Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971) Review

After Godzilla was supposed to end with the release of Destroy All Monsters, followed by his disappointing revival in All Monsters Attack, the franchise sat in a rather peculiar place. It seemed no one knew what to do with it and so, for the first time since the 50’s, Godzilla missed it’s one film a year schedule, resulting in 1970 being the first year not to see a Godzilla film release since 1963. It seemed some innovation was needed on the franchise, and this innovation resulted in the most bizarre Godzilla film to date, releasing in 1971: Godzilla vs Hedorah. With a new director at the helm, Yoshimitsu Banno, Toho hoped to reinvigorate the franchise with new ideas, and Banno definetly delivered. For a long time by this point, Godzilla hadn’t really been about anything other than monsters fighting and alien invasions, as the anti-nuclear themes had largely faded into the background a long time ago in favour of making more accessible films. What Banno wanted to do was make his film about something again, and that thing was environmental pollution.

When a new monster, Hedorah, begins terrorising ships at sea and polluting the Earth, a scientist soon discovers that it feeds off of humanity’s pollution of the planet and becomes stronger the more it does so. When it comes to land, Godzilla attempts to intervene but Hedorah proves too much to handle, and so the humans and Godzilla must work together to destroy Hedorah and save the Earth.

Godzilla vs Hedorah is a strange film because what it does well it does really well. The main antagonist, Hedorah, is a very unique and horrific monster to look at. It takes on multiple forms when at sea, on land and in the air which makes it a versatile foe. On top of that, it fights Godzilla by poisoning him with gas, drowning him in sludge and decaying him with acid, all of which are methods of fighting we’ve yet to see in the franchise. The monster really is an embodiment of pollution, and his mere presence causes humans who get too close to collapse and die from his toxic aura. Even Godzilla holds his throat after being around him for too long. Hedorah in his final form is also much larger than Godzilla and doesn’t feel pain, so no matter how much Godzilla tries to rip him apart it doesn’t really matter until a weakness can be found. The final battle is, therefore, one that stands out in the franchise as entirely unique. Despite being slow going and a departure from Ishiro Honda’s fast paced scenes, there are a lot of new elements at play because of Hedorah’s strange state of being. In the end, the humans concoct a plan to dry Hedorah up, since he is a big sludge monster, which results in Godzilla holding Hedorah in place so the humans can attack him. The finale is the best part of the film and Hedorah is a very unique and, dare I say, underrated monster to see on screen.

However, this film is a double edged sword because what it does badly it does very badly. There is, for instance, a side plot where a child has a psychic link to Godzilla so that he knows whenever he is coming. This is never put to use in any way that helps the characters or advances the plot, and nor is it ever explained. The environmental message of this film is also incredibly ham-fisted. Now, Godzilla has always been a ham-fisted franchise, but never the extent where the entire film grinds to a halt to present an isolated scene where a child can tell us that Godzilla hates pollution, followed by footage of Godzilla setting fire to sewage that has invaded the ocean. Then there’s the random animated sequences that appear out of no where, which similarly serve no purpose to the film. These animated segments tend to feature Hedorah absorbing sources of pollution, but since the audience already knows he can do this, it isn’t as though we are learning anything new from them, and thus they are pointless. Finally there is the music: The two stand out pieces of music in this film are the song about how all the animals are disappearing due to climate change, and the really annoying cue that plays whenever Godzilla is on screen. A lot of this film is quite dark and violent, given how Hedorah is quite malicious and attacks humans frequently, but the music is always upbeat and child like, resulting in a tonal disconnect between what you’re seeing and what you’re hearing.

Of course there is one specific moment in this film I have to mention… If you have not heard of Godzilla vs Hedorah, you might also know it as Godzilla vs the Smog Monster… Or you might know it as the one where Godzilla flies! Yes, Godzilla does fly in this movie by tucking his tail between his legs, and firing his atomic breath in the opposite direction he wants to go. He uses this ability to knock Hedorah out of the air when he tries to escape the human trap. It is incredibly goofy and charming, despite making no sense and being completely stupid in every way. In fact, I feel that if more of the film was stupid in this charming kind of way, rather than in the weird and bizzare kind of way, it would have been much better.

But over all this film is just too inconsistent in too many areas for it to stand up to some of the other films in the series so far. It is by no means a bad Godzilla film, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a good one either. If it’s main strength is providing a fresh and exciting Godzilla experience you may not have seen before, it’s weakness is that very same thing. And unlike films I have said similar things about (Son of Godzilla or Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster for example), this film doesn’t have the same charm or heart in its production. So if the worst sin a film can commit is be boring… Then, aside from the last 20 minutes, this film is exactly that. Yet, despite it’s inconsistencies, I would recommend this film to Godzilla fans because of how odd and unique it is compared to all the others. If you are not a hardcore fan however, I’d recommend either skipping this one or moving it down your watchlist a little.

At the end of every Godzilla review I rate the films I have seen so far based on what I thought of them. Find the updated list below:

  1. Destroy All Monsters (1968)
  2. Invasion of Astro-Monster (1965)
  3. King Kong vs Godzilla (1963)
  4. Mothra vs Godzilla (1964)
  5. Godzilla (1954)
  6. Ebirah Horror of the Deep (1966)
  7. Son of Godzilla (1967)
  8. Ghidorah the Three-Headed Monster (1964)
  9. Godzilla vs Hedorah (1971)
  10. All Monsters Attack (1969)
  11. Godzilla Raids Again (1955)

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