Many people, either through a gross misconception or nostalgia, have been LED to believe that Destroy All Monsters (1968) is somehow the pinnacle of Godzilla films. This is simply not the case. While there is some fun to be found in Destroy All Monsters, Monster Zero is actually the pinnacle of all middle-era Godzilla films (1962-1975).
Although there is a generally accepted distinction of the different eras of Godzilla films, I don't subscribe to it. While these things are mostly arbitrary, I argue that the first two Godzilla films are in a class of their own, separate from the later films. The first being a symbolic treatise on man's use of science without thought to the repercussions. The second (Godzilla Returns) as mostly a shuffled-together attempt to grasp onto the popularity of the first.
Then came the attempts of King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) through Terror of MechaGodzilla (1975) which signaled the nearly constant production of Godzilla films (and raising and lowering of the budgets for those productions). This era is still the most consistently "flavored" of Godzilla's films, and the one which most fans of the King of Kaiju still remember best.
For all that, it's important to find what worked and what didn't out of this series of films, and also to find the one film that had more of what worked and less of what didn't.
|Seen here: Things That Didn't Work|
The basic plot of the Monster Zero follows the discovery of a new planet in our solar system. Two astronauts are sent to investigate, and they discover aliens who are constantly being attacked by a giant monster they call...wait for it...."Monster Zero." These aliens ask if the people of Earth will give over Godzilla and Rodan. You know, to help the aliens, but also in exchange for miracle medicines. Turns out, it was a hoax set up by the aliens to get all the giant monsters on their side so they could rule the world. Sneaky!!
|Sneaky aliens, kidnapping Godzilla|
One particularly great aspect of science fiction films of this time period is the design work that goes into a coherent vision of the future. It's a bit cheesy to us now, but that's part of its charm. There's an optimism about the boundless possibilities that space travel offered coupled with budgetary constraints. In short, Middle-era Godzilla films include some of the best retro-designs of the future, and Monster Zero is chock-full of them.
|That spacesuit! The backdrop!|
|This rocketship couldn't be more retro if it tried.|
|Sunglasses, leather vests, AND antennas!|
|Space-saucers and secret tunnels!!|
While the imagery looks great and perfectly represents its period of science fiction, there's also an actual story to the film. Sure, it's mostly in place to justify the action on the screen, the giant monster fights, and the aliens. But it's serviceable enough to have an "arc" to at least one character. The film begins with a lowly inventor trying to peddle his wares. He wants to marry the sister of a big, bad astronaut, but he's basically a goof. Turns out, he gets to be a bit of a hero because his inventions are the savior of mankind (because they make loud noises, but whatever).
Monster Zero is the greatest acheivement of middle-era Godzilla films. It perfectly illustrates the retrofuturism of its time, contains a human-level story that is both relatable and clear, and shows a variety of giant monster fights with some context to those encounters. If you're looking to introduce someone to this stretch of Godzilla films, this is the perfect entry point.
|Bonus: Nick Adams, Pugilist|