GODZILLA from The Criterion Collection
Japanese and US Versions of the Original Classic Coming to DVD and Blu-ray in January
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: The Criterion Collection, Image Entertainment, Classic Media, Westchester Films
Official Site: criterion.com/godzilla
Special Thanks to Brian Carmody, Jonathan Saba, Mark Balsam, Allen Perkins and David Kalat
On January 24, 2012, the Toho classic GODZILLA (ゴジラ, Gojira, 1954)— along with the Americanized edit GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956)— will be released in both deluxe DVD and Blu-ray editions by The Criterion Collection.
Criterion’s upcoming release is something of a minor miracle considering how many companies currently have a stake in the film. For decades, Toho has allowed specific rights to their movies (theatrical, television, home video, streaming, etc.) to be sold separately; while a potential licensee can purchase whatever options are available they are not required to pay for rights they can’t use. This policy has proven effective for Toho, but has resulted in films like GODZILLA being split among several different companies.
The home video and broadcast rights to GODZILLA and several other Toho FX/monster movies were long held by United Productions of America, the company that had co-produced Toho’s MONSTER ZERO, FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS back in the 1960s. UPA focused on the English dubbed versions of their Toho titles, distributing GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, RODAN and the others to television while licensing home video to various labels such as Vestron, Paramount and Simitar throughout the 1980s and 90s. The company also entered into talks with Criterion to release several Godzilla movies on laserdisc but those plans unfortunately fell through.
In 2000, Classic Media bought the United Productions of America library, which gave them ownership of UPA’s Toho movies. Following the release of several Godzilla movies as low priced “impulse buy” DVDs, Classic Media renewed the license directly with Toho and began releasing a series of upgraded DVDs in 2006 that included— for the first time— both the US and Japanese versions as well as bonus features such as audio commentaries and trailers. Classic Media’s GOJIRA (a 2 DVD set pairing the Japanese GODZILLA with GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS) won the 2007 Saturn Award for “Best DVD Classic Film Release” by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films and was named “Best DVD of 2006” in the 5th Annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. But a 2008 Blu-ray release of the Japanese version alone was widely panned for its poor image quality and lack of extras.
Beyond home video, Classic Media retained the broadcast rights and also took over the online/streaming options, as well. They later sub-licensed these rights to Westchester Films, a production and film distribution company in New York. Through Westchester Films, GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS and the other Classic Media Toho titles have recently returned to American television with airings on Turner Classic Movies and AMC.
In order to make GODZILLA part of The Criterion Collection, Criterion entered into complicated negotiations with Toho that would allow them to sub-license the rights from Classic Media and Westchester Films. The current deal only covers the first film, and the company has no plans to release any of the Godzilla sequels or Toho’s other monster movies.
Criterion began work on GODZILLA early this year. A pair of audio commentaries were recorded this past spring and on-camera interviews were conducted with a handful of Toho filmmakers. Working from elements provided by Toho, Criterion also produced a new high-definition digital restoration of the original film which (based on their long track record) will likely far surpass any previous home video release in North America or Japan.
While GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is being handled as a supplemental feature to the Japanese GODZILLA, Criterion still wanted to present the Americanized version in the highest possible quality. Toho only has a decades-old 1″ video master of the US version, which was of acceptable quality in the days of broadcast television and VHS tapes but not up to snuff for Blu-ray and HD TV. Therefore, several months ago Criterion began discreetly contacting private film collectors to determine if better materials could be found. The company was able to digitally restore GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS by utilizing material from both a 16mm duplicate negative and a 35mm fine grain print.
Over the summer, Criterion began publicly hinting at the impending release; first by briefly streaming GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS— and later the Japanese GODZILLA— on their Hulu page. In August, The Criterion Collection’s Facebook page ran a caption-less photo of a film canister bearing the name ゴジラ. Finally, the DVD and Blu-ray were formally announced last month via press release (updated here)…
GODZILLA – BLU-RAY & DVD
THE SCI-FI LEGEND STOMPS INTO THE CRITERION COLLECTION IN A FEROCIOUS SPECIAL EDITION!
Ishiro Honda’s GODZILLA is the roaring granddaddy of all monster movies. It’s also a remarkably humane and melancholy drama made in Japan at a time when the country was still reeling from nuclear attack and H-bomb testing. Its rampaging radioactive beast, the poignant embodiment of an entire population’s fears, became a beloved international icon of destruction, spawning more than twenty sequels and spinoffs. This first thrilling, tactile spectacle continues to be a cult phenomenon; here, we present the original, 1954 Japanese version, along with GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS!, the 1956 American reworking starring Raymond Burr (REAR WINDOW).
1954 • 96 minutes • Black & White • Monaural • In Japanese with English subtitles • 1.37:1 aspect ratio
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
• New high-definition digital restoration (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
• New high-definition digital restoration of GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS, Terry Morse’s 1956 reworking of the
original, starring Raymond Burr (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition)
• Audio commentary for both movies by film historian David Kalat (A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla
• New interviews with actor Akira Takarada (Hideto Ogata), Godzilla performer Haruo Nakajima, and effects technicians
Yoshio Irie and Eizo Kaimai
• Interview with legendary GODZILLA score composer Akira Ifukube
• Featurette detailing GODZILLA’s photographic effects, introduced by special effects director Koichi Kawakita and special
effects photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka
• New interview with Japanese-film critic Tadao Sato
• THE UNLUCKIEST DRAGON, an illustrated audio essay featuring historian Greg Pflugfelder describing the tragic fate of the
fishing vessel Daigo fukuryu maru, a real-life event that inspired GODZILLA
• Theatrical trailers for GODZILLA and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS
• New and improved English subtitle translation
• Booklet featuring an essay by critic J. Hoberman
GODZILLA (BLU-RAY EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2098BD
GODZILLA (2-DVD EDITION)
CAT. NO: CC2099D
Interview: David Kalat
The Criterion Collection’s upcoming release includes audio commentaries for both GODZILLA and GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS by film historian David Kalat. Kalat has worked with Criterion before, contributing an essay for the Collection’s EYES WITHOUT A FACE and the audio commentary for THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE. He may be best known to Godzilla fans for his commentary track on the Classic Media DVD of GHIDORAH THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER and as the author of the book A Critical History and Filmography of Toho’s Godzilla Series, first published by McFarland & Company in 1997. An updated and revised 2nd edition was released in 2010.
In 1997, Kalat founded All Day Entertainment, an independent DVD label specializing in restorations of highly-regarded world and cult films such as THE 1000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE, GANJA & HESS, CRY OF THE OWL and WANTED FOR MURDER. He is also a writer for Video Watchdog and Turner Classic Movies Online, as well as the author of several books such as The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse and J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond.
In October, David Kalat agreed to discuss his work on The Criterion Collection’s GODZILLA…
SciFi Japan: How did the commentary assignment for GODZILLA come about?
David Kalat: Back in the late 1990s, the Criterion Collection had announced a laserdisc set to include GODZILLA and several other classic Godzilla titles, to have featured audio commentaries by Bruce Eder. Now, Eder was a brilliant film scholar and a gifted speaker, and I idolized him and sort of set out to “be” him. So to some extent, this all came about because I methodically stole Eder’s identity away from him over the years.
But seriously, I’ve been involved in a handful of Criterion Collection releases over the years, perhaps most prominently THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, and I’ve been in their sandbox, recording audio commentaries for labels like Kino and Masters of Cinema, so I’d established myself as someone who does this sort of thing. That, and I wrote a book on Godzilla. So, I guess Criterion figured, here’s somebody we’ve worked with before, he knows Godzilla, and he knows how to do audio commentaries.
What they didn’t know was that I was in the process of starting a completely different career, with no connection to movies whatsoever, and I had already figured that I was going to have to “retire” from the commentary business, and so when they called and offered GODZILLA, my only thought was: “Wow.” To have the opportunity to go out on the Big One, to have as my swan song the coolest, most awesome movie of them all— well, it felt like karma.
SciFi Japan: Is it safe to assume Criterion had a higher budget to work with than Classic Media did for their Godzilla discs?
David Kalat: Criterion has the advantage of a brand identity that can support a higher price point, and which is such an established name that places like Barnes and Noble can have a whole “Criterion Collection” section. You don’t see that with other labels. So, yes, they can afford to invest in those extra nuances that help support that brand identity.
I recorded the Classic Media track for the GHIDORAH DVD on my own, at my own company, with all the attendant technical glitches you would expect. By contrast, Criterion rented out Vagabond Audio, a beautiful audio studio in Chicago with a proper audio recording engineer to oversee the process.
SciFi Japan: So Criterion was a bit more upscale…
David Kalat: I knew what to expect because I’d done this with them on TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, but they are absolute perfectionists when it comes to these recordings. We ruthlessly re-recorded sections to get exactly the right performance of each line, and meticulously edited out all the many times I smacked my lips or clicked my tongue to made other distracting noises. As you may know, I have a reputation for mispronouncing people’s names… well, they were having none of that. If I mangled the pronunciation of Dino DeLaurentiis, for example, well by God we’d go back and fix that.
SciFi Japan: What was your approach to discussing these films? Since two previous DVD releases of GODZILLA [both the UK release from BFI and Classic Media’s edition] had audio commentaries, was it difficult finding fresh information or a unique way of presenting the material?
David Kalat: The very first thing I did after accepting the gig was to listen to Ed and Steve’s commentary on the previous edition with a big notebook by my side, to make notes about what NOT to say— anything they covered in depth or particularly insightfully I wanted to steer away from— unless I absolutely had to cover it for context.
I also made a point of shaping the commentaries into a story, something that had a recognizable beginning, middle, and end, rather than a jumble of anecdotes and on-the-fly remarks. This is the Criterion Collection— it’s going to attract a lot of buyers who are not Godzilla fans. It’s even going to attract buyers who are openly hostile to the whole idea of Godzilla movies. So I knew I was talking, at least in part, to an audience of non-fans, and so that shaped what was worth discussing. Godzilla fans can descend into a lot of trivia on this film, all of it true, but only so much of it actually TELLS you anything.
SciFi Japan: Were you able to interview anyone who worked on the Americanization of GODZILLA?
David Kalat: Not personally, but some very valuable interviews have been published in G-Fan and in Steve Ryfle’s book that served as a good starting point.
My biggest concern in discussing the American cut was to rehabilitate the thing, to treat it with the respect it deserves. Godzilla fans get a real chip on their shoulder about how they perceive that version as a disrespectful deconstruction of a classic film, but the story I tell in the track is what the state of foreign film distribution in the 1950s was really like, and seen in that light, what went into GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS wasn’t disrespectful at all, but an act of the deepest confidence. In the end, to tell the story I wanted to tell, it wasn’t so much about the specifics of what went into making that cut, for which interviewing the makers would have helped, but getting a historical sense of the way foreign films have been received in the US… and for that, I found film historians like Kerry Segrave to be a more valuable resource.
About The Criterion Collection
Since 1984, the Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, has been dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements. Each film is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. Criterion tracks down the best available film elements in the world, uses state-of-the-art telecine equipment and a select few colorists capable of meeting our rigorous standards, then takes time during the film-to-video digital transfer to create the most pristine possible image and sound. Supplements enable viewers to appreciate Criterion films in context, through audio commentaries by filmmakers and scholars, restored director’s cuts, deleted scenes, documentaries, shooting scripts, early shorts, and storyboards. To date, more than 150 filmmakers have made Criterion’s library of Director Approved DVDs, Blu-ray discs, and laserdiscs the most significant archive of contemporary filmmaking available to the home viewer.