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Monster, Monster

Hello everyone, and welcome once again to 24 Lies A Second, the column you can

safely ignore. Before we get on with the reviews I thought I would explain why I will not be

examining Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind herein. This is, of course, a principled stand

made in objection to the film's shameless tampering with historical accuracy. It's a little known

fact that in reality John Nash, upon whose life the film purports to be based, was a member of a

persecuted and ridiculed minority, something which it entirely neglects to mention.Yes, that's

right, Nash was an obsessive fan of the children's SF TV series Doctor Who (it's true, it

said so in The Guardian), but is this mentioned in this so-called biography? Of course it

isn't. It's hard enough to be a DW fan at the best of times and this sort of wilful ignorance

from a major studio will do nothing to help the many young people who every year have to come

to terms with their innate fannishness. So no review from me. (The film doesn't mention his

bisexuality either, but let's get our priorities sorted out here.)

Hedorah Above Water

Removing tongue from cheek, let's turn our attention to something really worthy of close

inspection, Tomoyuki Tanaka's 1971 film Godzilla vs The Smog Monster, the 11th outing

for Japan's biggest movie star.

My copy of this movie lists the theme as 'monsters, pollution' and no sane person could

possibly quibble with such a description. (The director probably could, but as the word 'sane'

seems quite inappropriate for him, this hardly makes any difference.) The story concerns the

appearance of grotesque tadpole-like creatures in the polluted water surrounding Japan.

Badly-dubbed marine biologist Dr Yano (Akira Yamanouchi) and his fantastically irritating son

Ken (Hiroyuki Kawase) investigate and discover the creatures - which Ken names 'Hedorah' for

no apparent reason - are composed of hydrocarbons and sulphur in a manner previously unknown

to science. The Hedorahs live on pollution and give off corrosive clouds of sulphuric acid. As if

this wasn't bad enough, they also have the ability to amalgamate into a single giant super-Hedorah

with shape-shifting powers. Of course, this is exactly what they do, and the giant Hedorah,

clearly lacking imagination, sets off on the well-trodden path of attacking Japanese cities and

destroying all in its path. Sure enough, Godzilla shows up looking for a fight.

Let's cut to the chase. As you've probably guessed, Godzilla vs The Smog Monster is

a terrible, terrible film. It has virtually no plot, the performances are all dire and the special

effects a long way sub-Gerry Anderson. And yet... it remains weirdly, hypnotically watchable.

It's bad, but it's a hallucinatory, transcendental badness. On paper it sounds like just another

monster B-movie but this doesn't take into account Tanaka's bizarre direction. This incorporates

split-screen sequences, unexplained lapses into black and white, 'educational' slide-shows about

astronomy, a couple of musical numbers (sadly untranslated in the UK video release), and

strange, allegorical animations. It's a sign of how trippy things get that the sudden appearance of

a stuntman in a foam-rubber dinosaur costume feels like a welcome return to reality.

To be honest, Tanaka seems much more interested in Hedorah than his nominal star - the

Smog Monster certainly gets a lot more screen-time. This is despite the awful Hedorah suits,

most of which resemble a cross between a seaweed-wrapped Demis Roussos and a clump of

raw sewage. For all of this though, there's a palpable atmosphere of corruption and decay - due

partly to incessant, repeated footage of sludge-filled rivers, smog-belching cooling towers and

foaming oil-slicks, and partly to some unusually explicit horror (for a Godzilla movie, anyway).

There's a fairly high 'ick' factor here (particularly when Hedorah tries to smother the big lizard by

crapping toxic waste all over him).

But it's nice to see a Godzilla movie from the 1970s not concerned with alien invasions and

monster tag-battles . It may not be subtle or clever but Godzilla vs The Smog Monster is

actually about something vaguely relevant to the real world (although the film conveniently fudges

the fact that good monster Godzilla is a product of the same radioactive pollution as bad monster

Hedorah). It's a film with a conscience, a film with a message for the world, and with this in

mind, can we really just dismiss it as mind-boggling trash?

Well, yes.

Giger Counter 2

Well, what are the odds? You wait weeks without a single monster movie getting a mention

and then suddenly two come along at once. Yup, let's look at James Cameron's 1986 classic,


Looking back at Cameron's filmography as a director, it's clear that originality is not the

man's strong point. It's a collection of reworkings of other people's material (The Terminator,

True Lies
) and sequels (Piranha 2: Flying Killers, Terminator 2, the film in question)

and, of course, based-on-fact disaster movies. The sole exception to this is The Abyss,

which I've always found to be his weakest movie for a major studio.

But anything he lacks in terms of inventiveness he makes up for in his ability to deliver a

high-octane head-banging action movie, and that's exactly what Aliens is. 57 years after

the events of the original film, Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) and her cat Jones (a cat) are rescued

from their deep-space deep-freeze. Her employers refuse to believe her story concerning the

fate of the Nostromo... until contact is lost with an outpost on the planet they originally

found the alien creature. Along with an amoral company executive (Paul Reiser) and a squad of

marines (Cameron regulars Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Michael Biehn and Jenette Goldstein

amongst them), Ripley sets out for the remote colony, where nastiness inevitably ensues...

I think Aliens is a better film than its predecessor for one simple reason - James

Cameron may not have Ridley Scott's unique visual flair, but he has an instinctive grasp of

storytelling, and he knows that a great action film is all about tension, characterisation, and

ultimately delivering the thrills. There are no pointless 2001 homages in Aliens

(well, maybe there's one right at the start), nary a wasted shot or redundant line. There's

suspense in bucketloads (largely achieved by simply not featuring the monsters until nearly

halfway through the film), and a small cast of readily identifiable, if not always likeable,

characters (with the exception of Reiser's wretched yuppie-scum). And of course, the climax of

the film has the remarkable, iconic Alien Queen as its killer punch - though this isn't to dismiss the

other superb set-pieces (my favourite is the escape through the ducting culminating in Vasquez

and Gorman's trick with the grenades).

Cameron knows how to make a great sequel, too: virtually all the elements of the original film

reappear, but his approach to them is sufficiently different to keep them fresh and engaging. The

one real change is quite subtle - where Alien was on a deep level a psychological horror

story about rape, Aliens - for all its testosterone-fuelled frenzy - is about the alarming

power of the maternal instinct. But it still manages to make the original film look like nothing more

than a low-key prologue, and at the same time sets an impossibly high stand for the subsequent

films in the series.

Next week, yet another monster movie - well, sort of - when I hope to take a look at The

Mothman Prophecies
. Don't fail to miss it.

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