Reviewed by Uncle Creepy
Starring GODZILLA! (also Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura, Fuyuki Murakami
Directed by Ishiro Honda
Released by Classic Media
What in the world happened here? Classic Media’s special edition of Gojira (review here) was a powerhouse of a release and contained both versions (American with Raymond Burr and Japanese without) of this landmark film. Now that it’s hit Blu-ray, we only get the Japanese version? Say again? Umm … what?
The bad doesn’t stop there either. Before we get into that, though…
Available for the first time in Blu-ray wide release, this movie is remarkably different from the 1956 version that graced American screens. Gojira opens up with a freighter mysteriously vanishing in the Pacific. When rescue boats meet the same fate, it becomes apparent that something is amiss. It turns out that recent testing of hydrogen bombs has awakened, and mutated, a prehistoric beast that proceeds to flatten everything in its path. The movie is a protest by the filmmakers and writers against nuclear weapons and against war, as is evidenced in the remarkably disturbing and moving scenes. Without shying away from subjects such as Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Ishiro Honda provides a fascinating allegory for weapons of mass destruction, showing the horrors of war and the real victims.
Even in 1954, however, the US film market just couldn’t leave well enough alone. As continues to happen today with movies like Ring and Ju-on, America decided to take a perfectly good movie and mess it up. In the American version titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters (again strangely absent from this release), gone are the messages, the tragedy, and the real underlying theme of the movie. Instead, American producers re-cut the film and inserted Raymond Burr as a reporter who is there to … well, no one knows. But he does manage to continuously show up in the right place at the right time and look at least mildly concerned. He also provides the movie with some great expository narrative. For the most part he’s just there to explain what’s going on to the viewers, a tradition that Hollywood continues to this day.
Included on the Blu-ray are two documentaries. The first, “The Making of the Godzilla Suit,” will give viewers new respect for the man within the lizard. Following the suit from concept to final product, this featurette provides some truly humorous insight. Viewers can thrill to seeing the various incarnations of Gojira from the first “sea monster” suit to the “warty” suit and finally the “alligator” suit. It also shows some of the interesting setbacks in production. For example, many viewers may not know that, due to a slight miscalculation and to the fact that they’d never worked with latex before, the first suit came out weighing more than 200 pounds and was completely rigid. It wasn’t until an actor collapsed inside the suit that the producers figured out something was wrong. Another suit was made, the temperature within which reached over 130 degrees, making actors sweat more than a cup of liquid out of their bodies during takes. Watching the process of construction is more than enough to make the unsung heroes of the rubber suit and the artisans who created it seem to deserve every accolade in the industry.
The second documentary details the origins of the story. Beginning with the vague idea of Tomoyuki Tanaka, this featurette discusses the origins within post-World War II Japan and the destruction-inspired visuals contained therein. With a story written by popular Japanese sci-fi writer Shigeru Kayama, the crew set to work trying to figure out how to translate a nuclear sea monster tale to the big screen. Also included are details about what was cut out, what changes were made, and what bizarre little quirks never made the cut. One prime example is the case of a brilliant scientist in the film, who is portrayed as a traditional family man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. According to the original story he was to be a mad scientist complete with cape and mansion.
Included also is a commentary track by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski. Their comments sound, at times, scripted and forced, but the information they contain is usually interesting. Ryfle and Godziszewski discuss the imagery and disclose a few of the more interesting special effects. They also go into more detail about the relationships between the characters as well as the general climate of Japan at the time. All in all it’s a pretty good listen.
Missing from this package is a sixteen-page booklet from the DVD edition that discusses, albeit briefly, the origins of the film. While all of the information in the booklet can be learned by listening to the audio commentary, it was still a nice little bonus.
In terms of picture and sound quality, the disappointments continue. The transfer is not even in 1080p; it’s 1080i (interlaced), and truth be told, it’s barely distinguishable from its DVD cousin. Everything looks sort of muddy and soft. Nothing is anywhere near as well defined as it should be. Sigh.
Overall, despite its shortcomings, the film does look slightly better than it did on DVD, but honestly, the standard definition package is the keeper of the two. It’s hard to discern exactly what went wrong here, but I’m guessing it has something to do with the GENIUS PRODUCTS logo on the box that was also missing from the original Classic Media release. Damn you, Bob and Harvey.
4 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5