Anybody who knows me knows of my love for Godzilla, the reigning king of the monsters. So when I found out that a Criterion Collection copy of both movies was coming out in a box set, I immediately ordered it. The “Criterion Collection” edition is reserved for some of the best movies in cinematic history, putting out a high-quality release. That Godzilla was given a spot is high praise indeed. Last week it arrived although I didn’t have time to watch it until yesterday thanks to scheduling.

I’m not going to review the movie for this report. When an earlier version of both movies were posted to the website Joost (and later moved to Hulu), I posted a two-part comparison of both the original Japanese movie and the American retooling. I said everything I need to about the movies there. Instead, I’m just going to take a look at the presentation.

picture from my Twitter

The cover is pretty good, but the inside is excellent. The DVD box is inside the cover box. On the outside of the DVD box is a screenshot from when Godzilla is dying from exposure to the Oxygen Destroyer. The inside looks as you see here. Some fans have complained that the Godzilla seen here was based on a later version of the Godzilla costume. I still think it looks cool. The back of the cover box is rather plain, and lists a few special features as being on disk two when they are on disk one.

Disk one features the original movie, Gojira (although the commentator claims that in fact the American name Godzilla is also accurate based on how you translate the Japanese writing). This is a new subtitling, as I noticed a few words were different. For example this one:

In the new version, she uses the word “daddy” rather than “father”. I was watching with the commentary and (of course) I plan to go back and watch it again without the commentary, but this was a moment that stuck out in my mind thanks to the review so I noticed it. Also the subtitles in the Criterion version used white text rather than the yellow one from this translation.

Not every problem poor Emiko dealt with came from a radioactive dinosaur.

Disk one also contains some of the bonus features, although the cover box claims all of them are on disk 2, save the trailer and commentary for the Japanese version of the film. The cover acknowledges them and the new translation and digital restoration. Someone should have paid attention to this before printing the box. Disk one also contains an interview with Tadao Sato, a Japanese film critic who reviewed the movie when it first came out, a look at the photographic effects used to create the illusion of a giant monster attacking (introduced by SFX director Koichi Kawakita and SFX photographer Motoyoshi Tomioka) and “The Unluckiest Dragon”, the story of the Japanese fishing boat Lucky Dragon No.5. This boat got too close to H-Bomb tests off of the Bikini Islands (due to miscommunication and some other mistakes on the part of the US scientists) and suffered radiation poisoning. There is an homage to the event in the opening scene of the movie, as explained in the commentary.

Sets were built to resemble the Japanese set so that it could appear Burr was actually in the same movie.

Disk two contains the US version, Godzilla, King of the Monsters. This was the reworking by Terry Morse that we in the West know, with added scenes with Raymond Burr for the benefit of US audiences. Sadly there are no features about the American retooling (it’s not just a translation) but there are interviews with certain cast and crew members. Akira Takarada played Ogawa, the sailor whose girlfriend is drawn into this story and carries most of the burdening secrets in the film. (Namely that she loves someone other than the arranged-marriage fiance and that said fiance has a weapon of mass destruction.) They also interviewed Haruo Nakajima, one of the two men in the Godzilla costume. Yoshior Irie and Eizo Kaimai worked on the costumes and miniatures for the film and share their memories. (Mostly Kaimai, as he does most of the talking in the piece.) Finally, there’s an interview with Akira Ifukube, the man who wrote the score for the movie, including the Godzilla theme that has been used in every version of the film. (Not counting the US film by Roland Emmerich with the redesigned monster and no concept of the character.)

I mentioned a commentary and this is where the DVD really shines. Film historian David Kalat, who has written about the movie, wrote and reads for the commentary track on both films. His delivery is perfect, and not just by DVD commentary standards. I learned things about the movie I never learned before even while looking into it for my articles. There are a lot of interesting behind-the-scenes stories about both copes of the film. He defends the US cut of the movie based on the culture of the time (noting that the anti-nuke subtext is still there, just more subtle than the Japanese counterpart), and the original movie from claims that it too closely resembled The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, a US movie released prior, and how the original King Kong also played a part in the creation of the movie. And I haven’t gone through everything I learned; the commentary alone is worth getting this collection.

The set also comes with a booklet as critic J. Hoberman gives his own thought about the films and their impact. There’s also some talk about the transfers to DVD for people interested in that.

In short, Godzilla: The Criterion Collection is a must-have DVD collection (there is a blu-ray version out as well) for any Godzilla fan. I’m very happy to have this in my library for more than being able to take out the old VHS version (I only have a fan-subtitle of the Japanese version which I can now also take out in favor of an official copy) and clearing space on my shelves. The box is a bit smaller than one VHS tape so with two movies this will make a good opening.