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Godzilla - King of the Monsters

Review by: 
Big McLargehuge
Release Date: 
Sony/Classic Media
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Ishiro Honda (1954)
Terry Morse (1956)
Akira Takarada
Akihiko Hirata
Takashi Shimura
Bottom Line: 

 It is a well known fact to regular readers of that Godzilla: King of the Monsters is my all time favorite movie. In the 37 years I've been alive I've watched Godzilla: King of the Monsters probably 2000 times, I know the dialogue — All of it — yet the original 1954 un-Americanized release has always eluded me. Either I didn't have the cash to shell out for a pirate VHS back when I went to sci-fi conventions, or wouldn't pay for an all-region player and Japanese region import.
Now Classic Media has brought this legendary, almost mythic, film to Region 1. And their treatment of the Gojira is spectacular. Not only do they offer the original unedited Japanese version, digitally remastered, with original Japanese dialogue, but they also include a digitally remastered version of the 1956 Americanized film starring Raymond Burr with new footage directed by Terry Morse.
If you've seen the 1956 version then the 1954 version will feel like a very different film. The original is darker, much, much, much, darker. The major events in the film aren't much different, though sequenced differently, but the differences are striking. Ships vanish in the Japan Sea, some survivors are found and taken to Odo Island, something comes ashore on Odo Island and trashes the place, Dr. Yamane leads an expedition to the island, Godzilla appears, then makes his way to Tokyo, Dr. Serizawa kills Godzilla with the Oxygen Destroyer.
Missing from the original, of course, are the scenes featuring reporter Steve Martin (Raymond Burr).
The 1956 version begins with Steve Martin being extricated from wreckage after Godzilla's first rampage in downtown Tokyo then it flashes back to the timeline of the original. And, amazingly, this really sort of works to speed up the pace. Considering that Godzilla: King of the Monsters was produced and released for American monster movie fans, i.e. teenagers, the changes to the flow make the film more accessible and much more like other giant monster films in the American market at the time. The sacrifices to the teenage audiences were most of Gojira's anti-nuclear and political subtext, i.e. the simmering anger that American H-bomb tests are probably responsible for Gojira's appearance and the conflict over making that information public. After all, Japan had only been 9 years out of the World War 2 and there was still a hell of a lot of resentment on both sides of the Pacific.
The Americanized version also shortens the love triangle between Emiko, Serizawa, and Ogata. While the sides of the triangle still appear fully, the depth of their mutual relationships are edited out. Namely, that Emiko and Serizawa are more than simple victims of a coming arranged marriage, they were raised together and Emiko has always viewed him as a brother. Complicating matters is that Emiko is in love with Ogata. Ogata served with Serizawa in the military (or so it is hinted) and is partly responsible Serizawa's injuries (he has one eye).
There are also a whole slew of little scenes that are trimmed down to fit in the new material starring Raymond Burr.
Finally, the length of Godzilla's rampage in Gojira is much longer and much scarier, he's literally relentless, wading north, south, east, and west through Tokyo until the entire city is flattened.
There's a thing about the 56 Godzilla rampage, it's shorter and therefore exciting, unlike the 54 Gojira that is relentless and horrible. The casualties are much more at the forefront in Gojira, women, men, kids, military, whatever, they are all shown being slaughtered by the beast. And in this respect Godzilla becomes more than a "simple" giant monster, it is now a metaphor for Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Keep in mind the original Gojira ran 93 minutes and the Americanized Godzilla: King of the Monsters ran about 80, add in twenty minutes of Raymond Burr, and you can see how different both films really are. For those already very familiar with the Americanized one here's a breakdown of what I noticed for extended bits and new scenes:
* More ships are lost in the Japan Sea
 * The village life on Odo Island is much more detailed
* The characters of Dr. Yamane, Emiko, and Ogata are the stars of the film
* There's a scene with Emiko and Ogata at Ogata's apartment where they discuss dealing with the Serizawa problem
* The scenes in the shipping office are much longer
* The argument in the Diet is much, much longer
* The battle in Tokyo Harbor is much longer too
* Godzilla's rampage is much longer
* The scene where Ogata confronts Serizawa is much longer too, and reveals the depth of Serizawa's duality with regard to the Oxygen Destroyer, i.e. he knows if anyone gets their hands on it they will use it as a weapon, to prevent that happening he has to destroy his notes, Godzilla, and the prototype. Unlike the Americanized version though, Serizawa doesn't want to die. Thus his sacrifice is even more poignant.
* The scenes underwater with Ogata and Serizawa luring Godzilla to his death are three or four times as long and much more dramatic.
* The final scene is Yamane suggesting that another Godzilla might be awakened by further testing.
Another key point about the characters — Of course they are much more three dimensional in Gojira because they have many, many more lines that aren't overdubbed etc. One key element missing from the Americanization is that of Dr. Yamane's desire to study Godzilla. In the Americanized version he gives some lip service to studying the creature. However, in the original he wants to study WHY Godzilla is still alive after being blasted with H-Bomb residue.
The films were both digitally remastered from generally very good prints, though there are some scenes, especially where Honda used military stock footage, that are very grainy and scratched. However, on the whole Gojira/Godzilla has never looked better.
The DVD set contains a whole mess of fantastic extras, both films get thoroughly entertaining and trivia filled commentary tracks with Steve Rifyl and Ed Godziszewski, they even manage to work in an old interview with Joe Levine the original importer and a guest appearance on Godzilla King of the Monsters by Terry Morse Jr!
The Gojira DVD also contains a featurette on the construction of the original Godzilla suit, another on the story development, and the original Japanese and English trailers. Top that off with a nice thick booklet detailing the creation of, importation of, and release of both Gojira and Godzilla, and you have a hell of a bargain for 20 bucks.
Amazingly, Classic Media is giving the same treatment to several of the other Showa titles too including Godzilla Raids Again (AKA Gigantis the Fire Monster) and Godzilla vs. Mothra, both due out in early November.
In earlier reviews of Classic Media Godzilla releases I've given them a whole lot of shit about the poor quality of the film and lack of extras. Well, with Gojira they've redeemed themselves and I can't wait for the next batch of special editions to hit the shelves.

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