Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)

DVD Cover (Kraken Releasing)
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Overall Rating 60%
Overall Rating
Ranked #5,197
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Connections: Godzilla

From Earth's pollution a new monster is spawned. Hedorah, the smog monster, destroys Japan and fights Godzilla while spewing his poisonous gas to further the damage. --IMDb
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Review by Crispy
Added: May 17, 2014
After the lazy, cobbled-together wreck that was All Monsters Attack, I was a bit leary of starting up the next movie in the series. I've never seen Godzilla vs. Hedorah before and it "enjoys" a reputation of being one of the franchise's bottom feeders. After watching it, I can see where the criticism is stemming from, but it's vastly overblown. In fact, I quite enjoyed it.

It's certainly no secret that we haven't done our home planet any favors. In fact, we've pumped gallons of sludge into its oceans, left tons of garbage into its forests, and sent a never-ending stream of smog into its air. Out at sea, all that pollution has manifested itself into a living being called Hedorah, a tadpole made of acidic sludge that's destroying tankers left and right. Ken Yano and his marine biologist father are studying the creature when an impossibly large specimen attacks, leaving both suffering from severe burns. Apparently, these tadpoles can split and rejoin into separate creatures whenever it wants. As it feeds on the world's pollution, it grows in both strength and size, evolving the abilities to both walk on land and fly. It's an incredibly deadly creature, launching globs of acidic mud and emitting a cloud of sulfuric acid in its wake. Ken has always been a huge Godzilla fan, and constantly hopes Godzilla will arrive to fight off the monster. As pure luck would have it, that's exactly what happens, but it seems even Big G is powerless against Hedorah. His atomic breath merely send sparks flying, his powerful claws only sink into the smog monster's gooey body, and it's vicious fumes burn the King's throat and eyes. If Godzilla falls, they'll be nothing to stop this manifestation of mankind's carelessness from destroying the planet.

My lord was this a dark movie. You see, this was Yoshimitsu Banno's first time directing a Godzilla movie, and this new perspective was felt throughout the entire movie. Plus, long time producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was hospitalized during filming, so Banno basically had free reign to do what he wanted. As I'm sure you could tell from the plot, he's something of an environmentalist nut, and admittedly the film does get a little preachy at times, but he makes up for it by making Hedorah by far the most dangerous monster Godzilla's faced yet. As Hedorah is flying around, his sulfuric acid exhaust reduces people to skeletons in mere seconds and the newscast repeatedly point out the ever-rising death toll. Even Godzilla himself isn't immune to Hedorah's poisons, and while Banno should definitely have cut out a good portion of the time the monsters spend eying each other up, once the battle began it quickly became perhaps the most brutal in the series. Not only do they exchange an eye for an eye during the fray, but Godzilla's body is covered in toxic sulfur and caustic burns. Hell, his hand is melted away to the bones halfway through. And then there's the killing blow. Holy hell, was that awesome. Not only that, but Banno had a pretty unique eye for camera placement, creating new ways to show off the scale of the kaiju and catching their melee perfectly. Watching Godzilla go at it with the much bigger Hedorah certainly makes you step back and wonder if he's up to the challenge.

Unfortunately, Banno decided to balance out the darker tone with a few light-hearted moments, and it's in these moments where the film falls apart. Hell, the problem itself might be just how jarring those two sides are. For starters, this movie mirrors All Monsters Attack in that it uses a ten year old as it's main protagonist. Fortunately, his role is small enough and he's surrounded by enough adults that he's not completely overbearing. Also, Banno is apparently a huge fan of psychedelia. There are random scenes of Ken's uncle and his girlfriend dancing in a psychedelic club, and the special effects frequently run the entire color spectrum. Some of it isn't too distracting; I wasn't a fan of the bright purple that accompanied Hedorah's transformation from phase to phase, but I could live with it. The three or four colors that accompanied his victim's melting away to bones was entirely unnecessary though. Likewise, the score had always been a low-end, ominous piece that matched the destruction these kaiju wrought. It's been replaced with a light-hearted, 70's number that seems completely at odds with what's going on. It's not a welcome juxtaposition. If Banno had exercised a little restraint here, this might have been damned near perfect.

Most of those complaints are stylistic choices, and while they're certainly annoying, I could have lived with them. Banno made one decision though that frankly, pissed me the hell off. Late in the movie, Hedorah transforms back to his flying stage and beats a hasty retreat. Godzilla blasts his atomic breath at the ground and uses it as a makeshift jet engine to fly after him. What. The. Fuck. This is the kind of bullshit an eight year old would think up. There was no reason for that. Godzilla could have hit him with his atomic blast or thrown a rock or something to knock him out of the air. The military could have dropped another of the oxygen bombs they've been using towards that same end. Hedorah could have turned around in an offensive move and attacked Godzilla. There's an infinite number of moves they could have made instead of that awful abomination of an idea. When Tanaka got out of the hospital and saw the movie, he was furious. He told Banno that he had "ruined Godzilla" and blacklisted the man from Toho. While I'd say that was a little extreme, I'm willing to bet that this scene was a huge part of that anger.

Most people will tell you Godzilla vs. Hedorah was a bad Godzilla movie. Au contrare. It's a pretty damned good Godzilla movie, but it's so depressing when you realize how easily it could have been a GREAT Godzilla movie. 7/10 for the final project, but those tweaks would easily have brought it to a nine. Hell, the flying bullshit alone cost it a point and a half.
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