Criterion Godzilla DVD (2012)

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Criterion’s 2-disc DVD edition of Godzilla is a first for several reasons. It’s the first time both the original 1954 Japanese print Gojira and a restored Americanized, Terry Morse / Joseph E. Levine 1956 version Godzilla: King of the Monsters have been released together in the same packaging for home viewing. It’s the first time “King of the Monsters” has been restored (although it was available on the Toho packaged DVD set). It’s the first kaiju films to be released by Criterion. It’s the first Godzilla film to be licensed for release by Toho to Criterion (although there are several other Toho/Kurosawa films in the Criterion catalog). The 2-disc set also offers the first audio commentary on the ’56 film, and the DVD set provides the first ever glimpse and analysis of various matte shots used in the films.

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A few year’s back I was fortunate to have seen a newly restored print of Gojira at the Detroit Film Theater at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. I was floored. This was not the narrated Raymond Burr film I watched so many times as a child. This film made me think. I realized that director Ishirō Honda had fashioned a commentary on the horrors of nuclear war.

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Gojira was eventually released by Toho in both a restored print on DVD and Blu-ray. I own both and the quality is good. So why release the film again? I’m not really sure, but the forthcoming remake by Monsters director Gareth Edwards (2014) probably factored into Toho letting Criterion take a stab at restoration and packaging. Criterion’s prints of both movies look wonderful, but I felt at times the night scenes in Gojira appeared to be a bit too dark. Eventually I’ll break down and purchase the blu-ray to confirm. My TV is an early cathode-ray HD variety and does not allow for optimal viewing, so I confess the print may be fine.

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I like the supplements, especially the audio essay The Unluckiest Dragon about the irradiated Japanese vessel Daigo Fukuryu Maru and the featurette on the optical effects (that alone was worth the upgrade from the Toho DVD release). David Kalat’s commentaries are informative also, but I preferred his work on Criterion’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.

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One very minor quibble. The packaging is awesome, with a booklet essay by historian J. Hoberman and a fold-out Godzilla! But us monsterminions know better! That’s not 1954 Gojira! That’s an imposter! That’s a whole ‘nother Gojira!

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