Film Review: Destroy All Monsters (1968)

Also known as: Kaijū Sōshingeki (Japan), All Monsters Attack (alternate), Monster Attack March (alternate), Operation Monsterland (UK alternate)
Release Date: August 1st, 1968 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Takeshi Kimura, Ishirō Honda
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kenji Sahara

Toho, 88 Minutes

Review:

This was the Shōwa era Godzilla film that literally had it all. It was jam packed full of kaiju, had aliens and a ton of kaiju action and really good action sequences that didn’t even involve monsters. It isn’t the best Godzilla film of its era but it is probably the film that is the most fun. And when I am introducing friends to the Shōwa era and old school kaiju pictures, this is usually the one I pop on just for the non-stop action and overabundance of giant monsters.

Usually these sort of films get convoluted by trying to wedge in too much. Look at the modern Avengers movies versus the solo Marvel films. Destroy All Monsters throws a dozen kaiju at you but they all mostly get to shine without stepping on anyone’s toes or complicating the plot. Granted, a few were used minimally but that was due to their rubber suits being in bad condition due to age and the effects of previous films.

While the story here is decent for a kaiju picture, it really doesn’t matter. This is the Royal Rumble of Godzilla movies and all these fantastic creatures come together. Initially, they are controlled by evil aliens and attack different parts of the world. Godzilla even takes out the United Nations building in New York City. Eventually, the monsters are free from alien control, which brings in King Ghidorah because every sinister alien group seems to have a Batphone to King Ghidorah’s study in his stately manor.

The highlight of the film is when all the good monsters gang up on Ghidorah and just kick the living shit out of him. I love Ghidorah but the mud hole stomping finale is friggin’ glorious! Then the film is capped off by our Earth heroes in a cool ship fighting a phoenix. I mean, really? How cool is this movie?

Eiji Tsuburaya handled the special effects, Ishirō Honda returned as director and Akira Ifukube returned to score the film. Honda and Ifukube took a hiatus from the series, after being instrumental in giving it life and longevity. The reason for their return, is that this was initially planned to be the final picture for Godzilla. However, Toho didn’t even make it a year before they were working on All Monsters Attack a.k.a. Godzilla’s Revenge, a universally panned sequel but probably gets a worse rap than it deserves.

This film is set in the future, at least at the time of its release, so the chronology is a bit confusing after this movie but I’ve always seen this as the real final chapter and the Shōwa films that came out after this one as events that happened before this picture. So when King Ghidorah dies here, he really dies and his return later in the series in Godzilla vs. Gigan was set before Destroy All Monsters.

I love Destroy All Monsters. It is not my favorite Godzilla picture but it is exciting for old school kaiju fans.

Rating: 7.75/10

Video Game Review: Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (NES)

*written in 2014.

Back in the day, just about every kid in America had a Nintendo Entertainment System. Truthfully, I feel for those who didn’t. Reason being, at that time in history, the NES was Americana! Sure, it is a video game console imported from Japan but it was just as much a part of American culture as it was Japanese.

Like today, you can’t say Call of Duty isn’t American. Even though it is played on a Japanese console and part of a monstrous industry created in Japan. I guess Godzilla fits that mold to a degree, as well. A Japanese creation hat has transcended an industry and also become a part of American culture.

Well, putting video games and Godzilla together in 1989 gave us Godzilla: Monster of Monsters. It was released on the Nintendo in a time when I was at the height of both my video game playing and Godzilla worship. When the game dropped, I was at the store to buy a copy as soon as I had earned enough money to afford it.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters certainly isn’t a game without flaws and in many ways, it is very repetitive. However, some of my fondest video game playing memories, from that era, where when I was fully engaged in this game. It was fun and in a time before fighting games were a normal thing, Godzilla introduced me to the style with its awesome one-on-one monster battles.

The monster battles were actually the big highlight of the game. There were literally dozens and dozens of levels, many of them just rehashes of themselves, which added to the repetitiveness of the game. The problem was that all one wanted to do was fight giant monsters and the levels became too abundant and too much of a roadblock to get to each epic kaiju battle. Honestly, that is my biggest complaint about the game.

The only other real complaint is that the mechanics of the monster battles are very primitive and tedious at times. In retrospect, it didn’t bother me back in 1989, as there wasn’t a lot to compare it to. It doesn’t play great today but at the time, it was awesome. The other issue with it, in regards to the battle mechanics, is that the fights tended to be super long, especially the further you went into the game, as the monsters become increasingly more powerful.

Today, despite the issues, I still find the game enjoyable and fire it up from time-to-time. And I should also make note of the graphics, which were pretty impressive for 1989 on an 8-bit console.

Rating: 7/10

Ranking All the Kaiju of the Toho Godzilla Universe

The Godzilla universe spans seven decades, four different Japanese eras and two American remakes. In that long history, he has fought many deadly foes and had several awesome allies. However, the franchise expands beyond that as well, as some monsters that had their own films have crossed over into Godzilla movies, comics and video games. Toho has created a massive kaiju universe over the years and even if there are different eras and continuities, in some way, all these monsters exist in the same general realm.

So I feel the need to quantify these awesome giant beasts with a list. Because I like making lists and who the hell doesn’t like reading lists. Sure, our opinions may differ but that’s what the comments area is for. So feel free to list your favorites and discuss the results.

Also, I included the MUTOs from the American film for comparison’s sake.

How am I ranking these? Well, it is a combination of who is the most powerful, bad ass and the coolest. And of course, number one should not be a surprise.

1. Godzilla
2. Mothra Leo
3. Destoroyah
4. Monster X (Keizer Ghidorah)
5. Mecha-King Ghidorah
6. Biollante
7. Cretaceous King Ghidorah
8. Shin Godzilla
9. Fire Rodan
10. Gigan (Millennium)
11. King Ghidorah
12. Dagahra
13. Mechagodzilla (Showa)
14. Desghidorah
15. King Caesar
16. Mechagodzilla/Kiryu (Millennium)
17. King Kong
18. Mothra
19. Zone Fighter
20. Godzilla Junior
21. Gigan (Showa)
22. Rodan
23. Anguirus
24. Jet Jaguar
25. Mechani-Kong
26. Hedorah
27. SpaceGodzilla
28. Mechagodzilla (Heisei)
29. Gargantuan Sanda
30. Battra
31. Orga
32. Varan
33. Gargantuan Gaira
34. Megaguirus
35. MUTO (female)
36. Frankenstein
37. Megalon
38. Dogora
39. Gezora
40. Baragon
41. M.O.G.U.E.R.A. (Heisei)
42. Ebirah
43. Titanosaurus
44. MUTO (male)
45. Gabara
46. Moguera (Showa)
47. Manda
48. Kumonga
49. Ganimes
50. Gorosaurus
51. Kamoebas
52. Maguma
53. Kamacuras
54. Meganulon
55. Giant Octopus
56. Giant Sea Serpent
57. Minya
58. Giant Condor
59. Zilla

Film Review: Varan the Unbelievable (1958)

Also known as: Daikaijū Baran, lit. Giant Monster Varan (Japan)
Release Date: October 14th, 1958 (Japan)
Directed by: Ishirō Honda
Written by: Ken Kuronuma
Music by: Akira Ifukube
Cast: Kozo Nomura, Ayumi Sonoda, Fumio Matsuo, Koreya Senda, Akihiko Hirata

Toho, 87 Minutes

Review:

Varan the Unbelievable was a kaiju film that I was never a big fan of. It was a total drudge to get through. However, I had only seen the English language version, which is vastly different than its original Japanese counterpart.

The American version is a short 68 minutes or so but it is edited into a completely different film and lacks the suspense and the terror that makes the Japanese version infinitely superior. The American version was also bogged down by a love story between an American soldier and a Japanese girl that felt forced and superficial.

The Japanese version, which is the one I just watched and for the first time, was an absolute delight. Finally, I got to see the monster Varan in the way that his creators intended. He was menacing, looked terrifying with his dagger like spikes and he felt like a real credible threat.

The film was made by the Toho dream team of Ishirō Honda (the director), Eiji Tsuburaya (the special effects maestro) and Akira Ifukube (the greatest kaiju film composer of all-time). While these three worked together quite often over a decade or so, one could always rest assured that when the three were a part of the creative process, as a unit, you were certainly going to get a quality kaiju epic.

Unlike most of the earlier Toho kaiju pictures, this one doesn’t recycle a lot of the acting talent. The only notable cast member in relation to their work with Toho is Koreya Senda, who played Dr. Sugimoto. He also worked in the other Toho pictures The H-Man and Battle In Outer Space, neither of which were kaiju movies but fit the general tokusatsu genre.

The film plays out similarly to the original Godzilla picture. A monster appears, gets hellapissed and decides to take his anger out on humans. The majority of the story is Varan fighting the military, as the heroes try to find a way to get rid of the giant beast.

There are some fantastic looking scenes. The one that shows Varan taking shelter underwater as the military drops depth charges is marvelous. Also, the scene where the military is dropping poison into the lake is beautifully shot and vivid, even in black and white.

The miniature work is good for a black and white picture, as it hides some of the imperfections but ultimately, Tsuburaya’s work wasn’t as good as it would become once Toho switched to making all these films in color.

Varan is an evil looking creature and he can take flight similar to a flying squirrel. Additionally, he would also go on to live in the Godzilla mythos as he appeared years later in Destroy All Monsters and the Nintendo video game Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, where he was the boss of one of the stages and continued to appear throughout the game.

Varan isn’t as popular as Godzilla, Mothra or Rodan but he is similar in that he got a solo debut film. While he didn’t appear as sporadically as the other three kaiju, that may have been a missed opportunity for Toho. A straight up Varan versus Godzilla showdown would have been interesting to see.

If you can get a hold of the Japanese version of the film, you definitely should check it out. If all you can find is the awful American version, put it back on the shelf. The easiest way to tell the difference is the running time, as the American version has twenty minutes chopped off.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Also known as: Gojira: Fainaru Wōzu (Japan)
Release Date: November 29th, 2004 (World Premiere)
Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by: Isao Kiriyama, Wataru Mimura
Music by: Keith Emerson, Nobuhiko Morino, Daisuke Yano
Cast: Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Don Frye, Maki Mizuno, Kazuki Kitamura, Kane Kosugi, Jun Kunimura, Akira Takarada, Tsutomu Kitagawa

Toho, 125 Minutes

godzillafinalwarsReview:

Godzilla: Final Wars, which came out in 2004, was the last of the Godzilla films to come out of Japan (until 2016’s Shin Gojira). Additionally, it was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Godzilla. In doing so, the filmmakers at Toho decided to throw just about every monster they have ever created into this one movie. That being said, the word “epic” is a vast understatement to what this film was. Although, just so we’re clear, epic isn’t a synonym for “good”.

This film was at times glorious and at times hard to look at. The plot was recycled Godzilla shtick: alien race comes to Earth, alien race tricks people, alien race brainwashes monsters, alien race turns monsters against us, alien race makes monsters attack world capitals, Godzilla shows up, bigger mayhem ensues. Now I’m not knocking the formula because frankly, I don’t care that much about what the story is, as long as big monsters get to tear the crap out of each other for my enjoyment.

That being said, never has there been more kaiju violence in one place than in this film. Once Godzilla is reintroduced to us after his exile, he goes ape shit and runs through every monster like he’s playing Mortal Kombat III. Every second of Godzilla bad assery, I loved. It completely rectified any flaw that this film had and it went on for what seemed like forever. It was like a kaiju Royal Rumble match and Godzilla was that big unstoppable hero who drew number 30 – only to show up late to the party fresh and ready to crack every skull.

So what was wrong with the film? Well, in some instances, monsters were dudes in traditional rubber suits. In other instances, monsters were 100 percent CGI. The mixture of CGI vs. rubber monsters was odd and it just didn’t click. I’ve always been a fan of practical effects, although CGI doesn’t entirely irritate me. However, to mix the two so blatantly and so poorly kind of magnifies the flaws in both. Where effects should blend in and look real, having two differing styles together on the screen, at the same time, makes both styles look worse. I get that this was probably a cost-cutting measure due to the immensity and scope of this film but c’mon, the Godzilla franchise has made billions in fifty years. They could’ve fattened the budget a bit more or just cut out half of the unnecessary human versus alien special effects segments, which wouldn’t be horribly missed.

Speaking of which, the human parts of the film just felt like a really bad Underworld rip-off, which is itself a really bad Matrix rip-off. I liked how they structured the general plot but most of it was over-the-top and kind of tedious to watch. The only real highlight was the American general who looked like a thicker Tom Selleck with a generic American tough guy voice. He was certainly a caricature of what Japanese people see from a blockbuster bad ass American military leader but it worked. He was also played by MMA legend and pro-wrestling bad ass, Don Frye.

This isn’t what I’d call a good film or even close to being the best in the Godzilla mythos but it was supremely enjoyable and a bit of a gem in regards to the non-stop kaiju violence. In the end, I was more than satisfied.

Besides, if you love Godzilla, you aren’t going to let a few flaws ruin the movie.

Rating: 7/10