After the abomination that was All Monsters Attack I found it a bit wearisome to see how many Godzilla films I had left. Encouraging is the general consensus that it is the worst one of the lot, so onwards and upwards hopefully, onto 1971’s offering; Godzilla vs. Hedorah.
The general tone of this entry casts aside the children’s matinee feeling that had the last few films slowly nudged the franchise into, this is an evasive eco-awareness story, opening with a cheerful-sounding song typical of the era. The subtitles alert us however to the fact that the lyrics paint a brutal image of pollution to the sea and air eventually causing the demise of mankind, with the refrain being a desperate plea for the sun to return to earth. A pretty sombre message considering the previous film was about a little boy running around with a talking mini-Manilla (I’ll try to eventually stop moaning about All Monsters Attack). Continuing the theme, the titular monster, while looking actually pretty awesome, is basically an enormous pile of sulfur-exuding, smog-inhaling sludge that literally represents the effects of pollution on the earth. Godzilla here turns eco-warrior, not only setting upon Hedorah as the title hints at, but getting pretty miffed at the nasty piles of junk and muck floating around the Japanese coastline. Theme tune aside the message doesn’t feel like it’s being mashed into the film forcefully, it’s more clever than that, making “pollution is bad” an integral part of the story. The monster scenes are considerably slower-paced, with more time featuring them facing off, building up to the fights, and letting us see a much more intelligent Godzilla as he measures up his foe and eventually employing tools to defeat him.
All this seems very dark, serious and almost adult again, and a number of scenes showing Hedorah’s effect on people are pretty unpleasant, but somehow we once again have a small child as a main character who inexplicably knows what Godzilla’s up to & comes up with all the answers the scientists can’t figure out. It’s a complete contradiction of my previous comment that it chucks out the child’s matinee tone, and that’s the biggest issue with this film; it is in itself a constant contradiction. It flips between dark and grim, to childish and almost whimsical. And that’s before I begin to mention the weird moments that sit in a tone of their own such as the few brief animated sequences. Or the subplot where, basically, a group of hippies have a party in the middle of nowhere for no reason (complete with electric guitars and keyboards somehow). Or the new hidden talent that Godzilla reveals very near the end…
It’s largely a decent return to form for the Godzilla franchise, with a strong purpose, some great scenes of devastation & monster mayhem and some awesome “hero” shots of the lizard. Hedorah’s design is fantastic, somehow making a monster suit that both actually looks like a gloopy pile of sludge, and is quite a horrific sight for the right reasons. However, the enjoyment and involvement is frequently broken by odd events that make you wonder what you’re actually watching, and shifts in tone that suggest they couldn’t quite commit to a return to a more adult film. Despite it’s issues, it represents a massive step back in the right direction, and certianly enough to rekindle my interest.