Godzilla (1954) Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: The King of Monsters is Back

In 1954 one of the world’s biggest monster movies was released to the big screen. Created and directed by Ishiro Honda, the film was inspired by the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the continued tests of atomic weapons.

After several ships disappear near Odo Island, a research team headed by Dr. Kyohei Yamane (Takashi Shimura) is sent to the island in hopes of discovering what has been destroying the ships. After finding giant radioactive footprints, listening to the tales of local villagers, and an encounter with a giant reptile, it is determined that a creature from the age of dinosaurs called Godzilla has been released due to atomic weapons testing in the ocean.

As the attacks on ships continue, the military decides that they must destroy the creature using depth charges. This only enrages the monster, pushing it ashore into downtown Tokyo where it wreaks havoc on the entire city.

There is no stopping Godzilla as he appears to be indestructible. Weapons do no damage, electricity does nothing. The people are helpless and turn to their scientists in hope that they can save them.

Dr. Daisuke Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) is that scientist with the only idea that can work. But his invention, the oxygen destroyer, is its own weapon of mass destruction. If used, it will destroy all life in Tokyo Bay, and the scientist is torn over using his weapon to save the people versus the risk of it getting into the wrong hands.

While the concept was original back in 1954, nowadays the film comes across as quite anticlimactic. Having seen multiple sequels that have been built on the Godzilla franchise with battles between monsters, utter destruction of cities and wild special effects, the slow moving black and white film is a little dull in comparison.

The horrible subtitles don’t help the film either. Trying to read white lettering on actors that are all wearing various shades of white clothing is almost impossible in spots. It’s very distracting and easy to miss entire sentences.

The film has been remastered and cleaned up. It is presented in 1.37:1 aspect ratio with a monaural soundtrack. All of the crackling sounds of old audio and the signs of cracking film celluloid have been cleaned up. Unfortunately, the film is so old that particularly in the black areas you can see flickering, a washed out appearance, and strobe effects that are caused by the ravages of time on the original copy.

There are several special features on the Blu-ray disc that will make fans happy.

The first is the full-length 1956 American remake Godzilla, King of the Monsters, starring Raymond Burr playing a foreign news correspondent named Steve Martin. It uses scenes from the original film and splices it together with scenes featuring Burr. It is interesting to watch after seeing the original, because it actually gives more explanation on what was going on and the motivations behind it. The biggest problem is that it’s so obvious that he isn’t in the scenes with the other actors it’s laughable. Anytime he is in the scene with any of the original actors you can only see the back of their head. He also spends a lot of time off by himself as if he is looking at what is going on and then asking people to translate for him what had been said.  Even with the absurdness of the editing it is kind of interesting to see the movie from a second person’s perspective.

There are audio commentaries and trailers of both films, new interviews with original cast members and the musical composer and special effects director, along with a short feature on special effects. The Blu-ray also comes with a pullout booklet containing an essay by critic J. Hoberman.

Todd Karella

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