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Blu-ray Review Godzilla (Criterion) Blu-ray Review (1 Viewer)

Matt Hough

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The King of the Monsters comes to Blu-ray in both its original Japanese and its American redo in Criterion’s release of Ishirô Honda’s Godzilla. One of the granddaddies of all nuclear-inspired monster movies, Godzilla in its original incarnation is far more than a popcorn thriller. It’s in many ways a thoughtful and touching piece of popular entertainment with a serious theme at its core, and rewatching the original version confirms that this was a special film, innovative in its use of special effects and bounded with a sense of tragic inevitability that makes it resonate even more today than when it was first released.



Godzilla (Blu-ray)
Directed by Ishirô Honda

Studio: Criterion
Year: 1954
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1   1080p   AVC codec
Running Time: 96 minutes
Rating: NR
Audio: PCM 1.0 Japanese
Subtitles: English

Region: A
MSRP: $ 39.95


Release Date: January 24, 2012

Review Date: January 22, 2012




The Film

4.5/5


When two freighter ships are destroyed by forces unknown and left with only four survivors, scientists begin to wonder what could be causing these catastrophes. Professor Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) supports the notion that an ancient creature from the Jurassic era had been disturbed in its undersea dwelling by hydrogen bomb tests in the oceans of southern Japan. When Odo Island is attacked and practically wiped out, it’s confirmed that a 165-foot tall creature (which they name “Godzilla”) is wreaking this havoc. As it approaches Tokyo, electric cables at the perimeter and the might of the Japanese military can’t do anything to stop it thus leaving the city devastated. Professor Yamane is against destroying the creature believing that studying it would reveal much important scientific data, but after much of Tokyo is left in ruins, leaders of the country have no choice but to kill it. But how?


After half a century of sequels, remakes, reimaginings, and spoofs, many people might find it hard to take the original Godzilla seriously, but they’d be making a mistake to slough this off as a mere trashy monster movie. Honda and co-writer Takeo Murata (from Shigeru Kayama’s original story) have built a very sensitive thriller out of the notion that nuclear testing has upset the balance of nature and caused grave results. Honda is very smart to keep the monster's appearance a surprise until twenty-two minutes into the movie when we get a quick glimpse of its head. Until then, we see the catastrophic results of the creature but not the entity behind the destruction. Thus tension is wound to the snapping point. After that first glimpse, it’s another ten minutes before we see Godzilla again and another ten minutes after that before we see the full figured creature doing his worst. The destruction of Tokyo is the film’s set piece, and it’s an impressive, skillful blend of matte work and miniatures, and a sequence where an elevated train comes into contact with the creature is beautifully edited together to put humans and the creature into seemingly the same frame. If the film has a weakness, it’s the tepid and uninteresting love triangle going on between Professor Yamane’s daughter Emiko (Momoko Kochi), work consumed scientist Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata), and marine Hideto Ogata (rising star Akira Takarada) even if it does set up the sacrificial moment in the film which saves the world from the scourge of Godzilla. But, the lovers don’t leave much of an impression compared to the rest of the drama contained in the movie.


Besides being the most expensive Japanese film up to that time (and the most successful at the box-office), the film boasted a great cast. Takashi Shimura who was a mainstay in Kurosawa films plays Professor Yamane with great sensitivity and warmth, his interest in scientific fact and the furthering of knowledge overriding the danger that his country and his own family face. Akihiko Hirata’s tortured Dr. Serizawa is a superb portrayal, earnest and strong but a bit crazed and inevitably resigned to using what he knows to save mankind. The two lovers are less strong. The better of the two is Akira Takarada who in this his third film is still a bit reserved and not yet capable of seizing the screen as he would do in many films over the coming decades. He’s merely passable as Ogata, but he’s much more centered than co-star Momoko Kôchi who gives a mewling, awkward performance as the tentative Emiko.



Video Quality

4/5


The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully reproduced in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. It’s a dark encode, and while blacks are good rather than great, there is certainly a fine looking image here that boasts an accomplished grayscale that doesn’t blow out whites or crush blacks. Contrast is nicely dialed in without the picture seeming too hot. Vault footage used in aerial shots and other sea scenes contains multiple small scratches and is much softer than the film proper, but it’s always looked like that. The white subtitles are very easy to read. The film has been divided into 23 chapters.



Audio Quality

3.5/5


The PCM 1.0 (1.1 Mbps) sound mix is a mixture of direct recording and post dubbed dialogue, but it has been mixed together very well. The celebrated music score of Akira Ifukube sounds as dry and flat as one might expect with recording facilities of the era, and Godzilla’s shrill vocal blasts of sound and its heavy footsteps won’t rattle your windows either, but apart from some low hiss and some occasional soft crackle and a little momentary flutter, the soundtrack is cleaner than one has any reason to expect from elements this old.



Special Features

5/5


The audio commentary is by Godzilla-films expert David Kalat, and it’s a wonderful commentary combining knowledge of the film’s production with the speaker’s very enthusiastic interpretation of the film and celebration of its makers. A must listen!


Godzilla, King of the Monsters, the 1956 American reimagining of the Toho footage into an English-dubbed monster picture starring Raymond Burr, is presented in its 80 ¾-minute entirety in 1080p. The disc also offers an audio commentary for it by David Kalat and its theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs 1 ¾ minutes.


All of these video features are presented in 1080i.


Cast and crew interviews include separate featurettes with the following people: co-star Akira Takarada (13 minutes), Godzilla suit actor Haruo Nakajima (9 ¾ minutes), model builder Yoshiro Irie and suit constructionist Eizo Kaimai (30 ¼ minutes), and composer Akira Ifukube (50 ¾ minutes). Apart from the latter which was filmed in 2000, the other interviews were conducted in 2011.


A 9-minute montage of composited special effects show how some of the film’s distinctive images were created.


Film critic Tadao Salo describes how culture affected the creation of the movie and how Godzilla subsequently affected the culture in this 14-minute video essay.


“The Unluckiest Dragon” is an audio essay by Greg Pflugfelder telling the sad story of the unlucky fishing boat Lucky Dragon No. 5 which was in the path of fallout from the U.S.’s Castle Bravo H-bomb test. It runs 9 ½ minutes.


The film’s original theatrical trailer runs 3 minutes.


The enclosed 14-page booklet contains the chapter listing, the cast and crew lists, and a revealing essay by film critic J. Hoberman on the genesis of the film and the influence of Godzilla on future generations of filmmakers and filmgoers. Mention should also be made of the fun packaging with a kind of pop-up book disc holder inside the slipcover case.


The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.



In Conclusion

4.5/5 (not an average)


One of the great science-fiction classics from the 1950s whose effect on the future of moviemaking has been incalculable, Godzilla makes for a must-buy Blu-ray package with both versions of the film in high definition plus hours of bonus features justly celebrating the film. Highly recommended!




Matt Hough

Charlotte, NC

 

dpippel

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My copy gets delivered today. Can't wait to delve into it tonight, and I *love* the cover. Great job Criterion!
 

Scott Merryfield

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Thanks for the review, Matt. i have fond memories of watching this, along with some of the other Godzilla movies, during the afternoon "Monster Movie Weeks" growing up in the '70's. I've added it to my Criterion wish list, waiting for the next Barnes & Noble sale.
 

Robbie S

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I'm still curious to know if anyone feels that it warrants a doulbe dip. If so, why?
 

haineshisway

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Robbie S said:
I'm still curious to know if anyone feels that it warrants a doulbe dip. If so, why?
What kind of a double dip? If you have the previous Blu-ray I can only say the difference is night and day. The previous Blu-ray is Godawful and the Criterion is Godzilla. The previous Blu is soft and milky and ugly, whereas the new Criterion is wonderfully detailed with superb deep contrast. If you like the film there is no question as to what you should do next.
 

Steve...O

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Thanks, Matt. I'll pick this up at the next 50% B&N Criterion sale. One question: is the A/V quality of the Burr version as good as the original film?
 

Steve...O

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Originally Posted by MattH.

There may be a couple more dust specks in the Burr version, but overall it looks very good.



Good to hear; thanks, again.
 

Mark-W

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I picked this up last night. As much as I enjoy the commentary on the DVD version --I never upgraded to the Blu due to all the negative reviews of the image quality.-- with the two Godzilla nerds, this commentary track is quite good and it a touch more academic. I won't be getting rid of the DVD anytime soon because I want to keep those commentaries, but this one with Kalat is fantastic.
 

FrancisP

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Mark Walker said:
I picked this up last night. As much as I enjoy the commentary on the DVD version --I never upgraded to the Blu due to all the negative reviews of the image quality.-- with the two Godzilla nerds, this commentary track is quite good and it a touch more academic. I won't be getting rid of the DVD anytime soon because I want to keep those commentaries, but this one with Kalat is fantastic.
I'm keeping my dvd set as well. I thought Classic Media put together a pretty good dvd package for the price. You got both films, commentaries, extras and a booklet. I will give kudos for Criterion and Classic Media for their set.
 

SteveSs

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In case anyone needed to be swayed, there's also a pop-up Godzilla in the gatefold. :D
 

Matt Hough

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Originally Posted by SteveSs /t/317939/godzilla-criterion-blu-ray-review#post_3894058


I did mention that packaging in the review in the special features - look for the entry description of the booklet and the case is mentioned there.
 

Johnny Angell

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This release already has what I consider one of the very best covers ever, for a dvd/blu-ray and now there's pop-up Godzilla? Damn, if only I liked these movies.
 

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