For anyone interested in pursuing the study of environmental sciences, there are two landmarks which need to be considered: Rachel Carson’s 1962 book “Silent Spring,” which first called public attention to the reckless use of pesticides on the ecological balance, and the 1971 movie “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.”
Admittedly, one rarely finds Rachel Carson and Godzilla mentioned in the same sentence. Yet for all of its wackiness, “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” attempted to make some kind of statement on the rampant environmental destruction which was a major political issue during the early 1970s. If the film strayed from its noble mission, at least it offered an entertaining diversion with a green tinge.
“Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” found the Big G facing a new and unusual foe: Hedorah, a being which came to Earth via a meteor and began to mutate off Japan’s uncommonly high level of industrial pollution. Hedorah’s growth can be traced in a variety of different shapes: it was originally a plump tadpole, then it grew into an oversized amphibian who inhales the fumes from smokestacks, then it grew again into a flying triangular-shaped creature, then it took its final form as a bipedal monster which looked like a big piece of seaweed with nasty red eyes. And those eyes are nasty: they fired laser beams!
The Japanese military, naturally, was no match for this foe. And for a while, it appeared Godzilla is outmatched. Our favorite monster even lost an eye to a wad of toxic sludge which Hedorah spit out.
Throughout the film, there are endless calls for an end to the destruction of the air and sea. Some of this comes via the tune “Save the Earth,” which could qualify as noise pollution. There are also some scenes with Japanese teens enjoying drinking and dancing at a rock club (this has nothing to do with environmentalism, but all science and no play ain’t fun, kiddo!). When Hedorah invaded the club, the teens headed to Mount Fuji for a party. And, of course, Hedorah showed up again to spoil the fun.
“Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” is a relatively dark film for this series, not just in its eco-social concerns but also in its style: much of the monster action takes place at night and some of the scenes are so poorly illuminated that it is hard to determine who is winning the brawl. Godzilla himself is a bit meaner this go-round, disemboweling Hedorah to ensure that creature doesn’t return. But there is a bit of intentional camp to be enjoyed, particularly Godzilla’s sideways dance (not unlike James Brown’s trademark stage movements) and the bizarre sight of Godzilla pointing his atomic breath spray to the ground and using it as a jet propulsion to chase Hedorah in an air race.
In the three decades since the film’s release, the Earth hasn’t gotten all that much cleaner. Maybe it is time for a long-overdue sequel to “Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster” (one was originally announced in the 1970s, but nothing came of it)? Or maybe the Bush White House should sign the Kyoto Treaty and start to do something to bring about global environmental protection. Hell, if Godzilla was concerned about the ecology, how come Dubya can’t break a sweat over it?