DVD Review

Mania Grade: B+

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  • Disc Grade: A-
  • Reviewed Format: DVD
  • Rated: PG
  • Stars: Toshie Kimura, Hiroyuki Kawase, Keiko Mari, Toshio Shiba, Yukihiko Gondo, Tadashi Okabe, Wataru Omae, Susumu Okabe, Akira Yamauchi, Haruo Nakajima, Kenpachiro Satsuma
  • Writers: Yoshimitsu Banno, Takeshi Kimura
  • Director: Yoshimitsu Banno
  • Distributor: Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment
  • Original Year of Release: 1971
  • Suggested Retail Price: $24.96
  • Extras: Anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1; English & Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0; English & French subtitles; trailers


Save the Earth!

By Brian Thomas     October 22, 2004

Released in the USA by American International Pictures under the title GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER, this marks the film's first US video release under its original title. This one rivals THE X FROM OUTER SPACE and ALL MONSTERS ATTACK (aka GODZILLA'S REVENGE) as one of the oddest giant monster movies ever made.

By 1970, Japan's Economic Miracle produced an industrial giant choking on its own refuse, just like every other industrial nation. First time director Yoshimitsu Banno successfully pitched a story idea for a new film to Toho, hoping to replace the nuclear paranoia of the first Godzilla picture with environmental paranoia. His villain is a Blob-like creature from outer space who thrives on Earth's pollution, becoming an ever-growing sludge glob named Hedorah ("hedero" is Japanese for "sludge").

Our guide on this adventure is little Ken Yano (Hiroyuki Kawase), young son of the scientist Dr. Toru Yano (Akira Yamauchi) who discovers the monster in "tadpole" form. Dr. Yano is burned by the beast's acids on an exploratory scuba dive, but nevertheless pops up from time to time to explain the monster phenomena. First seen attacking ships at sea, Hedorah (Kenpachiro Satsuma) soon makes his way inland to suck up and spew forth toxic filth, and is even seen flying over crowds of people as they drop in their tracks, dead from poison gas. Yet, during Hedorah's first venture on land, the monster sends a gooey tentacle into a discotheque, and when it's withdrawn, it leaves behind a little kitten! Of course, as Godzilla fan Ken predicts, Godzilla comes forward to defend the Earth from the smoggy invader. Meanwhile, dedicated scientist Dr. Yano looks for a weapon to use against the monster.

In battle with Godzilla (Haruo Nakajima), the smog monster sprays Godzilla's eyes with burning acids, then buries him in poison sludge. During Hedorah's aerial assault, Ken comes upon the oozing, steaming skeletons of the creature's victims. Pretty graphic stuff for a series increasingly aimed at children, presenting the first large-scale depiction of human casualties in a monster film since the original GODZILLA. Other adult aspects crop up throughout the film. News reports mention entrepreneurs hawking anti-Hedorah gas masks. One of the hip heroes (Toshio Shiba, TV's MIRRORMAN) has an LSD hallucination in the disco, and later leads Japanese teenagers to marshal their dancing talents to combat the threat amid the hypnotic swirl of disco lighting. "Pretty soon we'll all be dead! Come on, blow your mind!" he urges in the English version. In a sequence illustrating media overload following monster attacks, multiple television screens show frightened and angry citizens, along with some shots of the monsters and corpses. On the other hand, a lot of the material is pretty childish, as if (not unlike ALL MONSTERS ATTACK) the entire thing was taking place in Ken's dreams. A perfect example of this is the notorious scene where Godzilla uses his oral beam (atomic fire breath to the uninitiated) to fly in pursuit of the fleeing Hedorah. Silly stuff like that makes even kids cringe.

Banno tried to take this Godzilla film further into surrealism than any before, with mixed results. Some scenes illustrate complicated scientific concepts with animated children's drawings, and a great opening song: "Save the Earth" appears as a sort of music video sequence. The relevant anti-pollution message occasionally becomes heavy handed. At other times things are just plain weird. Series director Ishiro Honda was in semi-retirement, f/x wizard Eiji Tsuburaya had just died, and producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was in the hospital while GODZILLA VS. HEDORAH was being filmed, so Banno and his crew had a free hand to pretty much do whatever they wanted. Reportedly, Tanaka-san was most unhappy when he saw the final result, and Banno never directed another film. Despite all, it remains an entertaining film, even if only for camp value.

For those confused by the DVD cover, 2004 marks Godzilla's 50th anniversary, not this particular film, and they're making an effort (no doubt at the urging of G-fan Sony producer Michael Schlesinger) to acquire and release as many G-films as they can on DVD. Several Godzilla DVDs of more recent films were released early in 2004, while this HEDORAH disc is accompanied by two more 1970s era films: GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA and GODZILLA VS. GIGAN. Two more, 2003's GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. and 1967's SON OF GODZILLA are set to arrive by Christmas. In the 20th century, Godzilla fans considered themselves lucky if they were able to see a G-film in its original aspect ratio, or in Japanese with subtitles. However, this new series of CTHE DVDs gives you all this and more. Each film is given a slick High Definition widescreen transfer from an excellent archival print, and is accompanied by original Japanese and English dubbed soundtracks. The English track comes from the international release version, which is a closer translation, though some fans may miss the dub on the AIP version. In an early scene, Ken plays with Godzilla and Ghidrah toys in his back yard (making me extremely jealous when I first saw this movie as a boy). When asked if Godzilla is his favorite, Ken replies "He's a superman!" in Japanese, while the conciliatory English track has him say, "Superman is too." The old AIP version completely Americanizes his reply to "Superman beats them all!" In either language, all sound disappears during one shot in which a building under construction collapses after Hedorah flies by. Nostalgia aside, the only real loss of this dub is the English version of the "Save the Earth" song, which was re-recorded in English by AIP, but remains in Japanese on both tracks here, and isn't even translated by the subtitles. It would've been nice to have this song, or any other features, as an extra on the disc (even as a hidden feature), but as mentioned above, any kind of respectful treatment of these films is still seen as some kind of miracle. Three cheers for Sony!

The disc opens with a teaser trailers for GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S., the animated GODZILLA: THE SERIES and the gloriously silly retro-sci-fi comedy LOST SKELETON OF CADAVRA, which can be skipped over and accessed via the trailer menu, which also has ads for CTHE anime DVDs and the new GODZILLA: SAVE THE EARTH video game.

Copyright © 2004 Brian Thomas, author of the massive book VideoHound's DRAGON: ASIAN ACTION & CULT FLICKS.

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