Godzilla’s popularity was on the wane in the late 60s, both in Japan and abroad. As a result, Toho management decreed that “Destroy All Monsters” would be Godzilla’s swan song, and ordered a film that would send the big guy out in style. Little did they know that the film would not only give the franchise a stay of execution, but also turn out to be one of the greatest Godzilla films of all time.
“Destroy All Monsters” takes us to a future that never came to pass — the year is 1999, and humans have established bases on the moon and the United Nations plays a dominant role in world affairs. Godzilla and his fellow monsters have been confined to Ogasawa Island (aka Monster Island), a kind of game preserve for giant monsters. The worldwide tranquility comes to a screeching halt when aliens from the planet Kilaak arrive on Earth, bent on total conquest. Seizing control of the monsters, the alien invaders unleash Godzilla and company upon various cities around the world in an attempt to subdue mankind.
Since “Destroy All Monsters” was intended to be the grand finale for the Godzilla series, Toho increased the budget significantly and used the studio’s best filmmakers to ensure that their biggest star went out with a bang. Both the increased budget and experienced hand behind the camera definitely shows up in the final product. Under the supervision of Eiji Tsuburaya, the special effects look more realistic than usual, not to mention more elaborate.
The designs of the dozen monsters used in the film are all expertly done, most noticeably on Godzilla himself. In a new design that would be kept for the next several films, the big lizard is depicted as a friendlier looking beast, making it easier for the audience to accept him as Earth’s protector. Given wider eyes and a body with more human-like proportions, the new look signals Godzilla as no longer a destructive force of nature, but instead a loyal ally to humanity.
Takeshi Kimura’s screenplay, while it does depict an overly optimistic view of the future, is nevertheless solid and entertaining. Concepts such as a pre-“Jurassic Park” game preserve for giant monsters, an all-female alien race, and a planet that is hidden in the asteroid belt, are all imaginative concepts that Kimura weaves into his engaging screenplay. The idea of a worldwide monster rampage is also refreshing, showing Tokyo as not the only city that can be demolished by gigantic monsters. But the highlight of the script is the grand finale, which features an all-out battle between Godzilla and ten other monsters, including a rumble with fan fave King Ghidorah on Mount Fuji. It’s a terrific climax, making “Destroy All Monsters” an excellent lash hurrah for Godzilla.
Veteran Godzilla helmer Inshiro Honda again shows why he was the premier director of the kaiju genre. “Destroy All Monsters” speeds along at a smooth rate, with little room for the audience to develop boredom. Honda’s use of imaginative camera angles gives the movie a nice visual look, especially when the monsters are onscreen. Another crowd pleaser is the final battle between King Ghidorah and Godzilla’s coalition of Earth monsters. A scene with a dozen monsters fighting could have easily turned chaotic and become hard to follow, but Honda choreographs the combat so masterfully that we never miss a second of the wild action.
Although “Destroy All Monsters” is largely viewed as one of the best Godzilla films in the series, it still has a few faults that stop it just short of being near perfect. For example, a scene reporting Baragon’s destruction of Paris instead shows the dinosaur Gorosaurus tunneling up from under the Arc de Triomphe. There are also obvious uses of footages from previous Godzilla films, probably as a cost cutting measure. And Godzilla’s transformation from a terrorizing monster to friend of humanity isn’t completely convincing, making it seem as if he woke up one morning and just decided to swear off trampling cities.
Still, these nitpicks are relatively small problems considering how good the rest of the movie is. After the success of “Destroy All Monsters”, the powers that be at Toho decided to retool the franchise in order to appeal to younger audiences. As a result, the Godzilla series quickly barreled downhill at breakneck speed, ushering in some bleak times for the big lizard, and there wouldn’t be another decent Godzilla film for 17 long years.
Ishiro Honda (director) / Ishiro Honda, Takeshi Kimura (screenplay)
CAST: Akira Kubo …. SY-3 Captain Katsuo Yamabe
Jun Tazaki …. Dr. Yoshido