Thursday, April 1, 2010

Monster Zero (1965)

Trusting aliens is always a bad idea.

At some point in the mid-1960's something horrible started to happen to Godzilla movies. The started to get really bad. Before watching Monster Zero, I could never pinpoint what happened. I could never explain why Godzilla vs. Mothra was pretty good, but the movies from the late 60's and early 70's were really bad. The reason, simply put, is aliens. Not monsters from space, but actual, intelligent, humanoid aliens with the goal of conquering earth for their own purposes. While those aliens make their first on screen appearance here they don't immediately doom the series. Monster Zero, while little more than a B-rate science fiction film on the surface, is still an enjoyable member of the Godzilla franchise.

When last we left our fire-breathing hero, he had just defeated King Ghidorah with the help of Mothra and Rodan. We pick up an unspecified amount of time later, literally the year is 196X so your guess is as good as mine, and things are boring, without monsters and relatively pointless. An Asian dude and a Cracker go to space, meet some weird aliens on Planet X, not actually a planet, but a moon of Jupiter, and discover that King Ghidorah is there, blowing up rocks with his lightning breath. In return for a cure for cancer, the people of Earth agree to let the aliens borrow Godzilla and Rodan to fight King Ghidorah again. After they are victorious, and Godzilla does the greatest victory dancer ever, the monsters are nabbed by mind control and brought back to earth to conquer it for the water crazed aliens. In their time of need, man falls back on the questionable science of the Godzilla universe to defeat the aliens and break their mind control over the monsters. Monster Zero is the only film in the series to feature an American lead actor, Nick Adams, but that doesn't seem to change much since he's dubbed in Japanese and treated like a Japanese character. By this point, the Godzilla films were still popular with segments of the population, but the film is neither a critical or a major financial success. It remains one of the lesser known film in the series even though it's significantly better than some of the other movies.

In a lot of ways, Monster Zero has a lot in common with Godzilla vs. Mothra. Both films are action light, featuring less monster violence and destruction than I would like, but both movies are surprisingly fun to watch. Monster Zero takes the series into full on science fiction mode and it works fairly well this time. Even though the science fiction here is pretty bland and generic, the uniqueness of Godzilla and the other monsters prevents it from seeming too cookie-cutter. The film is paced briskly and has enough drama to keep it from getting boring. The monster fights, when we get them, are fun to watch, Godzilla's victory dance is one of the best moments in the series so far, and there are some surprisingly effective jokes. The problem with Monster Zero, and why it is not as good as Godzilla vs. Mothra, is that we spend far too much time with our characters here. We have painfully lame love stories, including the American falling for an alien woman, and several bits of character drama that serve no meaningful purpose. The last few movies had veered away from pigeonholing character drama into the movies, because the movies didn't need it, but Monster Zero is a step back in this respect.

I'm cautiously optimistic that the next few Godzilla movies will hold some surprises for me, but with the next film being Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, which is in fact a giant lobster, my prospects don't look very good. Monster Zero is, at least, a solid entry in the series and one that I wouldn't mind seeing again. At least it features some great destruction and the greatest victory dance of all time.


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