Movie Review – “The Dirty Dozen” (1967)

 

 

I want to say that “The Dirty Dozen” fits in the same vein as “The Great Escape,” except where “The Great Escape” had a certain likable charm to it, where even the sour and down moments were undeniably optimistic, “The Dirty Dozen” is cynical, hardened, and fits in more with the action clichés one would expect from a war movie. “The Dirty Dozen” is the proto-typical war film that would inspire the films of today, like “Saving Private Ryan,” “Fury” and “Hacksaw Ridge,” trading in charm and wit for realism and big action sequences.

The film follows Major John Reisman (Lee Marvin) being given the impossible task of penetrating an impregnable Nazi fortress with only the help of twelve prisoners condemned to either death row or life in prison, that way if anything goes wrong the military can put the blame on a bunch of criminals. The majority of the film is Reisman establishing trust and honor among these men who have been locked up for years, the prisoners learning to be productive members of society again, and the military watching over Reisman’s operation like a hawk.

 

 

The best scene in the movie is when Reisman’s commanding officer, Colonel Breed (Robert Ryan) makes a deal with Reisman to see if his men could infiltrate Breed’s command and capture him without being detected. It shows these men were always more than just hardened criminals, but intelligent soldiers who are quick on their feet. What makes this scene enjoyable is that it comes across like the dozen are truly enjoying themselves, like they take joy in messing their own army’s heads, fooling them at every turn.

Still, I only ever felt like I got to know about half of the dozen characters, with the rest filling the role of cannon fodder for the final sequence. It is the typical war movie cliché of building up a straw man character just to knock him down in a storm of bullets.

Overall, “The Dirty Dozen” is a fine war movie, if a bit predictable and cliché nowadays. There are some charming moments, but for the most part this is a cold and sterile look at World War II. Not the best WWII film out there, but certainly not the worst either.

Final Grade: C+

 

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Movie Review – “Carnival of Souls” (1962)

 

 

Imagine if “Night of the Living Dead” was a ghost story instead of the first true zombie film, and you would get “Carnival of Souls.”

Except where “Night of the Living Dead” was an exciting piece of horror with startling effects and poignant piece on racism, “Carnival of Souls” is a meandering tease of a movie that only benefits from having odd cinematography. Combine this with the pacing of a David Lynch film and you get a movie that feels like a chore to get through.

“Carnival of Souls” is an independent horror film about a teenage girl who miraculously survives a car accident, and tries to find meaning in her life after said accident. All the while, this girl feels like she is being followed by people who are not there, including a man that no one else can see. She is mysteriously drawn to an old carnival just off the Great Salt Lake, where she continually sees pale people who won’t stop dancing.

 

Watching “Carnival of Souls” is like seeing someone go to a paint store, tries out different samples, literally watches that paint dry, and then leaves the store without buying anything. It comes and goes, but without anything significant or important being accomplished. The characters are dull and lifeless, especially the main female lead, and I routinely found myself checking the clock. Even though this movie is less than 90 minutes, it felt like it was nearly three hours.

Don’t bother with “Carnival of Souls,” there isn’t much to see here outside of how it influences directors like David Lynch and George A. Romero.

Final Grade: D+

 

Number 1 – “Mothra vs. Godzilla” (1964)

 

 

I’m not afraid to admit, for all of cinemas’ subtleties, advancements, and vast range of storytelling, that would go no where if audiences did not have fun with these films. Cinema is certainly an art form, but it is also a form of entertainment, like any other media or art form. If art does not give you any enjoyment, then it fails.

The reason the Godzilla series means so much to me is because I have been entertained by its many films for most of my life. Even films as low on this countdown as “Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla” still have one or two things that I enjoyed, with each entry after that getting better than the last, until we get to the most entertaining movie I’ve ever seen, “Mothra vs. Godzilla.”

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” taught me it was possible for a daikaiju film to have a strong narrative that was as interesting to watch as the monster scenes. That a monster movie should not be only about the monsters, but the people effected by these monsters and their attempts to combat them, or simply survive. This is not the first time the Godzilla movies did this obviously, but “Mothra vs. Godzilla” has the benefit of having impressive effects and Akira Ifukube’s best score.

 

 

 

The film starts with a massive typhoon hitting Japan, destroying an industrial park. More surprising though is that a giant egg washes up on a Japanese beach, leaving everyone surprised as to where it came from. Before researchers can find out about the egg, a business man by the name of Kumayama (Yoshifumi Tajima) buys the egg from the local fishermen and intends to make a theme park with the egg as the center attraction.

A local reporter, Sakai (Akira Takarada) and his photographer, Yoka (Yuriko Hoshi) look into the matter and find that Kumayama is being funded by one of the richest business men in Japan, Banzo Torahata (Kenji Sahara). As the two discuss their plans, they are visited by two unexpected guests – Mothra’s twin fairies, who claim that the egg belongs to Mothra and that it must be returned to them, before Mothra hatches and causes great damage across Japan.

Though this might be the least of their problems, as it seems that typhoon washed ashore something much bigger and more dangerous than Mothra.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has an interesting atmosphere, unlike any other monster film out of Japan. Other than “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” this was the first film Toho would make that has two monsters battling each other. Prior to this, Toho focused on solo monster endeavors, like “Rodan,” “Varan” and most notably, “Godzilla” and “Mothra.” As such, Toho wanted to make this match-up feel grand and epic. They do this by combining storylines and themes from both “Godzilla” and “Mothra” to create a film that balances eerie destruction with a whimsical adventure.

 

 

“Godzilla” was a morbid, unforgiving look at the lives of a frail Japan being savagely beat down by a giant monster created by atomic fire. While “Mothra” was more about the horror of man, in particular greedy businessmen. In that film, Mothra’s twin fairies are kidnapped and forced into show business, with Mothra traveling across Japan to save them and destroying anything in its path. Ultimately, “Mothra” is about the pain that man inflicts upon itself, while still feeling like a light-hearted fantasy.

“Mothra vs. Godzilla” finds the perfect middle ground between these two oddly different monster movies that makes their final clash feel like more than just two titans battling it out, but also feels like a conflict of ideals.

Much like in “Mothra,” this film finds a way to use the giant moth’s property into a means of profit. Both Kumayama and Torohata are unwilling to give the egg back, since Mothra has no legal power. They boast about how rich they’ll be when they make an entire theme park around the egg and build up the mystery of what will hatch from it. Where this film differs is that these men are more fleshed-out than the villain in “Mothra.”

Kumayama saw an opportunity to make a name for himself and refuses to let it go. It seems to be less about the money for him, and more about reputation, as his projections for how much they’ll make out of this are much lower than Torohata’s numbers. When the fishermen complain that they haven’t gotten their money for the egg and the land to build the park, Kumayama insists that he will pay them back the next day, even though there’s a rumor the park will never open due to the bad press. Kumayama ends up paying the fishermen money out of his own pocket and sells all of his stock on the egg as collateral to Torohata.

I get the impression that Kumayama is a desperate man who wanted everything to be fair, only for Torohata to betray his loyalty and use him to become even more powerful. Simply because that’s how business works. Kumayama is less of a villain and more of a guinea pig and shield for Torohata, even though Kumayama is still consumed by greed and ambition to see his final outcome.

With a wonderfully charming performance from Yoshifumi Tajima that adds just enough humanity to Kumayama, his character is up there with Dr. Mafune and Katsura as one of the best characters in the franchise.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” takes the themes of greed and capitalism of “Mothra,” but gives it a more human touch by making the characters relatable and sometimes heart-breaking, like those being destroyed in “Godzilla.”

The size and scope of “Godzilla” is also still in full effect, though is enhanced by having superior effects. In particular, Godzilla’s opening rampage is one of the most haunting monster sequences I can think of. It starts off with Godzilla rising out of the ground, as if he were a zombie ready to feast again. There’s something even more haunting about seeing Godzilla’s dorsal spines slowly rise out of the Earth instead of the water that makes his entrance stand out.

Once Godzilla reaches Nagoya, we start off with seeing Godzilla’s figure way off in the distance, only for the camera to get closer and closer, until Godzilla is destroying a building right in front of our faces. It’s like the opening shots of Godzilla in “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” where his dominating figure continues to grow.

 

 

This sequence makes full use of rear projection and super-imposing images of Godzilla over live shots of Nagoya fleeing from this monstrosity. “Godzilla” used this a few times, but here we see Godzilla tower over the massive city landscape, to the point where it looks like he is still miles away and is already bigger than most of the skyscrapers.

For this reason, and many more throughout the film, “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” has the best effects of any Toho monster film. During the 1950s and 1960s, no other film studio was doing what Toho did and was doing so well – they made creatures bigger than anything we had constructed up to that point and made them seem believable and still terrifying. We would fight it with everything we had, even though we were sure it wouldn’t do anything.

The filmmakers understand the scale and power these abominations possess, and that they provide a struggle we might lose but certainly worth fighting.

This works in “Mothra vs. Godzilla” because the defense force is intelligent for once. They understand what they are fighting and know that Godzilla cannot be stopped, but can be incapacitated or moved to less populated areas. They lure Godzilla away from the most densely populated areas with fire and explosives, with the effects crew accidentally setting Godzilla’s head on fire at one point (though it is shocking to see on film). Once there, the military unleashes millions of volts of electricity on Godzilla, which do down Godzilla at one point.

This is why “Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is the most entertaining movie to me. It takes my favorite movie genre of giant monsters, never skips on a chance for exciting action with impressive effects, and still plans out every scene, character, and monster fight to the last detail to give us a movie that respects its audience. It combines eye-popping visuals with a great story, something you don’t see too often in the monster genre.

Of course, the crowning moments in the film are the fights between Mothra and Godzilla. Mothra, being a creature of beauty and kindness, does not fight like any other monster. She prefers to out-wit her opponents and get them in a position where they cannot hit her, using her maneuverability and wind to keep them away. Godzilla is monster of brute strength and will take a threat directly to the face if he has to. Together, these two have a cat-and-mouse style fight, where Mothra blasts Godzilla with hurricane-force winds and drags him around by his tail.

This is made more suspenseful when we’re told that Mothra is dying and has little strength left, but will use the last of it to stop Godzilla.

 

 

The battle at the end of the film is equally as fun to watch. Mothra’s egg finally hatches and gives birth to two Mothra larva, who immediately head for Godzilla to fight him. This turns into a battle of brains against brawn and the monster equivalent of David against Goliath. The twin Mothra’s can only dodge Godzilla’s atomic ray (which apparently is now strong enough to melt solid rock) and use their webbing to slow him down.

What helps sell these fights, as well as any scenes with Godzilla and Mothra, is the music. Akira Ifukube’s style of music was not to accompany the scene, but enhance the atmosphere and give some moments a bigger emotional punch. This is the film where Ifukube would nail down the classic Godzilla theme, which would be used in nearly every Godzilla film from that point on. That theme carries a power that matches Godzilla’s slow methodical pace, but also his immeasurable strength, like a bomb that has crashed and could go off at any moment.

Yet the quiet almost lullaby of Mothra’s theme provides a nice contrast to the Godzilla theme. These pieces of music perfectly capture their respective characters, and makes their fights far more intense when their themes are also fighting for control.

“Mothra Vs. Godzilla” is a great example of every film aspect coming together to produce the most entertaining film in the Godzilla franchise. The effects have never been better, the writing is logical and relatable, the acting matches the writing perfectly, the music is larger than life and makes so many scenes better, and the monsters are still amazing to watch. This film manages to take what “Godzilla” and “Mothra” started and makes it even better, providing a film that always makes me excited when I see it.

 

 

But above all else, it captures everything I love about Godzilla perfectly. “Mothra vs. Godzilla” takes a monster of immeasurable strength and power and uses it as a way to show people’s strengths and flaws. Some people like Kumayama and Torohata grow greedy and selfish in the face of these creatures, while others like Sakai and Yoka are quicker to make their fellow man better and act selflessly.

Godzilla isn’t just an allegory, or destroyer, or protector, or even a monster – he’s a mirror that brings out the best and the worst in people.

And with that, we’ve reached the end of my Godzilla-thon. All 31 films reviewed and categorized from best to worst. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing these reviews and recounting everything that I loved and hated about this series. If you’re interested in any of the Godzilla films, I highly suggest you check them out, especially since the Criterion collection just bought the rights to nearly every Showa film. Plus, there are plenty more Godzilla films being made as we speak, so don’t expect me to be done with the King of the Monsters for good.

 

 

 

Number 2 – “Son of Godzilla” (1967)

 

 

“Son of Godzilla” may be a lot higher on my list than most other Godzilla fans, but I feel this one has more charm and likability than any other movie in the franchise.

When I was a kid, I despised this film. I always considered the titular son of Godzilla, Minilla, as annoying, irritating, and made Godzilla look uncool. But as I’ve grown old, there was a child-like whimsy to Minilla that made me smile and I soon realized that he added much more to character of Godzilla than ever before.

As I grow older, the more I appreciate and love “Son of Godzilla.” Which is odd, considering that it is the most light-hearted and comical Godzilla film. Then again, this does make it more endearing and relatable.

The plot revolves around a group of researchers have been running weather experiments on a island in the south pacific, while also avoiding the large mantis’ running around the island. But when one of their experiments goes wrong, thanks to unnatural brain waves interfering with their equipment, unbearable heat and radiation is sent upon the island, mutating the mantis to the size of Godzilla.

These mantis’, nicknamed Kamacuras, eventually track down the source of the brain waves – an egg containing a baby Godzilla. Before the mantis’ can kill the baby, the adult Godzilla shows up to reluctantly raise his adopted son Minilla and raise him in the values he holds near and dear.

What I love the most about “Son Of Godzilla” is how it evolves the character Godzilla, by actually giving him a character. Before this film, Godzilla was just a monster – a living atomic bomb that could not be stopped and would fight any other monster that got in his way. But now, he has another life to worry about besides his own. And he intends to make his kid into another version of him, a cold, uncaring, unstoppable creature of destruction.

 

 

Minilla is a curious and playful child, which leads to many comedic scenes when he wants to play but Godzilla is uninterested. Some of the better scenes are just Minilla trying to have fun while Godzilla sleeps, like when he plays jump rope with his tail.

But over the course of the film, even Godzilla begins to realize that Minilla is not like him. Minilla does not want to destroy other living beings, as he seems to avoid fighting Kamacuras, and wants to make friends with the humans on the island.

Godzilla has to stop being a monster, and become a mentor. One of the better scenes in the film is when Godzilla has to teach Minilla how to properly roar and use his atomic breath. After Minilla lets out a loud shriek, rather than his usual donkey-like noises, Godzilla nods in slight approval, though still seems a bit disappointed.

My favorite touch in the film is that Minilla hides in fear when Godzilla uses his atomic breath. His eyes widen, as if he’s afraid Godzilla will use it on him. Yet Minilla knows he can emit that same fire, but chooses not to. Which is probably why Godzilla threatens to get physical with Minya when his son does not want to practice anymore, giving us Minilla’s comedic smoke rings and Godzilla stepping on his tail to finally get the atomic fire out of him.

The suit acting from both Godzilla and Minilla is superb here, displaying a varied range of emotions that make these scenes so enjoyable and hilarious. Instead of Godzilla’s usual bestial presence, we get a more laid-back and slightly irritated Godzilla, while Minilla is as mischievous as he is adorable.

Although, if there is one complaint I have with this movie, it is the ugly Godzilla suit. The giant head and massive eye balls are really jarring, making it hard to look at after a while. But that’s just a minor nitpick to an otherwise lovable movie.

One of the themes in “Son Of Godzilla” is the current generations need to protect future generations. The reason these scientists are on the island is so they can run their weather experiments, which they could use on non-fertile lands in Africa and South America in order to produce enough food to sustain the growing human population.

The same theme is used with Godzilla. He is not just one creature now, but the provider for the next generation. He has to sacrifice his own needs and desires, so that his race can survive long past himself.

 

 

The screenplay for “Son of Godzilla” is perfectly paced, with each line of dialogue carrying weight and every scene serving a purpose to the overall story. The human characters are likable yet flawed, especially the professor in charge of the mission, who is so focused on completing the experiment that he doesn’t realize that this island is taking its toll on his students.

But what really made me fall in love with “Son of Godzilla” is its ending. My most memorable Godzilla films tend to have stellar endings – “Destroy All Monsters,” “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” “Shin Godzilla” and “Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II” save their best scenes for the ending, and “Son of Godzilla” does the same thing.

As the human characters start up their weather machine one last time, planning to use the ensuing storm to escape from the monsters, Minilla and Godzilla get in a battle with the other giant monster on the island, a giant spider named Kumonga. The fight is slower than most, but just as exciting when the spider injects his poison into Godzilla’s eye. This allows Minilla to step up and finally show some courage to protect his father.

 

 

The fight gets even better when the snow storm hits the island and three continue even as the snow builds up around them. As far as I recall, this is the only fight in the series to take place in a snow storm, which adds to the visuals as the monsters start moving slower, as well as seeing the snow and ice building up on their bodies.

The two Godzilla’s use their combined atomic breaths to defeat Kumonga and they share a hardy roar in victory. With the temperature dropping rapidly, it is becoming too cold for anything to survive. Godzilla has enough strength to leave the island, but Minilla is too weak, as he stumbles in the snow, reaching for Godzilla’s help. While Godzilla thinks for a second about leaving Minilla there, he cannot bring himself to do that and turns around, embracing his adopted son in a tight embrace as the two are covered up in snow together, entering a long hibernation.

And so Godzilla’s character development is complete. He goes from ruthless, cold and unforgiving to a creature with a purpose. This is the one Godzilla movie where it doesn’t feel like Godzilla is a monster, but instead a flawed guardian trying to protect the next generation.

 

 

This is also the only scene in the series that makes me cry. Sad scenes in cinema rarely make me cry, but incredibly happy scenes where everything works out perfectly give me the biggest smile and tears of joy. The ending to “Son Of Godzilla” is one of compassion, sacrifice and pitch-perfect character development.

It is like watching a father realize how much he cares about his son. That he loves his child more than he loves himself and he would do anything to keep that bond alive. No matter what happens him, his son deserves to live his own life. This is nothing short of breath-taking and heart-warming.

The fact that any scene between two actors in rubber suits while being covered in thick snow makes me feel emotional is true test to the power of “Son Of Godzilla.”

“Son Of Godzilla” is certainly the most unique and beautiful film in the Godzilla franchise. Complimented by a vibrant color scheme, great use of its island setting and a joyful score by Masaru Sato, this film is gorgeous to behold and listen to. Minilla is adorable in his child-like innocence and curiosity, and gives the film the emotional punch that it needs. The monster fight scenes are tense and interwoven into the plot without feeling forced or unnecessary. But most importantly, this film gives Godzilla a heart alongside his awe and power.

 

 

 

Number 8 – “Invasion of Astro-Monster” (1965)

If “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” is the dress rehearsal for what was about to come, and “Destroy All Monsters” is the grand finale to everything Ishiro Honda and crew worked towards, then “Invasion of Astro-Monster” (aka “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”) is the main act. This film takes everything that “Ghidrah” started and amplifies it, giving us a near perfect mix of the daikaiju and alien invasion genres that the Godzilla would try to emulate many times, but never get quite as great as “Invasion of Astro-Monster.”

I like to think of this film as the final installment of a daikaiju trilogy that also includes “Mothra vs. Godzilla” and “Ghidrah,” with each subsequent film building ever so slightly on top of the last one. One could even argue that the fourth film in that series of events is “Destroy All Monsters,” even though two other Godzilla films happened between this and DAM. This is also the first Godzilla film to bring in a then-famous American actor in one of the lead roles, in this case Nick Adams, who had previously been in films like “Rebel Without A Cause,” “Mister Roberts” and “No Time For Sergeants” even forming a solid friendship with James Dean. Adams would also go on to be one of the lead actors in “Frankenstein Conquers the World,” while Toho would bring in other American actors like Russ Tamblyn to be in their monster movies.

One thing I would like to talk about first is the music. Once again, Akira Ifukube provides his usual impactful soundtrack for this movie, but for some reason the music is immensely effective this time, especially when the characters are in space. Ifukube gives us a soundtrack that feels like something out of “Forbidden Planet,” while still giving us his typical grandiose flare. In fact, the piece Ifukube did for the space sequences was so effective that the American version made it the main theme.

And honestly, I think it’s a much more effective theme than the Japanese version. This might be the one time where American version is superior to the Japanese film.

The Japanese theme is an effective military march and screams of triumph (this won’t be the last time we hear this song in a Godzilla film), but it doesn’t match the tone of the film that is about to come. “Invasion of Astor-Monster” is the closest the Godzilla films get to being a space opera, but this theme sounds like something you would see troops marching to. It’s not bad, but not great either.


Every time I watch the American version and this theme starts up, I get chills down my spine. It’s so isolated and distant, almost alien-sounding. As a kid, I was so scared from just this theme alone that I wanted to turn off the movie, even though the rest really isn’t that scary. Even the part where you catch a hint of Godzilla’s theme it sound eerie and foreign. I have no problem with this being the main theme for the American verison.

Anyway, the film begins in the year 196X…I guess they got so far into the future they just stopped using numbers for the years. Scientists have discovered a large planet, nearly as big as Mars, that had been hidden behind Jupiter until now. The planet has an interesting composition and the fact that it has just been discovered makes the world authorities send up a space ship to go travel to this new world, nicknamed Planet X.

Aboard the rocket are two astronauts, Fuji (Akira Takarada) and Glenn (Nick Adams). This again shows Ishiro Honda’s desire to focus on the brotherly love between nations, since Fuji and Glenn are constantly exchanging jokes, talking about their troubles back on Earth, and enjoying a light-hearted atmosphere where the two act like they’ve known each other their entire lives.

Interestingly enough, when the movie was filmed, the entire cast spoke Japanese except for Nick Adams, who spoke all of his lines in English, yet everyone seems to understand each other perfectly. In the Japanese version, they dubbed over Adam’s lines so that he speaks Japanese, while the English version restores Adam’s original performance and dubs over everyone else. I’ve yet to watch a version of “Invasion of Astro-Monster” where everyone speaks in their native tongue.

Anyway, as the rocket approaches Planet X, they make some quick observations about the surface and how it looks like a sea covers most of the planet when it’s really just oddly colored rocks, and how the gravity is a third of what it is on Earth. As they land on the surface, I’m still amazed their landing looks as good as it does. This looks like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” especially with the giant looming presence of Jupiter over them. Some of the other Toho alien invasion films had a tendency to look cheap at times, but this one goes all out to make it feel other-worldly, especially with its eerie music.

After Fuji and Glenn land on Planet X, they take a moment to see how different this planet is from Earth, like how it lacks visible atmosphere and appears to be nothing but barren rock, almost like the planet has been deserted. While they set up their international flags, Fuji sees some strange yellow lightning in the sky and his contact with Glenn is cut off. But the weirdest thing of all is that he returns to the landing site to find the rocket has disappeared.

 

 

As if things couldn’t get worse, an odd looking cylinder pops up out of the ground and politely tells him to step inside. He refuses and gets his gun shot out of his hand for good measure, and suddenly changes his tune and he is taken underground.

The introduction to these aliens, who refer to themselves as the people of Planet X but are more commonly known among fans as the Xillians, is slow and mysterious, building up this odd atmosphere where everything is cold and methodically calculated by the aliens. Their hallways are long and sterile, built only to serve their function while the lights are only lit on the necessary parts. Before we’ve even seen the aliens, we already know so much about them through their minimalistic yet logical environments.

 

 


Glenn and Fuji meet back up and we’re introduced to the leader of the Xillians, as well as their classic alien outfits, complete with visors that make it impossible to see their eyes. The leader claims that they are now their honored guests and that their rocket is safe, kept in an underground bunker. Before the two can ask why everything is underground, we find out exactly why Monster Zero arrives and starts to attack the surface.


As the Xillians make preparations for its attack, we learn that Monster Zero is actually King Ghidorah. The leader says that everything on this planet is numbered and categorized, which explains Ghidorah’s name change, and that Monster Zero’s initial attack destroyed their above ground civilization, forcing what was left underground.


After a short attack by Ghidorah, and a short pause when the Xillians’ water supply is damaged, the leader returns to say that everything is fine and that they have a request for the astronauts. Since they don’t have the ability to defeat Ghidorah, they want to borrow Earth monsters that have defeated the space dragon before Godzilla and Rodan.


The Xillians say that all they need is permission from the people of the Earth and they’ll handle the rest, even rewarding humans with a miracle drug that will cure all known diseases. They even know exactly where Godzilla and Rodan currently are on Earth and will transport the two of them to Planet X to fight King Ghidorah. While this is suspicious, keep in mind that we already know these aliens think much differently than we do, so it’s no stretch that their social and political etiquette would be far more alien to us as well.

The astronauts return to Earth and immediately meet with the world leaders to discuss the Xillians request. The leaders are a bit conflicted, unsure of the aliens’ true intentions and how they went about telling us their request. But the majority seems to be in agreement, this is a golden opportunity to kill
three giant birds with one stone. Not only would Godzilla and Rodan be moved away from Earth, but they’d have the cure to every known illness. Ishiro Honda’s idea of paradise would be complete!

The next big development comes when the Japanese defense force finds movement at the lake the Xillians said Godzilla was located in. But instead of finding Godzilla, a classic bubble-headed alien spaceship flies out of the lake and hovers over the defense forces. When I think of alien space ships, these white and blue crafts are usually the first ones to come to mind, especially with the alien sound effects they make.

The next morning, the Xillian leader reveals himself to the people of the Earth, apologizing for hiding on our planet without our permission but says that our two worlds will now work together as one people. The leader deploys two more space ships to get Godzilla and Rodan in the most outlandish yet stylish way possible by removing the two from their environments without waking them up and putting the monsters inside of a stasis bubble, allowing them to transport the two to Planet X safely.

 

 

I’ve always loved this particular sequence, because it is so strange to see vastly different effects and weapons used on these monsters. Even at this point, bombs and planes had been over-used, so to see Godzilla trapped in an alien bubble to be taken to another planet is a nice change of pace.

The Xillians head back out, bringing along Glenn, Fuji and their commander to return to Planet X. At this point, our two astronauts begin to suspect the Xillians are up to more than they are leading on. With stasis fields that can stop a creature of any size in its tracks, a fully functional underground world with far more advanced technology than us and space ships that can travel between Earth and Planet X in less than four hours, why would they have so much trouble with King Ghidorah?

Along the way, the Xillians reveal that their ships are controlled using brain waves and that their thoughts are electronically controlled by computers, meaning there is no emotion in what they do, only facts and logic. They worship their computers as gods – to disobey a direct order from the computer is to disobey all of the Planet X culture.

Eventually, they make it back to Planet X with Godzilla and Rodan in tow, and they begin working on getting the two out of their stasis bubbles. Of course, just as they are finishing up, King Ghidorah arrives to cause more destruction. The Earth monsters are freed just in time and we begin the only monster fight in the Godzilla series that doesn’t take place on Earth.

 

One criticism fans have with “Invasion of Astro-Monster” is how there are so few monster scenes, with this fight coming halfway through the movie and the only other scene is at the end of the movie. For a while, I agreed with this criticism until I realized this is an alien invasion story first, and a daikaiju film second. The monsters are not the main attraction here, they are mostly just plot devices to move the Xillian story along. The monsters make it stand out from other alien invasion films, but so does changing the story so we come to the aliens first.

That being said, this is a memorable monster fight between Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah, if only for the landscape they are fighting on. It feels like more of the final battle from “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” but with improved cinematography and Godzilla’s crazy body slam at the end that forces Ghidorah to flee. This leads into one of the oddest moments in the entire franchise – Godzilla’s victory dance.

Although it provides to quick laugh to see Godzilla jumping into the air and striking a pose, part of me feels this is where it becomes clear that Toho was marketing these films towards little kids. Why else would they put this shot of Godzilla dancing after he forces King Ghidorah to flee? The only thing missing is Rodan joining him in the dance.

Speaking of Rodan, his contribution to the fight is dropping one big rock on King Ghidorah. As we will see later, Rodan doesn’t do much in this movie other than serve as another monster for the poster.

 

In the middle of the fight, the astronauts start to explore more of Planet X and find out a couple things – Gold is a plentiful resource to them, water is valuable, and all of their women look the same. In fact, they all bare a striking resemblance to Glenn’s girlfriend back on Earth, Ms. Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno). The two are captured by the Xillians and forced to leave the planet in a copy of their original rocket. The Xillians hand the recipe for the miracle drug on a tape to the commander and the three head back to Earth, taking one last moment to say goodbye to Godzilla and Rodan.

As the three make it back to Earth safely, they start the tape the Xillian leader gave them so everyone on the planet can hear the good news. Unfortunately, the tape does not have the recipe to cure all diseases, instead it’s a command by the Xillian leader – surrender control of the Earth to them or they will wipe out all of humanity.

In this tape, they reveal their plan – They always had control over King Ghidorah, using their brain wave machine to use him as their puppet. Now that they have Godzilla and Rodan on their planet, they can do the same thing to those two. They’ve always had a base of operations set up on Earth, so they’ve always known what we were up to. Additionally, Ms. Namikawa is an Xillian agent who was sent to spy on Glenn. If the world leaders do not willingly give up the planet in 48 hours, they will unleash the three monsters under their command and destroy everyone.

Another criticism fans with this film is the Xillien’s plan – Why go to all the trouble of befriending humanity if the only reason to do that was so they could gain control over Godzilla and Rodan? Couldn’t they have just used their brain wave machines on the two monsters while they were on Earth? I’ve never had too much of a problem with this complaint, since this provides a great over-arching story that has a shocking twist halfway through the movie. If it just started with the Xillian’s attacking Earth and demanding control, the first half of the movie would be lost and we wouldn’t have had those atmospheric and eerie scenes on Planet X.

 

That being said, the first half of the movie is the strong portion. From here, we get a mad scramble by the scientists and world leaders to find a way to combat the Xillian’s and their monsters. Fuji pulls out a file of a machine that just so happens to be their ace in the hole – a device that distrupts magnetic waves, which would cut off the Xillian’s control to the monsters. Apparently, every stupid scientific idea was kept in that drawer, kept their until just the right occasion and it becomes useful.

The best scene in the second half of the movie comes when Ms. Namikawa and Glenn meet again, Namikawa wearing her Xillian uniform. She explains that, while she was sent to spy on him, she truly did fall in love with him, something she never expected to happen, especially since it went against what the computers told her to do. I find this is more effective than other lover-turned-spy reveals, because Ms. Namikawa’s directive to follow only what the computers tell her and Kumi Mizuno’s performance. This is a woman who doesn’t regret falling in love with Glenn, but does regret that it had to be this way. For the first time in her life, she’s feeling emotions and cannot cope with them.

Namikawa ends up sacrificing herself when an Xillian commander tries to take Glenn prisoner and he vaporizes her without a second thought. This leads to some William Shatner-like acting from Nick Adams, as he screams at the top of his lungs after watching his girlfriend fade into nothing.

Other than that, it’s mostly movie science about disrupting the magnetic waves, Glenn learning about the Xillian’s weakness to loud sounds and a last-ditch attempt to save the planet. The better parts are the scenes showcasing some unique effects, like an Xillian spaceship melting a massive radio dish until it caves in on itself with very little noise, like watching a hot air balloon deflate.

 

 

The Xillians figure out what the humans are up to and move their attack ahead of schedule, sending Godzilla and Rodan to attack Japan while the space ships head out to attack the magnetic wave disruptors, known as the A-Cycle Light Rays, which apparently have been mass produced in the last day and a half because now they’ve got about two dozen of these things.

The attack by the monsters is a mix of stock footage and new scenes, though blended together so the old shots don’t feel tiresome or reused. While the new footage is pretty neat to see, since we finally see the defense force attacking both Godzilla and Rodan at the same time. The budget problems of “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” are finally solved here and we get that all-out assault I was asking for. King Ghidorah eventually joins the fight and we get some of the best city destruction from the Showa series.

Except for Rodan, who just flaps his wings a couple times and knocks a couple shingles off someone’s roof.

At this point, the humans put their plan into action. They send out a nation-wide signal and order everyone to turn up their radios as loud as possible and emit the noise that the Xillians cannot stand. Apparently, this works on their ships too because they start to malfunction, giving the defense forces enough time to finish setting up the A-Cycle Light Rays without being blown up by the aliens.

This is the point in the movie when the main Japanese theme comes into effect, as everything comes together in Earth’s plan to stop the aliens. Their ships are breaking down, the monsters have been knocked out when their signal is disrupted, and the Xillian’s Earth base has been located and blown up by a squadron of tanks (though it still takes them about ten shots to hit one house in the middle of the forest). It is an effective triumphant moment to see the humans not only overcome three giant monsters, but also a computer and logic-driven alien race.

 

 

Of course, this isn’t the end of the movie yet – Godzilla, Rodan and King Ghidorah have only been knocked out. Godzilla is the first one to awaken, who immediately get both of the others up and is ready to resume fighting King Ghidorah. We get a much better fight out of it, as Godzilla continually gets blasted with Ghidorah’s gravity bolts but still does his best to get up-close to the space dragon and knock his three heads around. The fight ends in a way that is similar to the finale to “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” with the three monsters tackling each other and throwing themselves off a cliff and into the ocean.

King Ghidorah is the only monster to emerge from the ocean and flies off into outer space once again. I would assume that, if this is the same logic as “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” Ghidorah is considered the winner. We get some final bits of character development, as Glenn and Fuji share one last laugh before their commander orders Glenn to return to Planet X and become its new ambassador, giving everyone one last good joke.

“Invasion of Astro-Monster” is arguably Toho’s best and most fascinating alien invasion tale. The aliens feel like a vastly different people instead of actors wearing a funny mask, their world is unique and captivating, and the idea that we were the first ones to reach out to them feels works well here. While the monsters don’t get a whole lot of screen time, it is just enough to add a greater sense of scope to the movie.

This is one of the few Godzilla movies I would recommend watching in English over Japanese. Not only do you get to hear more of that creepy theme, but seeing and hearing Nick Adams’ natural charm and charisma is a big plus too. Overall, this is a classic Toho daikaiju film and one of the best. It’s smart, inventive, charming and filled with great effects and cinematography.

Number 10 – “King Kong vs. Godzilla” (1962)

 

And so we finally reach my top ten favorite Godzilla movies. If you’re as big of a Godzilla nerd as me, you already know which films are in my top ten. The question is where will they fall. I will give those who don’t know a bit of info on my top ten – I still have one Heisei film, one Millennium, one that doesn’t quite fit into any series at this point, and seven Showa movies. In case you were wondering, the first Godzilla series is my favorite series.

Speaking of the first Godzilla series, let’s talk about its revitalization in the 1960s. While the first Godzilla film was a massive hit worldwide, “Godzilla Raids Again” proved to Toho that a series wasn’t viable at the time, so they put Godzilla on the backburner for a while. It wasn’t until Toho was approached by American producer John Beck to make a new King Kong film that Toho considered bringing Godzilla back again.

At this point, Godzilla had been off theater screens for roughly seven years, allowing Toho to make a wider range of monster movies, like “Rodan,” “Mothra,” “Varan,” “The Mysterians” and many others. But everything changed when they decided to make “King Kong vs. Godzilla.”

I’ve already written an insanely long recap on “King Kong vs. Godzilla”‘s history in my novel-length write-up on King Kong’s history, but here’s the jist of it – John Beck approached Toho to create the effects for Willis O’Brien’s idea about Kong fighting a large version of Frankenstein’s monster (without O’Brien’s permission to ask Toho for help). Toho happily agreed but thought the movie would sell better if Kong fought Godzilla instead of Frankenstein’s monster. At this point, Toho was basically given free reign to do what they wanted with the Japanese version of the movie, and thus “King Kong vs. Godzilla” was born.

I should note this film is so much higher than films like “Destroy All Monsters” and “Ghidrah, the Three-Headed Monster” mostly for nostalgic reasons. This is the first movie I ever remember watching. It is the movie that not only got me into Godzilla, but cinema in general. I must have been three-years old when I first saw “King Kong vs. Godzilla” on a television station (probably the Sci-fi channel) and not being able to take my eyes off the screen while Godzilla and Kong fought on top of Mt. Fuji. For me, this movie is what I watch if I want to feel like a little kid again, rooting for Godzilla to roast Kong with his atomic breath, only to immediately turn around and cheer for King Kong as he zaps and punches Godzilla.

Is the movie actually any good? I would say the Japanese version is a pretty damn good monster movie, but the American version can be skipped outside of the monster sequences.

 

There are three Godzilla films where the Japanese and American versions are so radically different that they might as well be different movies entirely. We’ll cover another one of those three next time, but “King Kong vs. Godzilla” is one of those movies, since the American version basically strips the plot, atmosphere, and music from the Japanese version in favor of it’s own dumbed-down narrative. As such, the plot description for this one will be kept smaller than usual.

One thing I will give “King Kong vs. Godzilla” credit for is being the one that started the trend. Even though it was not the first Toho film to pit two monsters against one another, with “Godzilla Raids Again” being the first to do that, every “Vs.” monster movie that came after would follow in this movies footsteps. Both monsters share the title, they get fairly equal screen time and development, and the majority of the third act is dedicated to their final battle. Without “King Kong vs. Godzilla” to set the trend, we would have the premise for the rest of the Godzilla series.

One thing that does bother me with this movie though is that it tries a bit too hard to be like the original 1933 “King Kong” with its Kong segments. Everything feels like a direct translation of the first Kong movie, from their journey to find him on a newly discovered island, to capturing him and bringing him back to civilization, to a rampage through a major city while clutching a woman in his paw. Granted, Ishiro Honda and Toho loved King Kong to death and this was their way of paying homage to the granddaddy of all giant monsters. Still, the only King Kong segments I enjoy in this film are the ones that stray from the first film, especially when he’s fighting Godzilla.

This version of Godzilla is a little different from most other interpretations. Instead of the walking nuclear weapon we got in the two previous Godzilla films, we get a more bestial monster. One with a more innate curiosity with the things he’s crushing or burning, but still just as unstoppable as ever.

 

My favorite use of Godzilla in this movie comes after he breaks free from his icy prison and makes his way towards the Russian mainland. It’s a series of three short shots that show the Russians firing at Godzilla with everything they have, but Godzilla repeatedly gets closer in every shot, unfazed by anything the Russians are doing to him. The first shot he’s so far away that you can barely see anything, but the final shot shows a terrifying monster with huge claws and teeth coming for you without any hesitation.

Part of what sells this version of Godzilla is the suit, which is far bigger and clunkier than any other Godzilla suit. While later Godzilla films would try to humanize him, this Godzilla is massive, like a big wall of radiated flesh and muscle. His spines are huge, but his head is pretty small, except for his eyes with are practically bulging out of his head. This is a Godzilla that finds a good balance between terrifying and beast-like.

The same cannot be said for the King Kong suit, which is pretty ridiculous. His fur is all mangled and messy, his face and chest looks misshapen and the prop they used for his close-ups is nightmarish. If they had a Kong suit that matches this Godzilla suit, this film would be much higher on my countdown.

 

Like I said, the story between the Japanese and American versions are fairly different. The Japanese version focuses more on a failing television studio, run by the over the top Mr. Tako (Ichiro Arishima), that wants to focus more on children friendly content, but learns that most kids find their shows boring and dull. The company learns of a recent voyage by a pharmaceutical company to an island in the south Pacific, named Faro Island, where they found a bunch of natives that worship a giant creature as their god. Upon hearing this, Mr. Tako says this god could be just the thing to boost their ratings and orders two of his lackeys to go to Faro Island and bring back this monster god.

Some of these points are still the case in the American version, but they glance over the whole failing television studio problem, skipping straight to the meeting with the scientist returning from Faro Island. In the Japanese version, we witness first hand how bad things are going and how desperate Mr. Tako has to be to save his company. The American version regularly cuts to the United Nations in New York to tell us about what else is going on in the world, as well as analysis’s to tell us about why Kong and Godzilla are coming back now, why they’re so inclined to fight each other, and who might win.

This leads to some ridiculous notions that still stick to Godzilla to this day, like his brain being the size of a marble or that he’s a fusion of a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus, neither of which is the case, especially since Godzilla’s spines look nothing like that of Stegosaurus’ dorsal plates. The acting in these segments is also not good and it all comes across as pretty pointless since they’re so far away from the action and never contribute anything outside of dumb observations.

With Mr. Tako’s lackeys off to Faro Island to find King Kong, the rest of the world turns its attention to the Bering Sea where many large icebergs have started popping up. They find the sea is much hotter than it should be and send in a United States submarine to investigate. They find an iceberg that is glowing a strange blue color. Like a bunch of idiots in the Godzilla universe, they approach the iceberg and crash right into it. And before they’re able to do anything outside send up an emergency flare, they submarine is engulfed in flames and we hear a familiar roar.

As a rescue helicopter spots the submarine’s emergency signal, they notice the iceberg they crashed into starts breaking apart to reveal Godzilla, who makes his way back to land. This is a great reintroduction to Godzilla. The scene takes its time to build up the mystery of the many icebergs, the desperate attempt to save the sub from flooding, only to be set on fire instead. It feels like a classic submarine battle from films like “Das Boot” or “The Hunt for Red October,” only these guys don’t even realize they’re in a battle or that they’re fighting a giant monster.

 

 

After this, the film spends a lot of time on Faro Island, rehashing the 1933 “King Kong” until Kong finally shows up and does battle with an actual octopus. Once Kong has defeated the octopus with some boulders, the special effects director Eiji Tsuburaya has the octopus for dinner, and Kong finds some berry juice made by the natives and immediately falls asleep. Tako’s explorers use this opportunity to snatch up King Kong and send themselves back to Japan while towing Kong.

One thing I never thought about “King Kong vs. Godzilla” when I was a kid is just how silly and comical the film feels. Tako’s explorers befriend the natives with radios and cigarettes, the whole idea of tying up a giant monster to a boat and towing him back to Japan (yet he doesn’t wake up until he end of the journey), and the concept that a failing television studio is responsible for all of this. Part of the reason I never saw this is because the rest of the film takes itself rather seriously, especially the scenes involving Godzilla which go into gruesome detail about the carnage he is inflicting across the land.

It’s like “Godzilla vs. Biollante,” which has a ton of silly and ridiculous stuff in it, but otherwise takes itself rather seriously.

As soon as Mr. Tako arrives on the ship towing King Kong, they engage in comedic hijinks, flailing themselves around a lever that will ignite all the dynamite around Kong. After the Japanese defense forces tell Tako that Kong isn’t allowed to enter Japanese waters, Kong of course starts to wake up and they try to light up the dynamite anyway, which only results in letting Kong run loose on Japan.

This leads right into the first confrontation between King Kong and Godzilla, and it is an extremely short fight, mostly to show how different these two monsters are, as well as how Kong will be fighting an uphill battle against a monster that’s just as strong as him and can breathe fire. Kong throws a couple of boulders at Godzilla, he retaliates with his atomic breath, Kong doesn’t know what else to do and leaves.

 

 

After that, the two monsters go their separate ways and we watch the defense force try to combat both of them. They come up with an incredibly complex plan to deal with Godzilla, including fill all the rivers around him with gasoline to lure him into one spot, drop him into a giant hole they dug and set off lots of dynamite. It goes about as well as you think it would, but it is nice to see the defense force thinking outside the box.

Their other plan exploits one of Godzilla’s weaknesses in this movie – lightning…even though in subsequent films it’ll either wake him up from a long nap or turn him into a magnetic pole. The defense force strings a massive electrical fence around all of Tokyo to prevent Godzilla from getting inside. It works and Godzilla retreats to Mt. Fuji. However, the electrical fence is their undoing when fighting King Kong, who gets stronger through electricity.

Part of me thinks this was originally a concept from the first draft of the movie, when it was King Kong fighting Frankenstein, where Kong shied away from lightning and Frankenstein grew more powerful by taking it in. Otherwise, it always felt like the lightning was a deus-ex-machina to help Kong in his final battle against Godzilla.

Anyway, Kong tears through the electrical fence and rampages through Tokyo for a little while as they reenact more of the 1933 movie, with Kong even climbing to the top of a famous Tokyo landmark with a woman in his hand. The defense force calls upon Mr. Tako and his explorers to use the same berry juice that put Kong to sleep on Faro Island. It succeeds and Kong passes out in the middle of his rampage.

 

 

But the defense force gets word that Godzilla has been spotted on Mt. Fuji and they’re exhausted from fighting both monsters. Their next best idea is to bring Kong to Godzilla and have the two of them fight each other, hoping that they’ll destroy each other. And of course, they do this in the most ludicrous manner possible, stringing together around six hot air balloons to Kong and a couple helicopters and carrying him from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji like he’s a puppet performing for a stage show.

I’ve never had that much of a problem with this sequence, mostly because of what follows it – the climatic battle between two titans on top of Mt. Fuji. This battle is just as fun to watch as the final monster battle at the end of “Destroy All Monsters,” if not more so because of how creative Kong gets during the fight. It’s over-the-top while still being grand in all the best ways. From the start as Kong uses the mountain side as a slide to ram Godzilla, the tone and mood are set immediately.

When I think of an all-out brawl, this fight is the first thing that comes to mind as the two monsters throw everything they have into their attacks, throwing each other down the mountain side, with Kong grasping at anything he can and Godzilla lighting his opponent up with his breath. The fight gets even more crazy when Kong gets a power-up from a lightning storm and starts pounding Godzilla with his electrically charged fists.

This is the fight that all other kaiju battles strive to be.

The battle even ends on one of the most iconic shots of the entire series – the two monsters standing on opposite ends of a pagoda and tearing it apart to get at each other, as if they’re fighting over who can tear down this ancient building first, before they both fall off a cliff and into the ocean together.

For a while, there was a controversy over the ending of “King Kong vs. Godzilla.” It was believed that, in the American version, King Kong is the first one to surface and is the victor. While the Japanese version had Godzilla rise out of the sea and he was the winner. I remember for years people spread rumors about the alternate endings to this movie, but it turns out it’s all fake. In both versions of the movie, King Kong is the only one to rise out of the ocean after the battle and is declared the winner of the battle.

I’d just like to take a moment to call BS on this ruling. Just because Kong was the first to come out of the water doesn’t mean he won. Godzilla could still be down there waiting for Kong to keep fighting. If anything, Kong is retreating so he should be the loser. Maybe Godzilla just hit his head on some rocks and he’ll be ready to fight again in a minute. This fight is so good that I don’t want it to end right there, I would have loved to see this fight continue in the ocean, so it sucks that they just ended it right there.

 

Overall, I love “King Kong vs. Godzilla” but the Japanese version is superior to the American. The film is silly but not overtly silly that you cannot take it seriously. Most of the sequences involving Godzilla are terrifying and suspenseful, especially when he’s the only monster around. The characters are likable enough, especially Mr. Tako and his explorers who add some much needed levity to the scenes on Faro Island. Of course, the highlight of the film is the final battle and it is still just as satisfying and exciting now as it was when I was a kid. If you’ve never seen the Japanese version of this movie, I highly recommend that version for its improved story and soundtrack.

 

Number 12 – “Destroy All Monsters” (1968)

 

 

We have now moved out of the “okay” Godzilla films and into the “good” ones. From this point on, every Godzilla film left is highly enjoyable for me and has more pros and cons. And to start us off, we have what was supposed to be the end of the Godzilla series, “Destroy All Monsters.”

Like I briefly mentioned in my “Ebirah, Horror of the Deep” review, the original creators of Godzilla were actually getting pretty tired of making Godzilla movies by the mid to late-1960s and started believing that Godzilla and his monster friends had moved too far away from their original intention with the character. Instead of being a symbol for the horrors of nuclear weapons and a warning to the world, now Godzilla was far more of a kid-friendly “save the planet” hero who even had a son at this point. So in 1968, the creators set out to make the ultimate final chapter in Toho daikaiju universe that would satisfy fans and Toho, and end the legacy of Godzilla on a high note.

Of course, this is not what happened, since Godzilla is too damn popular to keep down. But that didn’t stop Toho from pulling out all the stops with “Destroy All Monsters,” as they brought back damn-near every monster that had ever been in a Toho film up to that point, even monsters that had been killed were resurrected just for this occasion. This also has the most grand and expansive story of any Godzilla film and has one of the greatest moments of any monster movie with its final battle at Mt. Fuji. If there was ever a daikaiju film fitting of the epic genre, this would be it.

 

 

Set in the far off future of 1999, we’re quickly introduced to this whole new world filled with monsters. The nations of the world are at peace with each other, striving to rid the world of hunger, war, famine, and disease, and now identify as one people instead of multiple nations. We’ve build a base on the moon, which is now a central launching point for space exploration, as well as the first line of defense in case of an alien attack (at this point, the Earth has been attacked by at least six or seven forces from outer space, so you cannot blame them). As for all the monsters on Earth, they’ve been rounded up and captured on one island in the Ogasawara Trench, nicknamed Monster Island, and are under constant surveillance in case they try to attack or break free. On the island, we have monsters such as Godzilla, Anguirus, Rodan, Mothra, Gorosaurus (from “King Kong Escapes”), Baragon (from “Frankenstein Conquers the World”), Godzilla’s son Minilla and about five other monsters, all now treated like animals in a zoo.

Right off the bat, I love this premise. Ishiro Honda’s films had always emphasized a few key things, including the peaceful cooperation between the nations of the world, and space exploration. This film not only takes those concepts to his greatest conclusion, but amplifies it by giving it a futuristic look. We’ve invented phones that allow us to talk to people on the moon in a video conversation, there are city wide defense mechanisms, and traps to keep the monsters from escaping. This takes everything that the Toho monster films had been building up over the last decade and brings it all together.

My only complaint is that I would have liked to see or hear about how they captured certain monsters, in particular Godzilla and Mothra. With Godzilla, did they lure him to Monster Island and captured him once he was there, or did they weaken him somehow and then take him to the island? As for Mothra, how did they get her away from Infant Island? How did the fairies and natives of Infant Island react to having their God taken away from them by the outside world? We never see the twin fairies in this film, so we never get any sort of answer. Then again, it is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great setup for Honda’s idea of a worldwide utopia while monsters are still around.

One day though, there’s a disturbance on Monster Island. Communication to and from the outside world is cut off, the whole island is flooded with a strange yellow gas that makes all of the workers and monsters pass out, and the mountain at the top of the island explodes open to reveal something hollow on the inside of the island. The world headquarters immediately start to examine what happened on Monster Island.

But before they can do anything about it, the Earth monsters suddenly start appearing all over the world, attacking most of the major cities around the globe, including Rodan attacking Moscow, Mothra taking down Beijing, Gorosaurus/Baragon destroying Paris (the narration says Baragon attacked, but it was Gorosaurus’ suit), and Godzilla heading to New York City. Strangely enough, Tokyo was left alone even though it was the closest major city to Monster Island.

 

 

Again, I love this sequence. To suddenly go from Monster Island being attacked by an unknown force to seeing these monsters all over the planet, destroying some of the biggest landmarks in the world, seems so simple and easy to take for granted now, but feels so satisfying. Watching Rodan fly over the Kremlin and Godzilla blow up the U.N. Headquarters in New York brings a smile to my monster-loving face.

The World Headquarters sends in their best group of pilots on the moon, flying in the spaceship Moonlight SY-3, to investigate Monster Island, retrieve any human survivors, and if possible learn what happened that caused the monsters to get loose.

When they arrive, they find several of the scientists and crew of Monster Island, perfectly content and acting like nothing is wrong. The scientists say they still have control over all the monsters from here, but that they weren’t the ones who unleashed Godzilla and crew on the world. That honor belongs to the alien race that has conquered Monster Island and brainwashed all the scientists, known as the Kilaaks, a group of human-looking women wearing sparkly white robes and shower caps.

The Kilaaks say that they’ve come from a small planet between Mars and Jupiter and intend to take over the world using our own monsters against us. Their specialty is using their advanced technology for mind control purposes, which they’ve used on the scientists and the monsters.

The Kilaaks are pretty standard in terms of invading aliens in these monster films. They want to take over the planet but try to do so as peacefully as possible. They only see humanity as being in the way of their goal. The only difference is that the Kilaaks are okay with mind controlling humans instead of destroying them, and seem to be okay with humanity as long as they control everything about us. That and they’re all women, which I think is a first for Toho alien invasion movies.

Anyway, the pilots of Moonlight SY-3 engage the workers of Monster Island in a gun fight and barely escape with one of the lead scientists to question him back in Tokyo. But before he has a chance to say anything, he throws himself out a twenty-story window in the most hilarious way possible, going down like he was signaling a right turn. After another gun fight ensues, the human characters get their hands on the dead body of the lead scientist and find strange silver orbs behind his ears, which they’re able to deduce was the device the Kilaaks used to control him.

After a series of odd events, involving the world working together to find dozens of mind control devices the size of coconuts planted all over the globe by the Kilaaks, the next major event occurs in Tokyo when it appears that the Kilaaks are on the run. Suddenly, the entire city is under attack by Godzilla, Rodan, Manda (from “Atragon”) and Mothra. The monsters waste no time and start destroying major parts of the city, causing the city wide defense system to kick in and attack the four monsters.

 

 

This scene takes any citywide destruction scene from previous monster films and cranks it up to 11, especially with how each monster goes about destroying the city. Rodan flies over everything causing sonic booms, Manda constricts his long body over everything, and Godzilla sets the city ablaze and literally punches buildings into oblivion. Then there’s the all-out assault by the military with bombs and missiles coming from every direction. This scene throws everything it possibly can at the screen, and it’s all set to Akira Ifukube’s wonderfully catchy music.

While the majority of Tokyo is destroyed in the attack, the World Headquarters did find out something interesting. The reason the Kilaaks waited to attack Tokyo was so they could build their underground headquarters near Mt. Fuji during the initial worldwide attacks. Now that their new base of operations is complete, they now have all the monsters in or around Japan to protect their territory.

This leads to an all-out attack by the world’s defense force around the Mt. Fuji area, as they search for the hidden Kilaak base. Of course, the Kilaaks have come prepared and send in Godzilla, Rodan, and Anguirus to attack the military, leading to another good battle scene. While it isn’t as balls-to-wall as the fight in downtown Tokyo, this one does involve ground troops and showcases Anguirus kicking around some tanks, as well as more of Ifukube’s music that never gets old.

But at the end of the attack, Moonlight SY-3 does find something of interest – a Kilaak space ship that appeared to be heading towards the moon. Thanks to the moon base, they’re able to figure out that the Kilaaks have an underground moon base that was set up prior to their Mt. Fuji base.

This leads to some of the best practical effects of the entire series as Moonlight SY-3 infiltrates the Kilaak’s moon base. The Kilaaks activate a barrage of fire and flames in an attempt to blow up the spaceship, while the shot of their headquarters being exposed to the vacuum of space is eerie and haunting in how stark and colorless it is. The pilots find the device that has been controlling the monsters and, after a tense scene trying to crack open its shell, disable the machine and escape just in time to see the moon’s craters fill up with fire and explosions.

Moonlight SY-3 returns to the moon base with the device and tells Earth’s scientists that the control of the monsters has been taken away from the Kilaaks. Shortly after this, the scientists use the technology on Monster Island to control the monsters themselves and prompt them to head to Mt. Fuji to search for the last stronghold of the Kilaaks.

 

 

This leads to the most memorable sequence of the movie and one of the highlights of the entire Godzilla series, as each monster arrives one-by-one to Mt. Fuji, a radio announcer gives overly-dramatic narration to each monster popping up until there are about a dozen monsters in the same area. There’s something heart-warming seeing all these kaiju in the same shot. Maybe it’s because of the amount of effort in scaling, setting, and cinematography that went into making this scene. Maybe it’s because of the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Fuji that adds to the atmosphere. Or it could be this is just the introduction to what’s about to happen.

It turns out the Kilaaks have one last trick up their sleeve, as they’ve always had control over one of their own monsters – King Ghidorah. They summon Ghidorah to fight all of the Earth monsters, saying that he is so powerful he’ll have no problem killing every last one of them.

This leads into the final monster battle between every Earth kaiju and King Ghidorah at the base of Mt. Fuji, a sequence that always brings a smile to my face. It’s an all-out brawl between nearly a dozen monsters, with each monster fighting Ghidorah in their own way. Mothra and Kumonga, a giant spider from “Son of Godzilla,” use their webs to slow down the space dragon, while Rodan uses hurricane-force winds, and Godzilla and Gorosaurus taking the fight directly to the three-headed monster.

But the two stand-outs in this fight are Anguirus and Minilla. Anguirus doesn’t seem to care how strong King Ghidorah is and takes ever opportunity to bite Ghidorah’s necks and bring it down to his level. This doesn’t work out for him, as King Ghidorah literally starts flying around while Anguirus hangs on for dear life, leading him to fall from about a mile up in the sky and to get his back crushed by the golden monster as soon as Anguirus climbs out of his hole.

For some reason, these two have it out for one another, because they both go out of their way to mess with the other.

 

 

Minilla, on the other hand, is hilarious in this fight. While he doesn’t directly engage King Ghidorah, he does visually react to nearly every move throughout the fight. I love when they cut to Minilla right before Anguirus hits the ground after his bit fall, Minilla covering his face like he doesn’t want to watch what’s about to happen. He’s like the kid of a professional athlete who cheers on his dad and his friends, but doesn’t want to see anything horrific happen to them. Except that same kid is a monster, which makes it oddly more adorable and funny.

Honestly, if “Destroy All Monsters” was just two guys talking in an empty room for an hour and followed it up with this fight scene, I would still love this movie. It is so all-out insane and drenched with monster goodness. Every monster gets a time to shine and it is honestly a pretty brutal fight, with the aforementioned fall for Anguirus, the damage done to one of King Ghidorah’s necks by Anguirus and how the Earth monsters finally finish off Ghidorah after Gorosaurus supposedly breaks its back with a kaiju-sized kangaroo kick and the monsters just start laying it on thick.

And the cherry on top is that Minilla gets the killing blow, using his smoke rings to strangle the life out of the final head of King Ghidorah. Funny and badass.

 

 

My only complaint with this entire sequence is that it isn’t the end of the film. The Kilaaks send in one last weapon to try and wipe out humanity after King Ghidorah is defeated, known as the Fire Dragon. Moonlight SY-3 is sent into to fight the Fire Dragon in a sequence that pales in comparison to the fight on Mt. Fuji. It’s an okay chase scene, but it is at a terrible place in the movie. You’re not going to top the final monster attack, so just end with that.

Anyway, Godzilla locates the Kilaak base, kicks in the glass dome to wipe out the remaining Kilaaks, the Fire Dragon turns out to be a Kilaak spaceship and is defeated by Moonlight SY-3, and the monsters return to their island and everything returns to normal.

“Destroy All Monsters” is everything you could possibly want in a Toho daikaiju finale made by the men who created the daikaiju genre. It is insane, fun, memorable, and has some of the best special effects and music of the entire series. There are points where it feels repetitive, especially leading up to the assault on the Kilaak moon base, and it is unfortunate that the fight on Mt. Fuji wasn’t the final action sequence, but I can forgive all of that for the great monster battle against King Ghidorah. I also love that it brings together everything that Honda wished to emphasize in his movies to create his version of a perfect world. As a supposed finale to the Godzilla series, you couldn’t ask for a better one than “Destroy All Monsters.”