Poor Noriyuki Yuasa, I mean the guy brings Giant Monster Gamera to the world, then a scant three years later is still making films starring the titular terrapin with one millionth of the budget of his original. Rather than being set up by Daiei Films as a competitor with Toho’s extremely popular Godzilla franchise Yuasa targeted the later Gamera films to the youngest audience possible. Certainly there is a lot of love in his films for the Gamera monster, but love don’t pay the bills, as they say, and the crimped budgets show so badly that even the most ardent Kaiju fan can’t suspend disbelief. Now Yuasa did make a couple of decent Gamera flicks, the original, the follow-up Gamera vs Gaos, and the later Gamera vs. Guiron so the tremendous suckitude of Destroy All Planets is even more baffling. This film could have been a whole lot more, but there are so many cut corners I am certain the film stock was nearly round by the time this hit its first projector.
I am not sure who should get the blame for this flick. Considering it was imported by Sandy Frank in the 1970s and cut for UHF TV, retitled, dubbed (poorly), and foisted upon the kids of America Frank may be due a lion’s share of the blame for the incomprehensible mess that is Destroy All Planets.
But, there is another whole level of crap, and therefore blame, associated with this title. The folks at Alpha Video, who generally do a fine job of bringing older obscure and in some cases downright classic films to DVD (Many of them from the public domain) treat Destroy All Planets in an extremely shabby manner. The print is washed out so that everything has a weird beige tint to it, the sound is muddy, the picture is muddy, it’s cropped, chopped, and slopped, in some cases the pixilation is so bad the screen dissolves into a mass of beige squares. Watching the film is hard on the eyes and ears.
I always had fond memories of this film. I thought the monsters were cool. I liked the space ship. I even identified some with the kids who star in this. Of course, I was six-years-old and whacked on jelly sandwiches and Yoohoo…
We begin with a space battle… well actually it’s a black and yellow ping-pong-ball space ship, some blinking lights, and a narrator. A the ship hovers in front of a painting of space the narrator intones that soon the Earth will be under their control (standard stuff really). He then announces it again, and again, and again, and again (for the Ritalin kids in the audience no doubt). Then the narrator panics as something appears on Radar; it’s Gamera looking worse than in any film to date, flying towards the ship in all his propane powered glory.
We are treated to strings aplenty as the Gamera toy bumps into the spaceship toy several times. The narrator announces that the space ship will fire all its weapons at the attacker, and true to form, the ship fires all of its weapons at Gamera.
All of the weapons appear to be a single film-stock-scratch, tinted yellow, which whizzes by the Gamera toy. Gamera then slams his head through one of the ping-pong-balls (note the falling drywall and dust) and blows up a segment of the ship. That segment tries to rocket away and Gamera nudges another part of the stricken ship towards the fleeing piece.
A tiny explosion later (and some strings) and the two pieces are gone.
It’s not bad enough that this scene is so poorly filmed, edited, and shot, but it is bad enough that it goes on for a really, really, long time. No actors. Just Gamera and a space ship bumping into each other as the operators try hard not to tangle the strings holding them in front of the background.
Phooey! But if you thought that was bad, baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Meet Masao ( Toru Takatsuka )and Jim (Carl Craig… listed in the credits as Kurl Kraig)… Well, we don’t actually meet them yet, we meet Masao’s sister Masako ( Junko Yashiro). She’s one of the scoutmasters at their Japanese version of the co-ed boy/girl scouts and this morning at roll call Masao and Jim are gone. The dialogue goes something like this…
“Where’s Masao and Jim?”
“Off creating mischief again?”
“Those rotten little scamps… let’s go invade China!”
“Death death death to the enemies of the emperor!!!”
Okay, at least that’s what I was thinking as I watched. Masako apologizes for Masao’s inherent assholeness just as we cut to –
Masao and Jim at some faraway building sneaking up on a group of scientists working on a mini-sub. They watch for a while until the scientists pack up and leave the sub unattended. Masao and Jim, those little scamps, climb into the sub and:
Marvel at the technology? – Nope.
Take the sub for a ride? – Nope.
Intentionally break the controls as a “prank”? – Ding!
Okay, so we’ve established that these two kids are assholes, and oh happy day, we get to spend the rest of the film with them. Masako remembers that she has an enormous wristband on that can both pinpoint Masao’s location and contact him via high-tech wrist radio.
This amazing piece of equipment is actually, a compass. It doesn’t even have blinking lights or other high-tech-looking doodads on it. It’s just a compass. And Masako talks to it.
Masao answers and the two boys, who have now reversed the controls in the sub by crossing some bundled wires, scamper back to the campsite. Awaiting them there are the scoutmaster and Masako.
Masao is told he will have no dinner for being such a little shit…
Cut to the mini-sub again, now surrounded by at least 200 scouts. The scientist announces that he will be taking the scouts out in the sub today. Well, considering there are 200 scouts, and the sub seats and uncomfortable two, it doesn’t appear that anyone will be getting more than a minute long ride. Before he takes the kids he wants to test the sub with an adult, so he grabs the head scoutmaster and they trundle off into the surf. But the controls are screwed up and they nearly die… Isn’t that funny Masao and Jim (you little assholes…)?
To demonstrate the peril of the sub and her passengers Yuasa uses the awesome technique of hanging a tiny model sub behind a small fish tank and wiggling the string on which it hangs.
Once they limp back to shore the sub trip is cancelled until Masako suggests that Masao might have had something to do with the control problems. Masao then boasts that the reason the professor was having problems with the sub was that he was a crappy pilot and that he, Masao, could drive the sub like a pro if they would only give them a chance.
Yeah, and in the illogical world of children’s cinema, the professor AGREES to let the kids take the broken, experimental, two-person-sub, out into the surf. Masao, we learn from his adoring sister, is a genius who engineered and constructed their awesome communicators watches (considering these are stock compasses, it doesn’t seem to be such a feat).
Masao and Tom head off in the sub.
Cut to space (What the hell??) and another yellow and black space ship approaching Earth (it’s actually the same footage we saw for the first eight minutes of the film), and again the narrator intoning that to conquer Earth they must harness the awesome power of Gamera and turn it to their advantage.
The boys take several pictures with Jim’s enormous Polaroid camera until Gamera shows up. Jim is afraid but Masao explains that Gamera is the protector of the world’s children. Masao informs Masao that they are racing with Gamera. We are treated to an instrumental of The Gamera Song.
There is much concern among the landlocked scouts.
To do this they (now almost at ground level yet still completely invisible to the scouts) shoot a weird cone of electricity (or some damn thing) over both Gamera and the sub, trapping them.
Gamera lifts the curtain and frees the boys who flee back to shore and are captured by the aliens who decide they can’t actively capture Gamera as he is so big. So, they decide to capture Gamera’s memory with their “videotron” and see if there is anything in there to give them a bargaining chip.
Now we are treated to one of the most agonizing segments of stock footage theater in cinema history. Since Destroy All Planets was only the 4 th Gamera film we get Gamera origin from “Gamera” then the entire monster fight sequences from the preceding two films, Gamera vs. Barugon and Gamera vs Gaos. And when I say all of them, I mean ALL OF THEM. This stock footage goes on for over 20 minutes. No dialogue, no continuity with the actual film we’re watching, just Gamera whipping on Barugon then whipping on Gaos.
Yuasa tries to meld the films together, but is challenged by the black and white offering “Gamera” so he tints it greenish as if we wouldn’t notice. Bah, cheap and silly.
Masao and Jim arrive back on shore and run off only to be captured by the aliens who now understand Gamera’s affection for little kids who fuck up submarines. Masao and Jim escape the sub and return to their group of scouts. But Jim’s film didn’t come out so the boys are ridiculed by the scoutmaster.
The ship appears, then Gamera does.
Then, for no reason other than to put themselves into danger, Masao and Jim run off to follow Gamera and are promptly captured by the aliens in the USS Ping-pong-ball
The Aliens tell Gamera that if he attacks the ship the two boys will die. Gamera veers off as Jim and Masao materialize inside the spaceship. Back inside the lab (were everyone ran to when Gamera appeared) the scoutmaster reassures Masako by saying ,“We’ll find a way to bring them back… you all believe that, don’t you?” I, for one, was not even slightly convinced. I mean, first of all, how much credence to you give to a grown man in a boy scout uniform?
No merit badge for you!
The aliens order Gamera to land or they will kill the boys (keep in mind the Aliens use this threat constantly so no, it’s not déjà vu, and no you didn’t accidentally scroll up in the review).
Gamera whizzes (and by that I mean dangles on a string) past the lab and crashes into the countryside (Gamera always crash lands). The Aliens land right beside him.
Now, if the extended opening battle (unimpressive as it is) and the half hour of stock footage spliced in haven’t ground the film to a halt, the next twenty minutes do. We get to spend an inordinate amount of time with Jim and Masao as they explore the interior of the alien space ship. And oh what an impressive ship interior it is. Another proof of the Destroy All Planets budget crisis is that this ship has exactly one room with two adjoining hexagonally-doored hallways. Yuasa changes the lighting some, and the location of the cameras to simulate having more than one room, but the sparseness of the place gives away the ruse. Also, for no reason other than to shoot footage of men leaping into the hallways, the aliens (who look like doctors) leap from one room to the next rather than walk.
Careful viewers will notice that the aliens all wear Puma brand sneakers.
Masao and Jim wander around the room until Jim mentions he wishes he’d had one of the sandwiches and milk offered at the campground. Amazingly, a panel on the wall opens up revealing hexagonally cut sandwiches and glasses of milk. The boys deduce that the ship is controlled by brainwaves and is programmed to give them whatever they want. The boys immediately ask the ship for a loaded revolver and some dynamite.
I realize that this is a kid’s movie, but to imagine that two 10 year old kids are going to fight their way out of an alien spacecraft is absolutely insane.
Anyway, their request triggers an alarm and a flood of aliens (who still look like doctors) to appear in the room. We know they are aliens because they have glowing eyes (oooo scary…). They tell the boys that the ship will never give them anything that will allow them to cause harm to the ship or its occupants. They, amazingly, the kids are given free reign to roam the ship.
Obviously these are not the smartest of aliens…
The aliens return to the control room (the same room they just left) and inform the people or Earth that unless the entire planet surrenders to them and their awesome ping-pong war machine, they will kill the two boys. To emphasize the magnitude of their threat they affix a radio control device to Gamera and send him off to demonstrate his powers of destruction.
First he destroys a dam, which looks pretty cool and was actually shot for this movie. Then he attacks Tokyo, in which all of the footage is green tinted stock from the original Gamera and lasts ten minutes.
Back on the ship the boys again try and get a weapons from the ship’s brainwave powered commissary, but they fail.
We cut to the lab where the Scoutmaster announces that the world is ready to surrender as long as the aliens don’t hurt Masao and Jim.
Yeah, that’ll happen…
The boys explore the room… er… ship, and happen upon a large squid-like monster in a cage. They deduce that he, like them, is a prisoner or a captive on the way to an interstellar zoo. The boys also deduce that the monster is intelligent because it’s nodding when they speak. The boys run off but promise to come back and free the monster.
The boys decide to try another approach to saving Earth from the aliens modeled on their sabotage of the mini sub. To accomplish this feat in a ship who’s inner working they have never seen on order to change the controls so that they operate in reverse. I have no idea how this was supposed to work, it’s not like Gamera, under reverse control, would start rebuilding Tokyo or repairing the dam he knocked down.
Anyway, they accomplish this feat by, literally, swapping two triangular blocks in one of the wall panels. I guess they had a schematic; either that or the aliens are as dumb as they appear.
With Gamera’s controls reversed he immediately makes way back to the space ship for the final confrontation with the aliens. The boys figure out how to use the transport beam to escape and rejoin their comrades in the Ninja Scouts (or whatever they are).
Gamera attacks the ship and kills most of the crew.
The monster is freed and reveals itself to be the leader of the alien invasion. The monster then lops the heads of the survivors, absorbs their bodies, and vows to destroy Gamera personally so that the next ship can invade in peace.
The monster, known to Kaiju fans as “Viras” is a big gray squid with a chicken beak and a high-pitched squeak for a voice. The suit is so bad though that the thing can barely stand and Gamera starts whipping on it. Viras tries drowning Gamera and fails, then launches itself, like a giant lawn dart, into Gamera’s belly.
Now pierced, Gamera flies off with Viras stuck to his underbelly. This apparent skewering doesn’t phase the turtle though, who flies off into the upper atmosphere and freezes the squid then plunges it back to Earth where it dies on impact.
The kids all run out to wave at Gamera as he flies away.
End movie, fake death, move to Mexico, live like an Aztek God under the name Senor Benevedes.
What’s really sad about this cash-strapped monster fest is not only the preceding six pages of crap, but that Yuasa had already proven himself a half-way decent kaiju director by the time this came out. I don’t understand, children’s tack and miniscule budget not withstanding, there is no reason this couldn’t have been better. Yuasa surely understands the mechanics of the giant monster flick, and his preceding stories range from very good to fair, but Destroy All Planets just fails on every single level. Probably the first issue is having the two leads be such obnoxious little shits it would have been cathartic and gratifying to have the aliens kill them slowly. The script is constructed almost as a stream of consciousness from the two boys so that they spout even the most mundane and obvious observation to the audience, and they do it over and over and over again. Worse still is that the aliens have NO motivation, that we are aware of, for invading Earth. Certainly the piss-poor effects (this is the worst Gamera costume to date) and the stock footage can be explained away as budgetary concerns, but the script can’t. It doesn’t cost anything to have actors say lines that don’t grate on your nerves. It doesn’t cost anything to write a story that doesn’t suck as much as this one does. The inconsistencies and idiocy of the entire exercise in baffling and infuriating at the same time.
Also, where the hell is the military? Why is Earth’s defense left up a group of co-ed scouts? You’d think Yuasa could have spliced in some footage of tanks and planes and soldiers. It would have leveled out the monotonous sequences culled from other, better, films, but he doesn’t and that just stinks.
Yuasa would go on to essentially remake this film a couple of times with other monsters and only slight deviations in character as both Gamera vs. Guiron (which is great fun) and Gamera vs. Zigra (which is so bad it’s listed in the bible as a sign of the coming apocalypse). For my money I’d skip this one, given the chance, and watch Gamera vs. Guiron again.
The DVD from Alpha Video doesn’t help the presentation any either. The DVD is presented in full-frame, contains some chapter stops, and a gaggle of posters of other Alpha Video offerings. Big whoop… At least they use the AIP cut and not the horrific Sandy Frank cut shown on Mystery Science Theater 3000. that said this looks WORSE than many of my SP speed VHS monster tapes still clogging my home library. The colors are washed out, the picture alternates between blurry, and so covered in film scratches it’s like looking the movie through a snowstorm.
Gamera movies can be lots of fun, and if handled well, show off a decent load of Kaiju action. Neptune Video released three of the films in widescreen, both English and Japanese, uncut, and restored. I have two of them and watch them often. But the VAST majority of Gamera stuff out there is like the Alpha release, i.e. crap.