Godzilla (Blu-ray, Criterion)
Director - Ishiro Honda
Cast - Takishi Shimura, Akira Takarada
Country of Origin - Japan
Discs - 1
MSRP - $39.95
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (4/5)
The first time I saw Godzilla was on a mid-afternoon screening on a local horror show in New Jersey as a child. I couldn't have been older than 6-7, the quality couldn't have been great, all I can remember is that it made an impact. When that giant green lizard was on screen my mind was blown! It is things like that that make me lament the loss of many local horror programs, without those people like me wouldn't have been exposed to films we otherwise would have been unable to see. That one viewing of Godzilla made me a man obsessed by Kaiju films for years to come, and I would devour them en masse, everything from Toho Studios, then the Gamera series, even Gorgo! Godzilla, however, was always tops!
I always thought Classic Media had been doing a fairly decent job with the Godzilla films they had in their possession, that is until HD, and Blu-ray. Their HD upgrade was completely lacking, and so when Criterion announced the acquisition of the original Godzilla, and also the American cut Godzilla, King of the Monsters I knew the Big G was in the best possible hands at last.
Godzilla, is an archetypal 1950's science fiction movie. As with most great science fiction it reflects the politics and social concerns of the era in which it was made. A lot of genre films on both sides of the Pacific from this era reflected the nuclear paranoia of the times, and at least in the Japanese cut of Godzilla these fears are indeed reflected in the final film.
When most people think of Godzilla, they immediately think of a giant monster stomping Tokyo, a ripping run good film. And if that is what you're looking for it's there in both versions of the film, but more so in the American Terry O. Morse cut co-starring Raymond Burr as a news reporter stuck in Tokyo during Godzilla's rampage. What many people might not remember is how dark and moody Godzilla actually is. It's also sort of a downer of a film, with strong dramatic scenes that hammer home it's antinuclear experimentation themes.
Godzilla opens with a series of ships going missing over a certain location in the ocean. It turns out that this location was part of a nuclear testing site, and also the lair of the sleeping Godzilla. Godzilla emerges from the ocean floor, and heads toward Tokyo to wreak giant monster havoc on the city. The Japanese government debates what to do, but ends up sending the military in. Unfortunately, the military do not have the artillery to take down Godzilla who continues his rampage unabated.
It is only after the discovery of a scientist Dr. Serizawa, who has a weapon of mass destruction the "Oxygen Destroyer" that the tide begins to change. Unfortunately, the Doctor realizes the ethical implications of allowing the use of the weapon, and is afraid of letting it be released to the world. He must be convinced to allow it's creation and usage to stop Godzilla and save mankind.
Criterion has presented EuroCultAV.com with a test disc of Godzilla on Blu-ray. It is our policy not to review pre-release material, as elements of the Audio/Video quality may change prior to the release. This section will be updated when/if a full copy is available to review.*
Criterion have loaded this release of Godzilla with an immense amount of extras. The most substantial of which is the complete Godzilla, King of the Monsters American cut of the film co-directed by Terry O. Morse and co-starring Raymond Burr from 1956. Each version of the film features a commentary track by Godzilla historian David Kalat, and also HD trailers for each version.
This is followed up by individual cast and crew interviews with Actors Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima that run 13 and 10 minutes respectively. We then have then interview with effects technicians Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai running 31 minutes, and finally an interview with composer Akira Ifukube that runs 51 minutes. The cast and crew segment is followed by a 10 minute featurette on the photographic effects of Godzilla. There is also an interview with Tadao Sato a Japanese film expert who discusses Godzilla, and it's place in Japanese film history. Finally, we have a short audio essay called the Unluckiest Dragon about the sinking of Lucky Dragon No. 5 a fishing boat whose real-life story helped inspire the story of Godzilla. There is also a booklet with an essay with an essay on the film by Village Voice critic J. Hoberman.
Godzilla is an absolute science fiction Kaiju classic. Criterion have done a stellar job with their release from what I am seeing so far, and the extras are truly immense. Highly recommended.
* Although this was a test copy, I can tell from what I am seeing here that the quality is a truly substantial upgrade from the Classic Media Blu-ray release.