is not. The main plot follows the central sci-fi adventure as the alien Kilaaks take control of Earth’s monsters and set them on a course for destruction. The story isn’t the most engaging, nor is particularly plausible and it does suffer with pacing issues at times, but it still manages to work and visual effects are much better than some American films of the time – this looks so much better than sci-fi cult classic Saturn 3 for instance.

Okay, so the final battle isn’t the most impressive we’ve seen but it’s still a good battle, but as far as the monster action is concerned I’ve always considered the city destruction to be the highlight of a Godzilla movie. The battles can be really well done, but seeing a giant creature walk through streets and through buildings is what really highlights the destructive force of these magnificent daikaiju, and the cities in Destroy All Monsters look amazing, even having running trains and traffic to add to the realism.

There’s a cinematic quality to this film which really enhances it. That might seem a bit crazy given that all of these films were given a cinematic release in Japan, but some of them do feel a little thrown-together to hit a film quota and have the look of (what we would these days consider) a straight-to-video release. Having a more ‘serious’ look enables the film to withstand the test of time better. Son Of Godzilla has aged pretty badly, however Destroy all Monsters has fared much better. You are passively aware that you are watching a film which is directed with an eye for quality, from seeing creative shots of Godzilla interacting with people (we see over-the-shoulder shots of Godzilla seeing him looking down at people, or Godzilla looking through the trees as survivors flee) it’s clear that time has been taken to produce something special. There’s also a shot of a conversation which is cleverly framed through a metal divide which I loved and it demonstrates the magic Ishiro Honda brought to the series and the fondness he had for the material. This isn’t a camp monster-boxing match with rocks being thrown, it’s a layered film which he takes seriously.


Cult Kingdom rating:  4.5 / 5 

It’s a return to attention to detail which I personally enjoyed most about this film, the poorest Godzilla films feel like they have been cobbled together using cheap effects and stock footage simply to get a film in the bag whereas the best Godzilla films feel like they are well crafted and showcase a genuine artisan level of creativity. There is a small amount of stock footage here (on the screens monitoring the monsters) but overall this looks fresh. If this had have been Godzilla’s last film then curiously we would have seen Kaiju go from monsters who represent a warning about man’s own destructive force, to becoming ‘befriended’ pets who are actually part of man’s destructive arsenal and a reminder of how cataclysmic it can be. Destroy All Monsters maybe suffers from cramming too many things into one film (especially creatures) with no obvious idea what to do with all of it, and this leads to moments where the film gets bogged down in trying to move the story on. But the film looks good and despite lacking enough to make it a 5 star Godzilla film (in my opinion), it has so many fantastic moments which leave fans of the series smiling that it deserves to be regarded as one of the ‘must watch’ films in the franchise.

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