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6) GODZILLA VS. MONSTER ZERO (1965)

Japanese release title: The Great Monster War (“Kaiju Daisenso”)
International release title: Invasion of the Astro-Monster
U.S. release date: July 29, 1970, by Maron Films (owned by UPA Productions) as Monster Zero.
Japanese audience attendance: 3,780,000
Director: Ishiro Honda
Screenplay: Shinichi Sekizawa
Sfx: Eiji Tsuberaya
Musical score: Akira Ifukube
U.S. version available on home video by Paramount’s Gateway video series.

Synopsis:

After a mysterious mini-planet, dubbed simply “Planet X,” appears in Earth’s solar system between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, the United Nations decides to investigate. To this end, they dispatch an experimental spaceship (most likely created by examining the alien technology left behind on Earth in The Mysterians [1957]) piloted by astronauts Fuji and Glenn.

Upon landing on the barren world, the two intrepid astronauts soon discover an extremely advanced extraterrestrial humanoid civilization living beneath the planet; they are referred to simply as the Xiliens, or Xians. After being taken below the surface of Planet X by the Xillians and greeted as friends, Glenn and Fuji observe the planet being attacked by King Ghidorah, whom the number-fixated Xillians sometimes refer to as “Monster Zero.” It is explained to the Earthmen that the Xillians are forced to live underground for fear of King Ghidorah, and they request an exchange with Earth to remedy the problem. The Xillians wish to “borrow” the Earth monsters Godzilla and Rodan (whom they later refer to as “Monster One” and “Monster Two,” respectively) who they wish to utilize to defeat King Ghidorah, as they did on Earth just recently. In return, they offer the Earthmen a tape which will give the planet the information to cure all disease. Wanting to talk it over with their governments first, the two Earthlings are sent home, and Glenn muses to Fuji that he wonders if Planet X’s lack of significant amounts of water may have something to do with the offer.

As Glenn and Fuji arrive in Japan to discuss the proposition at a meeting of the United Nations, Xilien flying saucers (that’s really what they look like) appear on Earth and abduct Godzilla and Rodan in energy bubbles without first receiving permission to do so from the governments of Earth. Taken back to Planet X, the two Earth kaiju are immediately sent into battle with King Ghidorah, whom they promptly drive from the planet. Glenn and Fuji, who returned to Planet X to finalize the negotiations, are given the promised tape by the seemingly grateful Xillians, and sent back to Earth, leaving a despondent Godzilla and Rodan behind. However, when the tape is played, it actually contains a message from the Controller of Planet X warning the Earth governments to surrender to the aliens as one of their colonies. They indeed want Earth for its abundant resources (especially its water, as Glenn surmised), and it’s revealed that the battle between the monsters was merely a ruse. King Ghidorah was always under their control, and they now used their skill with mind-altering magnetic waves to gain control over Godzilla and Rodan as well. When the Earth refuses to surrender, the Xillians send the three kaiju, as well as several of their flying saucers, to attack the planet. The military seems helpless to stop the invasion, and Earth’s defeat appears imminent.

In the meantime, Glenn and Fuji are captured by the Xillians when it is revealed that his fiancée, a woman named Miss Namikawa, is actually an Xilien spy. However, when the emotionless aliens realize that Miss Namikawa has truly fallen in love with Glenn, she is summarily executed. Locked up in a cell with the two audacious astronauts is an inventor named Tatsuo, who recently created a new alarm device; the man was imprisoned for developing his invention since extremely loud sounds disrupt the Xilien’s brainwaves and drive them insane, thus providing the key to their defeat. Using this knowledge to effect an escape, the three men contact the military and use the alarm to develop a powerful new device called the A-Cycle Light Ray, which disrupts magnetic waves. When the alarm device is played over every radio and television frequency in Japan at full blast, the Xilien invasion force is driven insane, and they commit suicide by blowing up their flying saucers.

Meanwhile, the A-Cycle Light Ray removes the three kaiju from the control of the aliens. Godzilla and Rodan then turn on King Ghidorah, and after another great battle, they once again succeed in driving the tri-headed space dragon from the Earth.

Review/Comments:

After the monumental success of the previous year’s Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster, Toho decided to return the great space demon to the big screen for the very next G-film. Godzilla and Rodan were likewise returned, but perhaps in an effort to prevent this film from being too much like the last one, Mothra was left out. Presumably, she was busy gestating in her cocoon on Infant Island, as she appeared as an adult moth in the next G-film.

This movie presented another fine accomplishment for Ishiro Honda, and this time he left the monsters in the background and allowed the human drama to carry the majority of the film. In fact, while Eiji Tsuberaya actually surpassed his extra-fine performance in the previous film with the quality of the sfx, especially in regards to the realization of King Ghidorah, the monsters were treated merely as an accessory of the aliens. The human/Xilien plot was rightfully given the center stage here. While this fact has been criticized by fans who prefer watching lengthy monster battles, this film was highly praised by those who prefer a good, well-crafted story rather than simply sitting back and viewing a montage of mindless battle scenes. In fact, much debate continues among G-fans over which of the two initial King Ghidorah films was better. Akira Ifukube’s score sounded much the same as in the last film, but his new Kaiju Daisenso (“Monster War”) theme was quite stirring.

This was the first G-film which featured the now overplayed motif of having aliens controlling giant monsters in an attempt to take over the Earth. By the 1970’s, this aforementioned theme was done over and over, and as usual, the first time was the only instance where it was executed well. The tone was mature, and the social commentary was prevalent, accentuating the values of individual thought, freedom from mental oppression, the popular Japanese concept of self-sacrifice for a noble cause, and the importance and power of emotions, particularly love. Especially well done was the role of astronaut Glenn, played by American actor Nick Adams, his fine performance further underscoring the tragedy of his alleged suicide two years later. This movie was the first of two dai kaiju films that Adams did in Japan for Toho, the other being the memorable but often overlooked Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965). Godzilla and Rodan were depicted as being ambivalent towards humankind and a total menace while under the control of the Xillians, as they were in most of the film, and the only good the kaiju duo did was to drive away King Ghidorah at the end of the movie. The fact that this aided humanity was purely coincidental, and the monsters were by no means depicted as the heroes of the film. The only sympathy afforded the two kaiju was the brief scene in which they were left behind on Planet X by the departing humans.

Godzilla and Rodan were not as well executed as King Ghidorah, as Godzilla looked non-menacing with the newest G-suit (the “Daiso-Godzi” suit) and Rodan looked as silly as he did in the previous film. Further, a few instances of intentional monster humor diluted the serious impact of the battles, the most blatant of these being Godzilla’s performance of the “jumping shay” dance then popular in Japan after the first defeat of King Ghidorah. Director Honda wisely protested the use of this inappropriately campy scene, but his protests regrettably fell on deaf ears.

Still, this first time blending of alien invasion and dai kaiju premises was very well done overall, and this was the last time that a G-film in the Showa Series was given a large budget with high quality sfx and a masterful adult storyline to go with it. After this, the G-series would begin to decline in quality and appeal, with the obvious semi-exception of Destroy All Monsters, the last of the truly great G-films to be directed by Honda and to enjoy great international success.

Now, as I'll complain many times in the course of the reviews for the G-films in the Showa Series involving alien invasions, you just have to wonder why the hell these aliens, being as advanced as they are, wouldn't simply look for another planet full of valuable natural resources that did not have a bothersome sentient race inhabiting it, instead of going through the trouble of conquering one that did! How egotistical can such advanced beings be? We also had to wonder why the Xillians went through the initial duplicity to sneak attack the Earth, rather than simply abducting Godzilla and Rodan right away, and attacking the Earth en masse, without offering them the option of surrendering first. The Xillians certainly never displayed generosity in any other way after revealing their true colors. Despite their pronouncements to total logic and no emotion, which would have made them cool in the eyes of the Vulcans in the Star Trek universe, these dudes seemed to enjoy watching the inferior Earthlings grovel in fear, which would be the only "logical" reason for them to offer the surrender in the first place! Then again, if the Vulcans are taken as an example, logic and extreme egotism seem to go hand-in-hand, though the Xillians had a much more malevolent streak in them in comparison to the benevolent Vulcans, the latter of whom considered conquest and violence in a universe of abundant resources to be illogical (it should be noted that the Xillians were conceived before the first Star Trek series appeared on American television, though the film wasn't released in America until after the first Star Trek series had run its course). The maniacal laughter of the Xilien Controller that appeared in one scene of the American version actually wasn't in the Japanese version, and was dubbed over one of the instances of the Xilien Controller briefly speaking in his native mathematically based language. This also makes no sense, since a race whose psyche is based on pure logic, rather than emotion, wouldn't have a sense of humor, as humor is considered "illogical" (once again, check out the Vulcans in any of the various Star Trek series for their utter stuffiness when confronted with humor, particularly the original series, the animated series, Voyager, and Enterprise, all of which include a Vulcan as a main character). Thus, the original Xilien dialogue should have been left intact in the American and international versions. And yes, I do understand that the Xilien Controller was laughing for reasons of sadistic triumph, and not because someone made a joke, but still, laughter for the purpose of malicious glee is every bit as illogical as laughter for reasons of pure levity in a race that supposedly stifles all of their emotions.

It should be noted, however, that part of the reason for the Xillians utilizing subterfuge, rather than an outright assault from the get-go on the Earth, may stem from the fact that they were aware of the Earth nations combining their resources to form the Earth Defense Force and defeat another advanced alien race, the Mysterians, eight years earlier, when the latter race attacked from the outset with total confidence that it would score an easy victory over the Earth [see my Showa Event Timeline for non-review oriented explanations for the origins of the Toho Showa Series Aliens, much of it thanks to the help of fellow G-fans Den Valdron, Gordon Long, and others]. Then again, many scientists and military tacticians would point out the extreme unliklihood of a technologically backwater world like the Earth actually developing sufficient technology virtually overnight to overcome an attack by technically advanced, spacefaring races such as the Mysterians and the Xillians. Other individuals would counter this assertion by pointing to how the Vietnamese resisted attempts by the far more advanced United States to defeat them during the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan later doing the same in regards to a war of a similar nature with the more technically advanced Soviet Union. However, this will quickly be countered once again by those initial scientists and military experts who will say that the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. fought those wars "with one hand tied behind their back," and if they didn't, the extreme determination and resourcefulness of the Vietnamese and Afghan soldiers would have been futile in the end. Thus, I leave this question in the air for others to argue over (as much as I love debating any political issues myself).

One of the questions frequently debated about this film among G-fans is whether or not the story took place in the year the movie was released in Japan, 1965, or whether it was intended by the filmmakers to take place sometime later in the 20th century (as was definately the case with the story in Destroy All Monsters, but definately not the case with all other G-films in the Showa Series). Many G-fans believe the latter, pointing to the fact that the year in the film was listed onscreen as occurring in "199X," but this may simply have been an allusion to Planet X, or more likely, to simply leave the precise year the story took place subject to interpretation by the individual viewer, and to leave this facet of the story open in terms of future continuity that the creative crew may have been contemplating at the time, but quickly abandoned once Toho lost the budgetary resources to produce elaborate G-films (and the series did indeed begin going downhill in terms of overall quality due to shrinking budgets immediately after this film). Many G-fans who believe this story was intended to take place in the then-future also point out to the experimental spacecraft that Glenn and Fuji used to travel to Planet X between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, since not only was that technology unavailable in the "real" world in 1965, it remains unavailable at this writing in the year 2002. However, it's my personal opinion that the story clearly took place in 1965 on the timeline in which the Showa Series took place, and that it occurred no more than a year after Godzilla and Rodan's appearance in Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster. What do I offer as evidence? Plenty...read on.

For one thing, it wasn't extremely out of the question for such an advanced, obviously experimental spacecraft to be available to the United Nations in the 1965 of the Showa Series timeline, especially when you consider the type of spacecraft that was hastily cobbled together via the combined effort of all the nations on Earth in 1957 to travel to the moon to counter the alien invasion of the Mysterians. Such a major global crisis of an alien invasion never occurred in the 1957 of our own timeline, so the nations of the "real" world never had a reason to even attempt such an endeavor, but instead, remained typically content to compete against each other for individual control and prestige of making it into space, rather than cooperate with each other for mutual survival of the entire human race (which everyone on Earth would likely be doing if not encumbered by "leaders" who seperate the vast majority of the world behind distinct, synthetic political barriers for personal gain, and may all of those silly arguments about "human nature" as the culprit for this be damned). Hence, it should be expected that at least some of the Mysterian technology would be left over in the aftermath, that the governments of all member nations of the U.N. in that reality would lay claim to their share of that technology, and that various scientists and engineers from each member nation of the U.N. worked together on occasion, utilizing their limited understanding of such technology to create such devices as Glenn and Fuji's spacecraft on the quick when necessary. The ship was described as being hobbled together rather hastily specifically for the purpose of exploring Planet X (something fully in the spirit of the "we must conquer space" frenzy of the late 1950's and '60's), and you will note that in the film, the ship was clearly incapable of warp drive travel, even though it was fast enough to get a crew of only two human beings out past the orbit of Mars within about a month's time, which in terms of cosmic distance, was not very far at all. This spacecraft certainly wasn't the Enterprise of even the mid-22nd century, which had a crew of over 80, since it was intended for lengthy periods of deep space travel at warp drive, rather than a simple troubleshooting mission within the confines of the solar system. The Xillians had to bolster Glenn and Fuji's ship with their own technology to make it fast enough to return to Earth within just a few days, the Xillians were clearly on guard against giving humanity, a race they planned to conquer, anything akin to warp drive technology.

Further, you will notice that nothing else in that film, including the buildings, cars, other technology, etc., resembled anything different from what actually existed in the "real" 1965. Yes, it's true that filmmakers are notoriously bad (in most cases) when it comes to predicting what future technology will be like, and often tend to assume that not only will the social status quo be more or less identical to what it is at the time the film was made (something prevelent even in the several Star Trek series), but they likewise frequently fail to anticipate exactly which direction technology will actually go in what becomes the "real" future; remember all of those archaic dials and levers seen in the 23rd century starship Enterprise of the original Star Trek before digital read-out screens replaced dials in the late 1970's? And how many films made during the '50's and '60's that took place in the future ever anticipated anything as both subtle and revolutionary as the Internet? Very often, however, future technology is simply depicted in films (wisely?) as more advanced extrapolations of devices that were already familiar at the time the film was made, such as within the film series begun by the classic Alien (1979), where the starship Nostromo was simply an extremely large version of the space shuttles newly invented in the late 70's, with cryogenic refrigeration units added, and in which people were still utilizing rifles that fired small metal projectiles, grenades, and even common flamethrowers as weapons [it was revealed in at least one of the excellent Aliens comic books published by Dark Horse Comics that plasma-firing rifles were evidently developed in that future timeline, but were rarely ever utilized due to their destructive unpredictability; then again, in the future depicted in the Terminator film series, which only took place in the early decades of the 21st century, plasma-firing rifles were already developed, and they were both stable and efficient enough weapons for both the humans and their robotic/cybernetic opponents to use against each other without shredding their respective allies with friendly fire]. This is similar to how the social life, familial institutions, level of open-mindedness, etc., to be seen in these futures are often nothing more than idealized versions of the exact same social values and structures that are the accepted norm of the time in which the movies were made. Let's not forget all the women on those spacecrafts who did nothing more than serve the male astronauts coffee and scream at any remotely unusual sight in "future" films made in the 1950's, such as the seminal It! The Terror From Beyond Space (whose basic plot inspired Alien), or the comfortably familiar monogamous, heterosexual, same age relationships, and the cozy hierarchal nuclear family units that remain the social norm a few hundred years from now in the universe seen within the famous Star Trek franchise. These tableau's were all obviously designed to convince and/or reassure the people watching those films or TV shows at the time they are produced that the accepted social values and institutions they are personally familiar with and were raised all their lives to accept as "normal" are not merely creatures indicative of a specific time period and socio-economic order, but rather are entirely "natural" and eternal, even if they are not likely to exist in a completely different type of socio-economic or technological society. However, the naive assumptions and wishful thinking of the viewing public of any given area always override some of the most important lessons of history (including the historically ubiquitous concept of change), so the filmmakers are usually discouraged by the powers-that-be to take the social reality of their "future" society too much outside of the viewers' individual comfort zone, no matter how illogical it may appear to the more critical thinker or politically astute observer. That being the case, Destroy All Monsters deserves some credit for actually presenting the audience of 1968 with a logical future depiction of 1999, by presenting the world as more or less a simple advanced extension of the late '60's, without warp drive spacecraft (but only ships that went back and forth to the moon), laser or plasma-based weaponry, or with any type of technology that was anything more than what the nations of the "real" 1999 were able to come up with. This was in contrast to the laser firing pistols seen in the Toho sci-film The War in Space (1978), which took place ten years after its release date.

However, there was some technology available to the people of the Showa Series' 1999 that didn't exist by the "real" 1999, but as I said before, the nations of that reality had all of that alien technology left in their midst after the ill-fated Mysterian invasion of 1957, and even then the most elaborate example of advanced technology available to those nations of 1999 seen in the movie was the force field technology utilized in that film to help keep the kaiju of the world confined to Monster Island. The Moonlight SY-3 seen in the 1999 depicted in Destroy All Monsters was certainly far more credible in what became the "real" 1999 than the Jupiter 6 of the American TV series Lost In Space, which was airing around the same time as the aforementioned G-film was released, with that craft's proto warp drive technology and laser or plasma based weaponry (they never did specify which, to my knowledge, and I'm ashamed to admit that I was once a fan of that charming but highly illogical show, at least after it received its "family friendly" overhaul following the middle of the first season).

As regards the film of this review, the world depicted within clearly appeared to be the world of 1965, and the appearance of a spacecraft capable of travel past Mars wasn't that bizarre of an aberration when you consider the type of alien technology that the U.N. had within its grasp in that timeline. Also, let's not forget the other likely extrapolations of that technology, which appeared later in the Showa Series, such as the solar ray projection weapon that was utilized against the pupating Mothra four years earlier in Mothra, or the maser weaponry first used a year later against the green gargantua Gaila in War of the Gargantuas, and then subsequently against Godzilla and company many times thereafter. These other films clearly took place in the then-present, yet advanced weapons continued to be seen in the Toho dai kaiju films made after 1957, which all obviously happened in the same timeline that the failed invasion attempt of the Mysterians took place.
Now let's look at some of the continuity hints seen in the dialogue of the film that suggest that the story did indeed take place in 1965 of the Showa Series timeline. When King Ghidorah was revealed to be under the control of the Xillians, it was asserted by one member of the U.N. team, "he's under their control...he was always under their control." Now, since King Ghidorah was clearly under the control of the Nebulans and the Garogain later in the Showa continuity, this statement of surprise that King Ghidorah was controlled by external alien forces was an obvious reference to his apparently solo attack on Earth a year earlier, and also clearly implied that the idea that of a monster be controlled by alien beings was an unfamiliar notion to the political rulers of that Earth, something that would not have been the case if the story took place after the late 1960's, when attacks by monsters under the control of aliens or hidden races on Earth (e.g., the Seatopians) were as common as a rock star snorting cocaine. Further, the Xillians made a reference to choosing Godzilla and Rodan because "they defeated King Ghidorah before." Yes, that statement would be true at any time after Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster, but since King Ghidorah was likewise defeated by Angilas alongside Godzilla in 1972, when the space dragon had Gigan at his side in the latter instance, one must wonder why they would specifically choose Rodan if more monsters were available to them (again, it's my opinion that Mothra was then pupating in her cocoon on Infant Island, and further evidence of this is the fact that she was seen in her adult form a year later, thus making her unavailable for use by the Xillians). Also, it was established in Godzilla's Revenge circa 1969 that most of Earth's known kaiju were already somehow rounded up and situated on Monster Island by that year, and this included Godzilla and Rodan; however, in the film of this review, the Kaiju King and the Kaiju of the Sky were taken from disparate locations that were very close to Japan. Further, when Glenn and Fuji were asked on Planet X if it would be permissable for the aliens to "borrow" Godzilla and Rodan to use against King Ghidorah, Glenn replied, "...nobody knows where Godzilla and Rodan are." If this story took place sometime after the 1960's, when the monsters were by then on Monster Island (though still evidently able to leave at will during the early 1970's), then Glenn would surely have mentioned Monster Island as at least a likely place for the Xillians to locate Godzilla and Rodan. By even 1966, however, it was clearly revealed that most of Earth's kaiju had ceased their periodic attacks on Japan, and simply avoided the human race whenever possible by confining themselves to various islands in the South Pacific (see Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster [1966], Son of Godzilla [1967], King Kong Escapes [1967], and Yog, Monster From Space [1970] for more evidence of this), and Godzilla and company only paid populated areas of Japan a visit when a menace appeared there, or if manipulated by external alien control (as in Destroy All Monsters). The statement made by the Xilien Controller in regards to Godzilla and Rodan defeating King Ghidorah in the past appeared to be referring to the very recent past, and not a decade or more, a statement backed up by the aforementioned subsequent remarks of other characters within the film.

Hence, it's my contention that this movie did indeed take place in 1965, the year of its Japanese release date, as opposed to sometime in the future.

For unknown reasons, it took this film five years to reach American shores, and only after the release of the next three G-films [some G-fans have opined that the reason may have been due to an expected public ambivalence to the film as a result of Nick Adams's tragic suicide in 1967; the fact that Adams's 1966 dai kaiju film for Toho, War of the Gargantuas, also didn't reach American shores until 1970 (and often on a double drive-in bill with this film), suggests that there may indeed be some truth to that assertion]. Fortunately, UPA gave the film a quality release, with only very minor pieces from the movie being removed. Unfortunately, however, all three brief instances of the Controller of Planet X speaking in his native Xilien language were dubbed over or eliminated in the American version (the same was inexplicably done for the inferior international version, released in Europe as “Invasion of the Astro-Monsters,” in which some parts of the film were mistakenly left un-dubbed), since American and international distributors may have felt the Xilien language to appear overly exotic to Western viewers. An even further improved U.S. version of this great G-film is available from Paramount/Gateway video, and of course, the fully intact Japanese version is available from Video Daikaiju.

It should be further noted that during a brief time in the late 1980’s, this film played U.S. TV as “Godzilla vs. Ghidrah [sic].”

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