Directed by Ishiro Honda
Distributed by The Criterion Collection
The original Godzilla has been released hundreds of times on several different media, including a crappy Blu-ray from Classic Media that was home only to the Japanese version of the film. If you’re anything like me, I’m willing to bet you purchased probably ninety percent of them one time or another. Big G just has that kind of staying power, and it’s only fitting that he should get the royal treatment by the good folks over at The Criterion Collection. Before we get into everything included here, let me be clear… If you have a Blu-ray player, stand up, gather up all your VHS, DVD, and Blu-ray versions of this movie, and throw them directly into the garbage. This time capsule quality masterful edition is all that you will ever need.
The two editions of the film included here are remarkably different from each other. Gojira (the Japanese version) 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 deeply 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 the Fifties, 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 screw with it. In the American version titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, 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.
To put it simply, the Japanese version is a socially conscious film with a deep and sobering message regarding nuclear experimentation. The American one is more concerned with taking a lighter approach to up the entertainment value. Still, no matter which version of the movie floats your boat, there’s one thing that cannot be denied, and that is just how classic this film is. That being said… on to the skinny regarding the Blu-ray.
In terms of picture and sound quality, wow! There’s just no comparison between this and any other version out there. Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Ishiro Honda’s Godzilla looks nothing short of stunning. Contrast and brightness levels have been completely adjusted, giving the print a remarkable amount of clarity and depth. There is still some scratching and damage present, but I’ll take them over the picture being scrubbed any day. The American version fares just as well, the only differences being Terry O. Morse’s cut features far less damage. No matter which you choose, though, it’s impossible to lose. It’s just that damned good.
As you may have guessed, each film has its own audio track – Japanese LPCM 1.0 for Godzilla and English LPCM 1.0 for Godzilla: King of the Monsters. There are also new and better translated subtitles present and accounted for. Each track is guaranteed to surprise you as the thumping of the big guy’s footsteps, and his ever-present roar has never sounded more impressive.
In terms of special features, as you would expect, this edition is nothing short of LOADED. Anything you could possibly want is here. The best part? With the exception of the trailers it’s all new, baby! Even the commentaries, of which you get two. Interviews. Featurettes. Essays. A killer booklet. Criterion has left no stone unturned. Hell, even the Blu-ray’s packaging is home to a supreme amount of coolness, but we won’t spoil it for you here. Trust us; you’ll be grinning from ear-to-ear! This is what’s called going above and beyond the call of duty. See below for a complete listing of the bonus materials with a brief description of each.
This is it, Godzilla fans. The package you’ve dreamed about. The definitive crown jewel in your Kaiju collection. For many years The Criterion Collection has been known as the mark of excellence in home video releases. This is a sterling example of why. Bravo!
5 out of 5
5 out of 5