Also known as Gamera vs. Viras. Just as the Showa era Gamera series was really starting to build-up steam, doing its own thing and being really fun and wacky, Destroy All Planets had to come along and wind everything back a notch. Buried within Destroy All Planets is actually a pretty decent, if typical, vintage Gamera film. It’s major failing is the over abundance of gratuitous stock footage making up about a quarter or more of the entire film. While it doesn’t whore the stock footage to the extent of, say, Gamera: Super Monster, the 20+ minutes of the stuff forces the film to really spin its wheels in the middle.
Destroy All Planets (1968)
Deadly body-snatching aliens have decided that Earth is the perfect planet to colonize. Alas, there is one major obstacle in their path: a giant rocket-turtle named Gamera (Teruo Aragaki). Capitalizing on Gamera’s notorious love of all children, the aliens kidnap a pair of prank-playing Boy Scouts, Jim (Carl Craig) and Masao (Toru Takatsuka), thus forcing Gamera to do their bidding. As Gamera is brainwashed into destroying Tokyo, Jim and Masao search for a way to override the aliens’ mind control device and escape from their spacecraft. But even if they succeed, the aliens have a trump card up their tentacles: the gargantuan squid-monster Viras!
At its core, Destroy All Planets yearns to be a good Showa era Gamera movie, or at least as good as any other installment in that gloriously cheesy series. However, Daiei saddles it with a rather unfortunate budget, or lack thereof, which forces it to resort to extensive amounts of stock footage. There’s a 20-minute segment in the middle of the film where the aliens read Gamera’s mind, watching his battles with Barugon and Gyaos from War of the Monsters and Return of the Giant Monsters. If you’ve watched those films recently prior to viewing Destroy All Planets, this segment will drag like you wouldn’t believe. Though, on the flip side, if you haven’t seen either of those films, then the segment rubs off as those films boiled down to “the good stuff”, which may not be so bad.
Perhaps the film’s worst offense comes during Gamera’s Tokyo attack, which consists entirely of recycled footage from Gammera the Invincible. That’s right, the black and white one. So for about three or four minutes near the last third of the film, the otherwise color Destroy All Planets inexplicably turns black and white so it can save money. If Daiei were known for anything, generous spending it was not.
But ignoring the excess of stock footage, there’s a lot of fun stuff going on in Destroy All Planets. The prepubescent protagonists are two of the better kid heroes of the series, acting precociously ahead of their age and skipping much of the annoyance factor the little kids in these movies tend to exude. I honestly had no idea the Japanese had their own branch of the Boy Scouts, and the subplot makes for some nice metropolitan casting, giving us an American lead as well as a Japanese one. Incidentally, neither Jim nor Masao compete for “primary hero” status, with both having skills that help save the day. There’s some equal opportunity ethnic stereotyping going on, as Masao shows an aptitude for gadgets because all Japanese people are good at math and science, while Jim is a lasso-swinging prodigy because all Americans are cowboys.
Gamera’s love of children, while often used as a means of derision, is actually one of his strongest and most endearing qualities and it really shows through in Destroy All Planets. By the ‘60s, Toho’s Godzilla had been firmly established as a heroic character, though his personality could best be described as “standoffish”. This often kept Godzilla out of the main narrative since he wanted nothing to do with humans, leading the main cast to bogart 80% of the film. Gamera’s love of children allows him to socialize with the human cast and engage in antics that keep him active in the film even when there are no monsters to fight. For example, Destroy All Planets opens with Jim and Masao enjoying a friendly “race” with Gamera as they pilot a submarine.
Not counting the stock footage slapped into the middle of the film, Destroy All Planets takes a very long time to get to its monster battle, with the aliens not combining into the giant land-squid Viras until the last fifteen minutes or so. The newly-shot action footage before that consists mostly of Gamera battling their spaceship, which to Director Noriaka Yuasa’s credit, is actually pretty cool, particularly when Gamera sticks his head through the side of the ship and roasts all the aliens inside with his flame breath.
Viras is a pretty stupid-looking kaiju, even by Daiei standards, and his power set pales in comparison to that of Gamera’s previous foes. His only real ability is the power to turn his cranium into a spear and then propel himself at Gamera in an attempt to impale him. To the regret of children everywhere, this strategy succeeds.
If one removed the needless mind-reading scene and Gamera’s recycled attack on Tokyo, Destroy All Planets would boil down to one of the more enjoyable films in the Showa series, if one without much of a giant monster battle. It has two surprisingly tolerable kids headlining the cast and quite a lot of giant turtle filling up the run time. If you simply opt to fast forward through the cheap retreaded moments, you’ll stand a better chance of seeing the positive qualities in this film.