When I was a kid the TV listings for the coming week were printed in the Sunday newspaper. That morning, before even reading the comics I'd check to see what films of monsters and mayhem would be featured on Channel 56's "Creature Double Feature". I was happy to see any Godzilla movie among their offerings, but never as happy as when I saw the three greatest words in the history of being a 10 year old boy: Destroy. All. Monsters.
Man that movie had everything, a cool space ship (the Moonlight SY-3), all of Toho's monster that any moderately socially retarded kid could name, and probably draw, a dozen scenes of city destruction that rivaled any of the films to come before it. Yeah! Bring it! Mom, we need more popcorn and Kool Aid, darn it, the movie's starting!
And at the time it seemed like they showed Destroy All Monsters only on the weekends when I couldn't be home to watch, or when we had some big family something or other to attend and plunking down in front of the console TV was a big no-no. Sometimes though, if we were at the right cousin's house we could sneak away to the den TV and catch a few minutes of mayhem before some irritating grown up would chase us back outside. Ah those were the days.
With the birth of home video, Destroy All Monsters was one of the Toho offerings that never made it to the US on video tape, and while occasional old TV recording bootlegs showed up now and then it was almost impossible to find a decent copy. Then during the DVD revolution ADV films, a premier importer of Japanese anime, acquired a license to sell a recently re-dubbed version straight from Toho films. I have that version. It sucks. In fact the "international dub" as it was called made a somewhat big splash on Sci Fi Channel back when they'd run occasional holiday Toho marathons and at the time ADV had huge placement in chain DVD stores. The ADV print, while remastered and gorgeous in standard definition (widescreen even, woo woo!) lacked a menu page, chapters, or any extras other than, well, being a DVD.
Times for we Godzilla collectors improved considerably over the last decade or so since everyone from Sony pictures to Universal to Classic Media and Media Blasters have released extras-filled remasters of these classic films from both the Showa and Heisei series. The popularity of those helped drive the Millennium series onto widely available DVD within weeks of their Japanese releases and even in some cases found homes into American cinemas. So it was only a matter of time before Destroy All Monsters finally received the treatment it deserves and joins the other excellently produced titles. Media Blasters gets the honor this time.
Now that it's a million-billion years since I was a jelly-sandwich-faced 10 year old, how do I feel about Destroy All Monsters? Well, I still think it's a fun 89 minutes or so, but being older and more experienced with Toho's special effects films and giant monster films I can see where Ishiro Honda really tried to straddle the boundaries of both film types and never really managed to bridge them.
Firstly though, Destroy All Monsters has some definite differences from the other Godzilla films that came before, or would come after. Honda bear-hugs the "science fiction" angle of the special effects films like the Mysterians and Battle in Outer Space and Gorath, so all of the established mysticism of the monsters is stripped away and never, ever mentioned. Godzilla, Rodan, Ghidorah, even Mothra, are just really big radioactive animals who can be controlled and corralled via physical barriers, not gods or physical manifestations of man's hubris in the face of atomic weapons. Sadly, Destroy All Monsters suffers for this omission.
Second, it borrows several of the plot elements of The Mysterians, the alien invasion, the underground bases, the big slow march attack on the alien stronghold at the end, the military and science bureau's are all arms of the United Nations, the turncoat scientist etc... And a whole mess from Battle in Outer Space too, the advance on the alien stronhold on the moon, the cutting off the radio controller sequence, the turncoat scientist etc... Actually the turncoat scientist in this film is the same as in Battle in Outer Space. He doesn't get a redemption here though.
From the giant monster side of the fence it has, well, it has giant monsters, all of the suits that Toho could stick together ended up in this film. Even a couple of monsters who don't do anything but make cameo appearances (Varan and Baragon) and one who appears solely as stock footage, Kumonga. It also has the intrepid scientist/adventurer hero who has a personal stake in the outcome of the war with the aliens. None of the monster back stories matter as this story is set "30 years in the future" (i.e. 1999) so even the cast wouldn't really remember who Godzilla was or where he first came ashore.
The problem with this approach is that it makes for a patchwork script. The script this time is penned by longtime Toho scribe Takeshi Kimura, who also scripted The Mysterians, War of the Gargantuans, Rodan, Mothra, H-Man, and a whole mess of other Toho giant monster and special effects films, so I guess he figured he was hitting what worked in plot and flow with all of the other films. And in some cases like watching the UN science bureau try to unravel the mystery of the alien control of the monsters, it works pretty well, in other cases like the relationship between the leads Katsuo Yamabe (Akira Kubo) and Kyoko Manabe (Yukiko Koboyashi) where in the Japanese language version they are boyfriend girlfriend and in the International Dub they are brother and sister; and each version works (eek!), not so much. The human characters have been stripped of their humanity as much as, for example, Mothra has been stripped of her mysticism.
Fewer of the standard Toho players we get Akira Kubo but no Akira Takarada, we get Jun Tazaki (most famous as Torohata in Godzilla vs. The Thing) and Toshio Tsuchiya (The Controller of Planet X) but no Kumi Mizuno, Yuriko Hoshi, Akihiko Hirata. We get no Peanuts, we get no Kenji Sahara.
One of the strengths of the Toho giant monster movies has been the friction between the science and the mystical parts of Japanese culture. And without those two things to balance out the script it's hard to follow the tension of the film. The characters all feel very distant and the action is very staged. The characters are never conflicted, there's no growth, there's no emotion other than bewilderment if that even counts.
The effects sequences are great though, albeit too short. By 1968 Toho was scrounging and this production shows it. So we get a quick smash and grab in New York, some model train damage on a tabletop pretending to be Beijing, and one big nice march through parts of Tokyo. This was the last big effects scene shot by Toho for like almost 10 years, and it's one I've always really liked for the sheer amount of tracer bullets bouncing off the buildings and monsters as they walk into a hale of cannon fire and rockets.
Let me throw out a quick plot synopsis for those who've read this far and have never seen Destroy All Monsters. In the future 1999 all of the Earth's giant monsters are collected and placed in a special enclosure called Monsterland in the Bonin islands chain out in the Pacific ocean. The United Nations maintains an underground laboratory at Monsterland where scientists study the behavior of the creatures gathered there. An alien race from the asteroid belt between Jupiter and Mars invades and frees the monsters from their special enclosure then lets them loose on all of Earth's cities (shades of the plot of Planet X!). It's up to the inhabitants of the United Nations Moon Base, and their amazing space ship Moonlight SY-3, under the command of intrepid Captain Yamabe to determine what the Aliens want, and carry out an attack to stop them. Meanwhile the aliens use the monsters to crush any opposition to their plans to set up a homeland on Earth.
We don't come to these films for the plots, mostly, it's the crazy monster fights and the goofy dialogue that keep us, and Destroy All Monsters, doesn't disappoint in this regard, really. It's just hard to care about the alien motivation because there isn't really any. But who cares, right? Godzilla smashes up the UN in New York City (sadly he doesn't go any further than that), Rodan wipes out Moscow, Mothra derails trains in China, Gorosaurus smashes through The Arc de Triomphe, and they finally all turn their attention to the Tokyo shoreline district. The film culminates with the most hilariously one-sided monster gang fight ever where King Ghidorah appears, lands, and gets beaten to death by all of the other monsters in the space of 4 minutes.
The Blu Ray from Media Blasters is a definite step up from the old ADV DVD. The most important feature to most will be the inclusion of the originally produced for 1969 English language dub track featuring a smattering of voices who will be well known in sound to the fans of 60s giant monster and kung fu movies. This dub is vastly superior to the "international dub" that still pollutes this Blu Ray. For we collectors, Destroy All Monsters finally gets released with its original Japanese language track and English subs which is nice but after one watch I was ready to hear my old voice friends in English. The subtitles are nearly identical to the English Language dubs. Substitute reading "Bonin Islands" for hearing "Ogasawara" and you've pretty much hit all of the differences between two presentations.
The presentation also comes with trailers for some other titles including (drumroll please!) the upcoming release of Godzilla vs. Megalon on DVD and Blu Ray. There are also some old 8mm edits too, which harken back to the days before VHS tapes. The Blu Ray also comes with some production art and storyboards that would be way more interesting if there was some context to go along with each of the pages. Instead we get just the pages. But it's still better than the ADV DVD.
Finally there's the one thing I dread writing about, the commentary track with fonts of Godzilla knowledge Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle, both have authored books on Toho films, both produced "Bringing Godzilla Down to Size", and both have done commentaries on a host of other premier DVD Releases from Classic Media and Media Blasters, and like those commentaries, this one puts me right to sleep. Their encyclopedic knowledge of Godzilla is great and all but they present by just reading script right off the page as the film plays in the background with occasional ties into the screen action via some actress or actor or monster event, but the rest is them listing all of the accomplishments and history of actors and actresses who either appeared in other Toho films or on Japanese TV, or had a recording career in pop music, in the 1960s and 70s. No one in their right mind will sit through this lifeless recitation of useless knowledge more than once. And, it's a fair wager that only the strongest of willpower will make it to the end of it even once.
Sadly they also did the commentary for Godzilla vs. Megalon. Though in a recent interview with Sci Fi Japan they said they were approaching Megalon with the critical eye it deserves. Maybe that will mean I won't listen to it once then write another paragraph like the one above. But I doubt it.
So is Destroy All Monsters a worthwhile buy? For we giant monster fans it sure is, but for introducing anyone over, say, 12 years old or new to Showa era Japanese Giant Monster films, probably not. It does offer ample space for smart ass remarks and making your own commentary track though, which gives the film tremendous replay value. Sometimes, as Destroy All Monsters proves for both film and fan, it sucks to get old.
Watch the Invasion of the Astro Monster (Godzilla vs. Monster Zero) instead, it's a very similar story told much more fully, plus is stars Kumi Mizuno, which is always a giant plus for those of us beyond 10 years old.