CAPSULE: DESTROY ALL PLANETS (1968)

Gamera tai uchu kaijû Bairasu; AKA Gamera vs. Viras

DIRECTED BY: Noriaki Yuasa

FEATURING: Toru Takasuka, Carl Craig

PLOT: Finding that Gamera is the only thing standing between them and the conquest of Earth, aliens attempt to enslave the flying turtle through mind control but are foiled by a pair of precocious boy scouts.

Still from Destroy All Planets (1968)

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Kaiju (Japanese giant rubber suited monster) flicks are, collectively, a moderately weird class of movies.  And Gamera, with his implausible biomechanics—the turtle’s shell must be protecting a belly full of jet fuel necessary to power his flame breath and the four rockets that spout fire when he retracts his legs—is one of the strangest of a strange menagerie of giant lizards, birds and moths. But the weirdness in this one resides strictly on a light entertainment, comic book/pop culture plane, suitable for a goofy afternoon matinee but not for a spot on the List of the Best Weird Movies ever made.

COMMENTSDestroy All Planets is a kid’s movie, for sure.  Both adults and aliens in this movie are constantly punked by short-pantsed tykes, electronics prodigies who sabotage mini-subs and alien spacecraft with equal ease.  Adults should be able to mine a reasonable amount of mindless enjoyment from this flick, though, whether it comes from pure nostalgia or from a simple appreciation of the child’s-eye absurdity of a world where giant turtles befriend kids while protecting the Earth from alien invasions.  Although cheap, the set and costume design is colorful and inventive.  The aliens have a consistent beehive theme, from their yellow and black striped bumblebee spacecraft to their honeycomb shaped instrument panels to the hive mentality of the alien drones who keep the ship running.  Plenty of psychedelic-era special effects are deployed, like kaleidoscopic viewfinders and crayola-on-the-negative ray-gun blasts.  The kaiju clashes are nice and violent, if longish, with monsters spouting a nice variety of blood colors when gashed.  (Longtime followers of the series will feel cheated, however, when they realize that most of the carnage is recycled footage from the turtle’s previous adventures).  Gamera pulls off his patented spinning pinwheel move in the climax, after being impaled in his soft underbelly by the head of his squidlike opponent!  There are also plenty of head scratching moments to keep fans of illogical plot devices entertained, as when the U.N. Security Council unanimously votes to surrender to the aliens rather than sacrificing the lives of the two hostage brats.  To top things off we have surprisingly hilarious alien decapitations and an arm that comes flying off when lassoed.  Destroy All Planets may not be good, even among its type, but it’s rarely boring.

Everyone should probably see at least one Gamera movie in their film watching career.  Since almost half the running time of this fourth entry in the series is composed of flashbacks and recycled footage from the turtle’s previous three outings, this may be an excellent place to start.  After watching Gamera stomp Barugon, Gaos, and half of Tokyo in scenes from the previous movies, you’ll feel right up to speed on the titanic terrapin’s exploits immediately.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“..this is one of the lamest of the Gamera movies, though it does have some touches that I’ve come to identify with the series. Gamera’s foe is certainly bizarre looking, the scene where he becomes giant is truly surreal, and the violence is gorier and a bit edgier than you find in a Godzilla movie…”–Dave Sindelar, “Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings” (DVD)

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