- Release Date: January 24, 2012
When it comes to giant monsters, none are more famous than Godzilla. And with Criterion’s new release of the monster’s premiere outing now on Blu Ray, it’s a good reminder as to why the character and the film still remain at the forefront of monster culture. Not only is this a great opportunity for fans to see the best-looking, most complete version of the film with a load of extras, it’s a great way to introduce new fans to the film without having to apologize for poor picture and sound quality.
GODZILLA has always separated itself from many of the subsequent kaiju films by having a true sense of humanity and genuine heart. Whereas follow-up films focused on monster destruction and explosions, Godzilla was seen as a tragic creature (much like Harryhausen’s Ymir from Venus in 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH) whose existence was more the result of man’s hubris and destructive nature, a tale of caution about man’s ambitions and their consequences. From the beautiful B&W cinematography and Eiji Tsubaraya and Haruo Nakajima’s teaming to bring the monster to life, to Akira Ifukube’s haunting score that will stay with you long after the closing title card, all brought together under the watchful eye of director Ishiro Honda, the elements combine to make something that simply transcends the boilerplate monster films and creates an experience even an art house filmgoer can appreciate.
With that being said, the real question about Criterion’s release isn’t the quality of the film, but the quality of the presentation. Criterion has THE reputation for taking classic films and putting them through brilliant restorations and loading them with valuable extras. GODZILLA is no exception. The meticulous restoration process results in what is easily the best-looking Gojira we’ve ever seen (even better than any revival print). Like previous releases such as ISLAND OF LOST SOULS, it shouldn’t be expected that the restored film will look like a Blu Ray reference copy, devoid of all dirt and scratches where every frame has the look of a re-touched photograph. Criterion has struck a wonderful balance, cleaning up the film and balancing out the contrast and brightness without taking away the feel of the film or sterilizing the print to the point of giving it the emotional detachedness of digital enhancements. The mono soundtrack has also been remastered and is nothing short of astonishing as to its clarity and power. When Godzilla’s footsteps thunder from the distance, you feel it. When he emits his trademark roar, it’s a chilling as it’s ever been. If the film had been released just like this with no extras it would still be worth the pick up. Fortunately for us, Criterion has included so much more.
One of my favorite extras (and it’s funny to me that it’s considered just an “extra” along with interviews and mini-documentaries) is the restored version of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, the version of the original film that was re-cut for American audiences and had extra scenes shot in English featuring actor Raymond Burr (of PERRY MASON fame). Again, the print and audio are fantastic—even cleaner in many spots, like the newer shots with the American actors or Japanese doubles. The film doesn’t have the emotional content of the original, focusing more on the action and destruction elements of the film, using Burr’s voiceover to move the narrative along at an incredibly brisk pace. It’s the only version that many in the US had seen for years since the original was not available and there was no home video market for almost three decades. While it is a film that is polarizing to many, it is nonetheless an important entry into the Godzilla canon, a part of the the history that can’t be ignored. It’s inclusion on the disc definitely adds to the sense of “completeness” that this set has.
Aside from the two movies there are a wealth of interviews, including original “man-in-the-Godzilla-suit” Haruo Nakajima, original composer Akira Ifukube, and star of the film Akira Takarada (Hideto Ogata). There’s also a piece about the special effects used in the film, a documentary about the Daigo Fukuryu Maru fishing ship that was a partial inspiration for the film, trailers for both films, and—something that has been much needed—the most accurate and reader friendly subtitles the film has ever had. No mistranslations, misspellings, or “dubtitles” (“Hey bro, it’s Godzilla, dude!).
There’s also a great commentary from Godzilla historian David Kalat. My only disappointment here is that our good friend August Ragone didn’t get the nod to include something for the disc. We even had ourselves a little lobbying effort here to make it happen. Everything I’ve learned about Godzilla I learned from August Ragone. (*note to Criterion: if you do any more Kaiju films, August. . . got it! Hey, I edit one of the oldest monster mags on planet earth, you can trust me on this.) But David does a great job and you’ll learn more than you ever thought possible about all things Gojira. Even the box art is top notch. Criterion hired artist and comic maestro Bill Sinkiewicz (sin-KEV-itch) to do the renderings of the giant beast. The inside pop-up cover is a lot of fun, although not from the original film (yes, this has been a point of contention on the internets—it looks great and doesn’t even remotely detract from what is THE definitive Godzilla edition).
And there you have it. The bottom line is that if you enjoy Godzilla, this is a “must buy”. It doesn’t matter what version of this you have, Criterion’s is better in every respect. From image and sound to subtitles and extras, it’s an improvement on all fronts. As I’ve mentioned before, I think that Blu-Ray is going to be about the highest these older films can go and still look great. Any larger format will start to magnify the imperfections, I would guess. This may very well be the final version of this film you’ll ever have to purchase. . . and purchase it you should!