Saturday, 10 April 2010

For Your Consideration...No.4

Kaijû sôshingeki (Destroy All Monsters)

News Reader: "The major cities in the world are being destroyed, one-by-one by the monsters: Moscow by Rodan, Peking by Mothra, London by Manda, Paris by Baragon. And, here's a special news bulletin. Godzilla is now in New York. The city is being invaded by Godzilla."

The 1950s saw an influx of monster movies (or 'creature features') from various studios - The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (Eugene Lourie, 1953), Gojira (Godzilla, Ishiro Honda, 1954), Them! (Gordon Douglas, 1954), It Came From Beneath The Sea (Robert Gordon, 1955), Tarantula (Jack Arnold, 1955), The Black Scorpion (Edward Ludwig, 1957) were all released during the time that America was fascinated with things from another world. Of course the 50s also saw a mass increase in sci-fi movies, notably The Day The Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951), The War Of The Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) and Teenagers From Outer Space (Tom Graeff, 1959). All of these movies stemmed from the public fascination with Roswell and the supposed discovery of spaceship debris and alien corpses in 1947. The studios latched onto this fascination and aliens and monsters ruled the decade (and were later homaged together in Dreamwork's Monsters vs Aliens, Rob Letterman, Conrad Vernon, 2009). Most of these movies had a political/social message at the core - a commentary on science, war or greed among other things. They provided entertainment and also interesting parallels with the state of the world.

Destroy All Monsters provides no such parallels. Directed by Ishiro Honda in 1968, it's the ultimate monster mash-up (as the title would suggest). It's unashamedly pure nonsense, and terrible nonsense at that. So why write an article about it? Because it's a massively entertaining, once-in-a-lifetime forgotten gem of awfulness and in an age where Transformers (Michael Bay, 2007) is in the cinemas, this needs to be on DVD. To be honest, if you weren't excited when you saw the poster above, it probably isn't for you. But if you were, get onto Amazon right now and order your Region 1 DVD of this laughably bad marvel. When the DVD arrives you'll be greeted by some rubbish animated artwork (which makes it look like a bad Saturday morning cartoon) but turn over to the back to be greeted by the statement 'The Greatest All Star Monster Battle Ever Filmed!' and a list of the monsters featured. Pop it into the player and we can get onto the 'plot'...

Of course, there isn't much of one. Mankind has collected all of the monsters and placed them under surveillance in Monster Land. Soon something goes wrong and the monsters start wreaking havoc all around the Earth (exactly how they get to these locations, and so quickly, is never established) and scientists on Earth and the Moon start searching for an answer. They soon discover an Alien race of women are controlling the monsters (and also own a series of UFO's, which are really neon-lit toys). A mission begins to resolve the crisis (i'm still not sure exactly how this happens) and soon the monsters are assembled against the Alien Monster King Ghidorah ( And a truly glorious battle begins.

But lets start at the beginning. The movie was shot in Japanese and this DVD features the most awful English dub I have ever heard. There has obviously been no effort made by the actors in the recording booths as the performances are so wooden and staggered. Everyone sounds so bored. This isn't to say that the Japanese actors are any better though - the physicality of the performances are terrible, the facial expressions worse. Upon being shot one scientist actually looks halfway between constipation and dismay. But not even De Niro could make this script shine. Every character states what is going on, gives an order and then the men receiving orders declare "right!" That's the structure. What's really woefully hilarious is how seriously the whole thing is taken and how it's just second nature for the monsters to be there. A news reporter calmly reports "Rodan is here" in the same voice he would use to order lunch or address someone. Everyone is so laughably matter-of-fact about a monster showdown - and then you actually get to see the monsters!

The friendliest Godzilla to ever grace the screen is the first monster we see. It's actually actor Haruo Nakajima in a rubber suit who interprets the role as being like a stroppy child or a reptilian Mr Blobby. The eyes are what's really bad - in a constantly fixed state, they could have just been drawn on. They make Godzilla seem somehow mentally challenged, taking away any fear we could have had. The best monster is actually Kumonga, a genuinely well made giant spider, who is given precious little to do. The first monster to arrive at the showdown is Minilla, the son of Godzilla, who actually looks more like a mole rat ( It flaps around the battlefield like a cheerleader as the monsters bite, scratch and smash the hell out of King Ghidorah. It's by far the best part of a totally bonkers film, and really deserves to be seen.

It doesn't matter that every single city is so clearly a model construction. It doesn't matter that the rocket ships move in the most totally unconvincing way, or that the laser animation is terrible. It doesn't even matter that you could watch the whole film on mute and not miss a thing. Because it's just such a good idea and the finale is so well executed. In fact, the whole film is so amazingly poor, there's very little left for me to say. If you enjoy bad movies, or monster movies, or movies that simply defy explanation, there'll be a lot to love here. So track it down, but before you do so, watch the brilliantly awful trailer. God bless Japan...

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