BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Mar 12th, 2012 •

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So, now that Criterion has released a Blu-Ray/DVD of GODZILLA, our big lizard joins the ranks of other Criterion luminaries like Bergman, Fellini, Eisenstein and Kurosawa. It was long talked about that Criterion was going to release Ishiro Honda’s landmark 1954 science fiction film.

Classic Media went and released a two-disc DVD set of both the original GODZILLA (or “GOJIRA”) as it was released in Japan in 1954, and its American re-edited and added-on version, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. In January 2012, Criterion released both films on DVD and Blu-Ray. Believe it or not, The Classic Media GODZILLA and the Criterion versions are quite different from one another.

First, the Criterion Blu-Ray of GODZILLA is simply beautiful visually. Some of the effects work of the eponymous protagonist rampaging through nighttime Tokyo has more detail than we’ve ever seen before. On a Special Feature highlighting the film’s effects, there is an unused shot of Godzilla walking up to the well-lit Ginza district of Tokyo. Only a second and a half of this shot survives, and Criterion plays it slowed down. There is also a terrific breakdown of the Godzilla matte shots.

The Criterion GODZILLA has a commentary track that focuses on the political aspects of the film, especially how it’s a fantasy reaction to atomic warfare. Criterion includes a booklet that features J. Hoberman’s essay Poetry After The A-Bomb. There is also a wonderful supplement titled The Unluckiest Dragon, a short documentary about The Lucky Dragon, the Japanese tuna-fishing boat that wandered too close to an atomic test site. Perhaps they thought it was going to be the usual atom bomb test, and judged their distance accordingly, but it turned out to be an H-Bomb, and they were much too close. This resulted in a nation-wide tuna recall in Japan, and one of the ship’s crewmembers died from radiation poisoning.

The same Commentary track on the Criterion Japanese version of GODZILLA points out an interesting directorial touch. Minor characters are introduced throughout the film, such as nameless Tokyo subway riders complaining about possibly having to live in bomb shelters. Later on, these same commuters wind up on a boat about to be sunk by Godzilla. It was Honda’s way of saying that there are no such things as nameless monster (or war) victims. Everybody has a story.

The commentary track on Criterion’s GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS has an interesting history of foreign films released in America. Commentator David Kalat points out that upon its 1956 USA release, GODZILLA was one of the four most profitable foreign films ever released in the United States.

There are extras on the Classic Media set of GODZILLA that Criterion doesn’t have, forcing one to consider whether it is necessary to own both. This is entirely a matter of how devoted one is to the film. The Classic Media set focuses on the production aspects rather than the political, and has some terrific storyboards and stills of the film, including material covering discarded or never-filmed scenes. The Classic Media commentary tracks include neat additions, such as an interview with Terry Morse, Jr., the son of the director of the American version. There are also more details about Raymond Burr, who was added to the American version as the reporter who witnesses Godzilla’s attack. They point out that when Burr is watching Godzilla destroy Tokyo from a high window, he always has a great view of the destruction. Was he in a revolving building?

Note: GODZILLA was released in 1977 in Italy with more footage added, though not missing footage. The Italians incorporated World War II newsreel material, plus scenes from THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, with an electronic music score! Sounds like a mess, but a mess I’d like to seeā€¦

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