I’ve made it known I prefer Gamera to Godzilla, but a lot of this has to do with me not feeling compelled to like what everyone elese likes. However, there was a reason Godzilla became a beloved character, and I’m in no way immune to his charm. There were a lot more Godzilla movies than Gamera ones and I did enjoy them all growing up. Out of all of the Godzilla moves that were on rotation Saturday afternoons, the one I probably remember most of all is Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, played last night on Svengoolie. So here is my opinion of it having rewatched it in middle-age.
The plot of this film is a mess in the sense that it seems to have been sort of improvised out of thin air rather than crafted in a logical way. This is a hallmark of B-movies, a sort of childlike randomness as the plot shifts, stream of consciousness, from beat to beat. To apply any sort of critical thinking to the plot immediately destroys suspension of disbelief. So only in the most superficial ways does the film succeed in any sort of world-building, but if viewed on that level, it does it well.
Considering that I was more of a sci-fi than horror fan growing up, I liked the idea of a monster movie that emphasized aliens and spaceships. And right from the first frame of the picture we are out in space heading for Planet X. So many monster movies are a matter of slogging through a long drawn out build-up in suspense that I liked having adventure right from the start. This is also one of two films with Nick Adams speaking in english in the middle of dubbed voices, which is a unique experience. It also helped that his character is the same as my first name.
There is a certain unshakeable professionalism in the model and FX work in these old monster movies. Even when the effect isn’t convincing, there is a certain earnestness and naivete to it. You can tell they put in their best effort, no matter what the budgetary constraints were. They also employed a range of visual tricks from shot to shot. Early on in the film the elevator from the spaceship appears to use a static miniature astronaut holding the railing. This is then blended with a live action astronaut at the bottom in the same shot.
This intercutting and blending between miniatures and live action is quite clever and it gets the look across even when it’s cheesy and unrealistic. In other films they would probably never even attempt shots like this for fear they couldn’t do them justice, but in the Japanese films they would just plow full speed ahead, and for that I give them props.
The single most redeeming aspect of this film, however, is the Xiliens. They are not identified by name, but anyone above a certain age knows what they look like, as the look is truly iconic. Yes, these are the aliens with the trademark wraparound sunglasses and the antenna sticking out of their heads.
I guess the one word I’d use to describe them is “mod”. They could only have been designed in the Austin Powers world of the mid 60s.
The other aspect of Xilien culture that works so well is the diving-bell UFO design of their spaceships, and the instantely recognizable whine of their engines. The spaceships seem to have been plucked straight out of a UFO sighting. Plus, there is a “we’re already here” aspect of them infiltrating society that, although done earlier in This Island Earth, is more of a precursor of The Invaders from two years later.
The film shares some similarities to the V miniseries as far as an alien species claiming to come in peace and to offer an exchange in return for a miracle cure for disease. This is in turn the classic case of the Trojan Horse. Literary references aside, how this plays out is rather clumsy, as it needs to wedge in some monster brawling in the middle. This is why I named the blog post “Can we borrow your guard dogs?”
For whatever reason the aliens constructed a ruse in which Ghidorah (aka Monster Zero) is a “pest” which the aliens fee they can’t get rid of unless siccing other monsters on him. Rather than simply taking the monsters, though, which they could very well have done, they treat them as if they are guard dogs, i.e. “pets”. Therefore they need to cut a deal with their owners (meaning us, humans).
If you’re willing to accept this, then you are treated to the whimsical image of Godzilla and Rodan being carried in womb-like bubbles to be plopped onto Planet X to perform the equivalent of a dog fight with Ghidorah.
The two of them seem perfectly content to pop out of their bubbles and immediately team up against Ghidorah. This first fight scene, albeit brief, is really fun to watch. This is because the guys in the suits move around with almost kung-fu levels of energy and enthusiasm. So as limited as the monster smackdowns are in this film, what little is there is truly top of the line ass-kicking and with a huge dose of anthropomorphised body language.
Here are the highlights, punctuated by Godzilla’s adorable victory dance.
It’s notable that by this time there’s no concept that Rodan and Godzilla might actually fight each other. It’s just a given that they’ve somehow decided to be buddies, which is kind of nice. Also, while it’s understandable that Godzilla would become a good guy, the film allows Rodan to also be a “good guy” which is a little strange. At this point in time I think the franchise was unsure how they were going to handle the monster “character arcs” as it were. Over time they tended to focus on Godzilla as the lone “good guy” and the other monsters remained more amoral and simply contained on Monster Island. But here Rodan functions (literally) like a sidekick.
This is a reach because the two of them don’t have much screen time to do much, at least not via their free-will. That’s because somehow the fall under the spell of Xilien control, similar to Ghidorah, and the three of them are used to blackmail humanity into surrendering the planet.
In the middle of all this is a spy thriller / romantic subplot involving Nick Adams and a love interest who is a double-agent. And for whatever reason. all the women on Planet X look the same (clones?). There’s one scene where Nick Adams confronts her that has about as much pathos as you’ll ever see in a monster movie, punctuated by her being sadly disinterated via the aliens. So the pulpy aspect of man-meets-girl and girl-turns-out-to-be-scheming-alien is there too.
Another aspect of the film is how much zig-zagging back and forth there is between Planet X and earth, up to and including the aliens replicating the earth rocket to ferry the guys back. It just seems like there’s no distance at all between the two planets based on how characters seem to pop back and forth and back and forth, leading to that feeling of the plot being improvised from scene to scene.
Anyway, the various plot twists allow Godzilla and Rodan to revert back into their old ways of conducting indiscriminate destruction, and this is when all of the stock footage from earlier films was recycled. It’s during this part of the film where the usual crush, crumble, and chomp routine starts to feel obligatory and stale. It’s like we know it has to happen. It’s ticking the box. But there’s only so many times you can watch monsters crunch a city before it gets boring.
Finally our heroes figure out a way to short-circuit Xilien control. The thing about this is there’s never a doubt in their minds that after Rodan and Godzilla have recaptured their free-will that they will stop wrecking cities, kick Ghidorah’s ass, and then politely disappear until they’re needed again.
And that’s exactly what they do. It’s what everyone wants them to do, of course, and they do it. So the idea of monsters being animalistic and unpredictable has gone by the wayside and a certain amount of trust has been built up between society and at least these two monsters that they are no longer interested in just aimlessly rampaging, but that they exercise conscious restraint in only attacking a foreign invader (i.e. Ghidorah) and then conveniently staying out of humanity’s way.
The battle at the end is also very brief, but brutal, with Rodan using his beak to bite Ghidorah’s tail and carrying Godzilla so he can kind of fly into him.
It has all the hallmarks of a choreographed professional wrestling match. It’s classic monster fighting at its best. Just all too short.
At the very end of the picture, there is some final dialogue that assumes (though never stated outright) that with Planet X’s controller dead that the remaining population on Planet X has been liberated from oppression and so now Nick Adams and company should fly out there as a peace ambassador. This sort of hastily tacked on happy ending is the kind of thing you’d expect from a B-movie where the filmmakers just didn’t have enough of a grasp of film technique to know how to construct a proper epilogue.
In total, the film is really the epitome of a solid B-movie. It’s got a little filler here and there, but for the most part fits the mold of delivering a mixture of spectacle, intrigue, and even a bit of melodrama, all in a convoluted package of plot-holes and leaps of logic. If it were a tighter story it would not have the same charm, but as it is, it can be enjoyed best in midnight movie fashion with your brain half-asleep.
Luckily, as with many movies in this genre, you CAN find the entire film streaming for free. Here it is in all its cheesy glory.