Godzilla Versus Hedorah [Gojira tai Hedora] (1971)

(aka, Godzilla Versus the Smog Monster)

It would be unfair to call this the ugly sister of Godzilla movies.

Unfair to ugly sisters, that is.

“Crazy aunt in the attic” might come closer to catching the spirit of the thing, but then Toho has never felt the need to hide this one.  We are talking about the absolute nadir of the entire Godzilla series, the worst in the increasingly childish 1970s series of Godzilla movies aimed squarely at little children.

After all, this is the Godzilla film where the cute little kid we find in the films of this era  — you know, the one who keeps calling on Godzilla to save them — has a collection of Godzilla toys!

I mean, imagine a world where a city destroying monster not only gets recognized as a hero but where, between fights between giant rubbery monsters, the manufacturers actually turn out Godzilla toys in what’s left of their factories.  The mind reels at the thought…

Even if we do know that this is undoubtedly a case of product placement.

This is also the Godzilla film about pollution.  In case you hadn’t guessed, they think it’s bad (which is about as much of an intelligent discussion of the issue as you are going to find here).  It is so much about pollution that the monster is in fact a smog-spewing garbage monster.  After all they wouldn’t want you to miss the point.  There is some comment along the way that the bacteria which make up Hedorah are from outer space, but don’t let that get in the way of that simple message about garbage (I’ll admit I’m just a wee bit surprised that Hedorah was not spontaneously generated from garbage, but I guess even they thought that was too absurd).

And then there are the little bits of animation.  I’m not sure why they are in there, nor are they all that impressive.  Think a painfully simple editorial cartoon brought to life in a limited, festival animation sort of style (think ugly and unattractive, or Bill Plympton without the talent or drawing skill).  But they do at least help hammer that message in even further:  pollution bad!

But this still isn’t bad enough.  It needs something more:  so why don’t we add a psychedelic rock band, complete with weird clothes, wild stage show, lots of colored lights, and a beach concert right out of those old AIP beach and bikinis movies.  But then, AIP distributed a lot of the Godzillas, so why not a Godzilla beach movie?

The good news is that Hedorah does attack and slaughter most of those socially concerned teens, but not before we’ve had to endure countless repeats of that dreadful song, “Save the Earth.” As I write this, I have it stuck in my head and it refuses to leave, so you can understand that I find this one of the few redeeming moments in the film.

If only it had come sooner.

Hedorah is also, without question, the ugliest Godzilla foe ever.  Now, just to be clear, this is not the sort of awesome ugly we find in monsters like Destroyah, nor the cute ugly of a Shar Pei.  This is just plain, old fashioned ugly ugly.  Now I’ll concede there is a certain amount of childhood disappointment at work here:  the trailers showed a monstrous storm upsetting a ship at sea and I thought that the Smog Monster would prove to be some sort of living cloud.  Compared to something that awesome, there aren’t many monsters that would be particularly satisfying.  But this is not one of them.

One of the things I’d missed about this one was the explanation of its name.  The cute kid tells us he picked the name for the original tadpole form of the creature because it came from the mud.  This seems puzzling, until you note that its name in Japanese is actually pronounced “hee-drah.”  The creature is actually named after the Hydra, from Greek mythology.  But whoever dubbed this back in the Seventies obviously missed that, so it wasn’t billed as “Godzilla vs. Hydrah”.

The most interesting aspect of this one is Hedorah’s ability to take on new forms as he grows — and even to revert to the earlier ones.  One suspects they did this so he could fly about as needed, or transform and then stand up and fight Godzilla.  This was later used far more effectively with Destroyah, although Mothra, at least in her standalone films of the Heisei era, can become whole flocks of little moths, or transform into at least one other form, and Megaguirus starts out as a whole swarm of smaller creatures before we reach the final ginormous version.  I suppose it was just too good an idea to let it molder in one of the lesser films.

Now don’t get me wrong:  I love Godzilla, I love all his movies.  And yes, that even includes these lesser efforts from the Seventies.

It’s just that some of them take a lot more love.

A lot more.

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