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29 December, 2007

DVD Review: GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Title: GOJIRA / GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS 2-Disc Collector’s Set

Year of Release—Film: 1954

Year of Release—DVD: 2006

DVD Label: Sony / Classic Media





THE MOVIE

GOJIRA—(1954)

For fifty years, American audiences have known only one version of the definitive Japanese Monster Movie, GOJIRA; the edited-for-American distribution version entitled GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. Though VHS tapes of the original Japanese edit, while hard to find, were available here, for most of us the version that had been pieced together with footage of Raymond Burr was the only GODZILLA to which we had access. That all changed earlier this month with the release of Classic Media’s gorgeous 2-disc GOJIRA Collector’s Set.

Those of you who think you know this movie really must see the original. Everything that serves to detract from the quality of the Hollywood version is gone, and we can see just how much was cut, both to tone down the serious message of the Japanese film, and to make room for the spliced-in scenes. This movie, which for all the excitement and affection it engenders has always seemed a weakly-plotted mish-mash driven only by action, now stands revealed in its unadulterated form as a thoughtful, literate film, nearly twenty minutes longer than the U.S. edit.

Moments that wound up on a cutting-room floor in Hollywood help to convey the original intent of the film’s creators: Gojira isn’t just some honked-off dinosaur out for a meal. He is the very incarnation of the hell Japan brought down upon itself during World War II, including the embodiment of Japan’s ultimate nightmare, the Atomic Bomb. In a telling line of dialogue that failed to make it into the Hollywood edit, a young couple is discussing finding a shelter if Gojira should attack Tokyo. Another man, hearing this, comments “Not the shelters again… that really stinks!” Memories of the war were still fresh in the collective Japanese conscious, and comment similar to this throughout the film, while having tremendous relevance for Japanese audiences of the mid-‘50’s, would have been problematic at best for audiences in the U.S.

I’ve waited a lifetime to see this version of one of my favorite films, only to discover that they are two different movies entirely. But I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and now have an even deeper appreciation for the Big G.

GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS—(1956)

I reviewed this movie once already during Kaijû Month here at CreatureScape, and there isn’t much I can say to alter my original opinions of this film. It remains one of my favorites, and has been for most of my life.

The one thing that I can add to that assessment is that, as much as I do love this version, to deny that it is vastly inferior to the original GOJIRA would be intellectually dishonest; having them together for direct comparison only serves to highlight those inferiorities. The thoughtful, deliberate pacing and intelligent scripting of the original is completely lost here, as a 98-minute film is condensed into less than 80 minutes, eliminating most of the plot and virtually all of the character development.

Still, this is the version I first saw decades ago as a young MonsterKid, and it was impressive enough, even in its heavily-altered form, to inspire a life-long love of Kaijû movies. It’s nowhere near as good as the original… but that still makes it better than any other giant monster movie of its era.



THE DISC

This 2-disc set is beautifully packaged in a stout Digipak case like the ones used for the Universal Legacy Collections. If anything, the graphic design is nicer than that for the Universal sets, and far superior to the standard artwork used for most of the Toho films released to DVD, much more subdued and somber, fitting the mood of the films inside.

In keeping with Japanese packaging standards, the whole is surrounded by a belly-band containing the DVD specifications, making a very attractive package indeed.

The two discs contained within all this beautiful packaging are certainly worthy of the advance press, though I can’t help thinking that they could be better. The print used for the GOJIRA transfer looked great to me, though I have seen complaints about it being an inferior print. Frankly, I think such complaints are typical videophile snobbery. The transfer is far superior to any print of GODZILLA that I’ve previously seen, and that’s good enough to satisfy me. I’m not sure how much you can expect from fifty-year old celluloid. And as for the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS transfer, while it is much better than any I’ve seen before, doesn’t quite match the quality of the GOJIRA print. Perhaps this is due to the original masters not being equal in quality. Still, the transfer is superior to any I’ve seen before.

The one flaw that is present is the audio quality on GODZILLA. I understand that they are working with aging recordings, but still, some effort could’ve been made to clean the tracks up for this release. Barring that, at least provide subtitles for GODZILLA. (GOJIRA, with the original Japanese audio, is already subtitled…)

On the whole, this is a beautiful set, and is just one more in a list of terrific releases of classic Horror and Sci-Fi films that we’ve been blessed with over the past few years. It’s a trend I hope to see continue. Fortunately, Classic Media has two additional releases scheduled for November that will follow this format: GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN and GODZILLA vs. MOTHRA.



THE SPECIAL FEATURES

In terms of special features on these discs, there’s not a lot present that really impresses. What’s there is good, but this isn’t a set that people will buy because of the extras.

The GOJIRA disc has the lion’s share of extras, with two featurettes; one on the story development, and one on the design of the first Goji-suits. Both of these are sparse and cheap-looking, composed primarily of still photographs and voice-over narration. Still, they are fascinating glimpses at the genesis of the king of kaijû, and are worth watching.

The commentaries on each film, well done by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godiziszewski, are interesting and informative, avoiding becoming pedantic and lecturing. They even manage to slip a rather obvious “Brokeback Mountain” reference in during one of Raymond Burr’s GODZILLA scenes.

The only real extra on the GODZILLA disc, other than the commentary, is the original trailer for the U.S. release.

Overall, while these extras do add to the set, they’re not why you want to buy this DVD. The opportunity to finally own the original GOJIRA, uncut and unedited, is all the “special feature” you need for that.



IN CONCLUSION

As I said earlier, I’ve waited a lifetime to see the original GOJIRA, and I was not disappointed. My affection for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS, the version I grew up with, hasn’t changed. I still love it despite all its flaws and faults. But it is badly flawed, and that can’t be ignored. Now you can see, in direct comparison, just how good the original was, and why, even adulterated the way it was, it still had the power to enthrall generations.











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