Cloverfield (2008) – Opening Night Reaction

After all the pre-release hype, CLOVERFIELD seemed like the kind of movie worthy of a trip to Hollywood, where one could enjoy the experience in a truly grand theatre, in this case Graumann’s Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard. Besides a wonderful setting and state of the art projection, this has the added advantage of allowing you to immerse onself in the film while surrounded by an enthusiastic opening night audience, eager and pumped up – the sort of people who not only could not wait another minute to see the film but also chose to see it in the finest theatre available.
After taking the Red Line Subway to Hollywood and Highland, we hurried down the walk of fame, passing Godzilla’s star on the way – a double reminder for me: ten years ago, I suffered through the disappointment of seeing the American GODZILLA on opening night in Hollywood; four years ago, we were fortunate enough to enjoy the world premier screening of GODZILLA: FINAL WARS in the Chinese Theatre. Those two films set the outer limits on my spectrum of expectations for the evening’s experience, but in the end CLOVERFIELD was very little like either of them, despite being a giant monster movie.
Outside of the theatre was a ten-foot-tall miniature mock-up of the film’s iconic advertising image: the decapitated Statue of Liberty. We entered to find the seating crowded but not sold out. During intermission, there was some annoying video programming on the big screen that could not be seen clearly because the house lights were on and could not be heard clearly because the audience was buzzing – so why bother?
Thankfully, when the lights dimmed, the real buzz began – that of eager anticipation. The traditional THX clip (designed to impress the audience with the theatre’s sound system) consisted of a humorous bit with Barry B. Benson (from the animated BEE MOVIE) doing some foley work that blasts out the amplified sound system of the on-screen control room. As with the promo spots that preceded the release of BEE MOVIE, this was funnier than anything actually seen in the film.
Up next was a handful of trailers, which were appropriately matched to the subject matter of the feature film. I am sure I have mentioned somewhere, probably more than once, that I do not find the “Starfleet Academy” premise of the upcoming STAR TREK feature to be particularly promising, but I have to admit that the teaser trailer does raise a pleasant sense of expectation: It consists of shots of outer space construction, with Leonard Nimoy’s voice supplying the familiar narration, finally revealing that we are seeing the Enterprise.
Based on the preview footage, I cannot say I have high hopes for 10,000 B.C. Whether or not the movie is any good, sabre-tooth tigers and wooly mammoths do not have the same appeal as dinosaurs. THE RUINS looks like low-budget horror junk. But on the positive side – the really positive side – the trailer for IRON MAN is one of the best I have ever seen – a little mini-movie that stands on its own as a work of art. That strategy of the preview is based on surprise: you don’t know what you’re seeing until the title character makes its appearance, accompanied by the familiar strains of the titular Black Sabbath song. That kind of surprise revelation, obviously, cannot exist in the film itself, where people have paid for their tickets knowing what they will see. I just hope the film itself has its own qualities that will live up to the preview. In any case, the trailer certainly does its job: as it faded out to the title card “Coming May 2,” the young woman in the seat next to me whispered in frustration, “Why couldn’t it be coming out tomorrow?”
By the time the main feature began to unspool, the audience was primed and ready, and for the most part they were not disappointed by what followed. CLOVERFIELD is far from perfect, but it proves that a good concept can focus a movie in a way that blurs the flaws around the edges, keeping audience attention on what’s right instead of what’s wrong.
In this case, the concept is to tell the story of a monster movie from Ground Zero, seen through the eyes of civilians who barely have an clue of what is happening. This is achieved by filming all the action as if it were seen through a camcorder – a dangerous gambit that pays off. Yes, the sloppy hand-held work can grow tiresome and even give you a headache (as the movie wears on, you wish that Hud, the character behind the lense, would learn how to operate the camera properly), but it keeps the action believable and locks the director into a point-of-view that precludes a lot of the usual manipulative Hollywood filmmaking techniques: there are no Michael Bay montages, no crane shots or Steadicam moves.
Most important, the conceit forces the director, except for some brief moments (e.g., on board a helicopter) to keep the camera at ground level, which means that the monster, when it is glimpsed, looms high above, emphasizing the sense of gargantuan size. (This is often a problem in Japanese giant monster movies, which fell into a habit of filming Godzilla, Gamera, etc. at eye-level, destroying the sense of perspective that would have made them seem huge.)
The blurry shakey-cam technique serves one other purpose: it keeps us from getting a clear look at the monster. As frustrating as this is, it is probably a good thing, because from what we see, the monster design is not particularly impressive. It’s a fairly generic ugly beastie, and the film wisely allows the destruction it causes to upstage the actual creature. The monster does have one good moment near the end, when it confronts one of the major characters (sort of a sinister spoof on the eye-contact scene with Matthew Broderick in GODZILLA). Unfortunately, even this scene has problems, but more on those later.
Deliberately referencing September 11, 2001, CLOVERFIELD captures a chilling sense of ordinary people going about their ordinary lives until something catastrophic intervenes to rupture the well ordered calm, throwing them into pandemonium. In this regard it supremely trounces the recent THE MIST, which tried a similar strategy but succumbed all too easily to bad computer-generated imagery and a silly, manipulative twist ending. Unlike THE MIST, CLOVERFIELD actually knows how to make its monster action frightening (which is all the more impressive when you realize that, unlike Frank Darabont, director Matt Reeves did not have the option of using slow-motion, insert close-ups, cutaways, and other standard elements of film technique).
Again, in this regard, CLOVERFIELD trumps most of the famous giant monster movies of the past, such as the clumsy 1998 GODZILLA, which tend to emphasize spectacular destruction at the expense of genuine suspense. This is definitely not an “ain’t it cool” movie, wherein you cheer on the special effects; you really are on the edge of your seat, afraid that the characters will not survive the night.
Despite the mostly convincing verisimilitude of the approach, the film does succumb, especially in its last act, to some cheap manipulation, one or two bad stereotypes, and some cornball Hollywood schmaltz.
The first sign of trouble occurs shortly after evacuation from Manhattan has been cut by the monster’s destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge: we see a bunch of black people looting an electronics store. That’s right, folks: in a disaster, African-Americans are less interested in self-preservation than in grabbing some free merchandise. Rather conveniently, the broken doors allow our white hero to step in and get a new battery for his cell phone, so that he can make contact with his estranged girlfriend. Whether accidentally or intentionally, the contrast between the two behaviors (one from greed, one from altruism) feels like an echo of media coverage of the Katrina disaster (in which photographs of black people were captioned as “looters” while photographs of white people were captioned as “scavengers”).
The next doubtful moment is the result of a scary subway encounter. The Cloverfield monster sheds smaller, arachnid like creatures; although the film never specifies, they seem more like parasites than off-spring. The nimble little monsters are not as impressive as the big fella, but they do generate some creepiness in the subway confrontation. Unfortunately, we get the first “exemption pass” of the movie: although our camcorder jockey has previously captured televised footage of fully armed soldiers being overwhelmed by the parasites, our nimble band of civilians manages to fight them off with nothing more than a few improvised clubs.

However, one of them is bitten, and the payoff is handled in a way that is deliberately confusing. Although this is part and parcel of the film’s overall strategy – with the characters swept along by events and unable to take stock of what’s happened – the scene is needlessly frustrating, especially because there is a hint that the rescue workers on hand have some idea about (or at least some expectation of) what is happening. (Apparently, this is the umpteenth variation on the old cliche of what happens when you are bitten by an alien: you are either infected or impregnated; either way, you come to a messy end.) It seems a like a cheap ploy, leaving unanswered questions to be sorted out in a sequel. Also, the execution of the scene is  arbitrary – throwing in a gratuitous dollop of bloodshed just because that’s the sort of thing you do in these movies.
These early missteps are not enough to send CLOVERFIELD stumbling; one easily overlooks them as the film sweeps along. Only in the final act does the movie stagger and drop like a rhedosaurus after being shot with a radioactive isotope. The plot thread motivating the characters (besides survival) is that Rob (Michael Stahl-David) has alienated the affections of Beth (Odette Yustman), who is now lying wounded in her apartment in midtown Manhattan. Driving by a combination of guilt and love, Rob risks his life to get to her, leading to some hair-raising moments inside a high-rise building that has been reduced to the modern equivalent of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. When he finally reaches her, we are treated to this dialogue exchange (quoted from memory, so it may not be word-for-word):

BETH: You came back for me.
ROB: Sorry it took so long.

Frankly, it sounds uncomfortably like the intentionally bad Hollwyood dialogue from the film-within-a-film at the end of THE PLAYER:

JULIA ROBERTS: What took you so long.
BRUCE WILLIS: Traffic was a bitch.

Suddenly, and irrovocably, we have left the world of convincing pseudo-cinema verite behind, and we are now in Hollywoodland, where all kinds of crazy things happen just because the screenwriter says so:

  • Beth is impaled by an iron bar, but a few minutes after being pried off of it, she is running around as if nothing happened.
  • Like the titular shark in the JAWS-ripoff GREAT WHITE, the Cloverfield monster will pull a helicopter out of the air.
  • The crash will kill the pilots, but our heroes will get a “lead character exemption pass.”
  • At least Rob injures his ankle, but he exhibits the same miraculous recooperative powers as Beth, so that he is soon running around again like normal.
  • And finally, the monster’s one genuinely frightening scene is undermined by the its extremely unlikely surprise appearance. Critics who accused the T-Rex in JURASSIC PARK of turning into a stealth dinosaur at the end will have a field day with this. Although the scene retains its power to throw a scare into the audience, the ridiculous contrivance, coupled with the sloppy point-of-view camera work, had me half-hoping that the filmmakers would go all the way into parody and show a night-vision shot of the camera sliding down the creature’s gullet – and possibly out the other end as well!

In spite of all this, the film ends up on a reasonably effective somber note that seems directly lifted from the 1988 sleeper MIRACLE MILE (another ode to seeking out your true love in the face of apocalyptic disaster). Staying true to its concept, the film finishes with the end of the camcorder recording, offering no day-after denouement to make sense of anything. One has to give the filmmakers credit for not copping out, but the effect is frustrating, and you could feel the sense of disappointment settle over the audience in the Chinese Theatre.
Nevertheless, they applauded appreciatively as the credits rolled, willing to forgive the flaws in favor of celebrating the successes of the film. As one might expect in Hollywood, it seemed as if discrete chunks of the audience were friends of some of the filmmakers: as obscure names in the cast and crew slide by on-screen, there would be small spatterings of exuberant shouting and hand-clapping from different corners of the theatre.
My own personal reaction is that CLOVERFIELD is the second film in in little more than a month that is three-fourths great, only to fall apart in the final reel (the previous being I AM LEGEND). In an era when junk like THE MIST is treated as if it were the best the genre had to offer, even three-fourths of a good film is nothing to sneer at. It’s not a masterpiece, and I doubt it will go on to become a classic, but it does much right that other films of its type do wrong. In a way, I almost look forward to a sequel that might take a different approach to the material, expanding on the limited point of view used in CLOVERFIELD and answering some of the nagging questions.
CLOVERFIELD (1/18/2008, Paramount). Produced by J.J. Abrams. Directed by Matt Reeves. Written by Drew Goddard. Cast: Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Lucas, T. J. Miller, Michael Stahl-David, Mike Vogel, Odette Yustman, Anjul Nigam, Margot Farley, Theo Rossi, Brian Klugman.

Gojira (1954)/Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956) – Film & DVD Review

To the average American audience, the original Godzilla is a cheesy man-in-a-suit monster smashing cardboard buildings and stomping matchbox-size cars – something so bad that atrocious computer-generated lizard in 1998’s American-made GODZILLA is actually perceived as an improvement. Science fiction fans may be a bit kinder in their assessment, acknowledging that Godzilla’s debut film is much better than the sequels that followed, but even they tend to rank the Japanese giant well below his American counterparts. In Japan, however, the original 1954 GODZILLA is considered to be a classic on par with KING KONG (1933).
Unfortunately, for decades, GODZILLA (known as GOJIRA in its native land, a combination of the English word “gorilla” and the Japanese word for whale, “kurji”) was seen stateside only in a heavily Americanized version, released in 1956 under the title GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. Since Rialto Pictures released the Japanese version in select U.S. theatres in 2004, in time for its 50th anniversary, American audiences have finally been able to appreciate the uncut, undubbed original. Those expecting a campy kiddie film were surprised to see a slow and somber mini-masterpiece, a black-and-white nightmare about the threat of nuclear annihilation – in short, a classic example of popular entertainment working as a serious metaphor.

A fishing boat incinerated by nuclear radiation
A fishing boat incinerated by nuclear radiation

GODZILLA* dramatizes nuclear horror unlike any other film of its period, because the fantasy element is clearly standing in for a reality too horrible to contemplate directly. In a cinematic world filled with denial regarding the lethal use of nuclear weapons, Godzilla stands as reminder not only of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but also of the unfortunate fishing boat, The Lucky Dragon, which was irradiated by nuclear fallout from the U.S. test of an H-Bomb in 1954. This incident, which resulted in the subsequent death of a crew member from Leukemia, was as much an inspiration for the making of GODZILLA as were the obvious American antecedents, KING KONG and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).
Like many classic monster movies, GODZILLA gradually builds to the revelation of its title character, then keeps it mostly off-screen. Instead, the focus is on the human characters, who wrestle with the impact that Godzilla’s destruction has on their lives (something to which the film’s post-war Japanese audience could easily relate). The story even presents a genuine moral dilemma: should Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Harrata) use his Oxygen Destroyer to defeat Godzilla and, in the process, possibly reveal to the world a weapon even more devastating than the thing it’s meant to defeat? Or should he keep his weapon a secret? The question (at least in the original Japanese version) isn’t really whether the device will fall into the wrong hands; Serizawa has learned the painful lesson of Robert Oppenheimer: once the device is in any hands, its creator can no longer control it, and its use is almost inevitable.
New footage, with Frank Inagawa (center) and Raymond Burr (right) was added for the American release.
New footage, with Frank Inagawa (center) and Raymond Burr (right) was added for the American release.

The subtitled prints distributed by Rialto Pictures present the 1954 GODZILLA as it was released in Japan by Toho Studios. There are substantial differences between this and the dubbed American version, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. The subtitle “KING OF THE MONSTERS” was not the only addition; there were also new scenes with Raymond Burr playing American reporter Steve Martin (yes, his use of the name predates the famous comedian by decades).
This footage provided an audience identification figure who could narrate events, bridge continuity gaps caused by the re-editing, and explain what was going on (despite the dubbing of the lead characters, much of the supporting cast’s Japanese dialogue remained intact, while Burr’s footage was filmed and intercut to look as if his character were standing on the sidelines, having the conversations translated to him). To be fair, the American version was not a complete bastardization but a reasonable attempt to present a new and unfamiliar piece of filmmaking to an audience that needed some kind of bridge to cross the cultural gap. In at least one small way, the U.S. version improves on the multi-character scenario of the original: by using Burr’s reporter as a central viewpoint, the plot threads are tied up and presented much more clearly to the audience.
The aftermath of Godzilla rampage deliberately evokes Hiroshima and Nagasaki
The aftermath of Godzilla rampage deliberately evokes Hiroshima and Nagasaki

In every other way, however, the Japanese version is superior. With an opening scene that consciously recalls the fate of the unfortunate Lucky Dragon (a fishing boat is incinerated by a blinding nuclear flash from beneath the sea), the film intends to convey a shocking sense of the consequences of atomic weapons. Unlike the reassuring tone of American films of the period, which suggested that any nuclear aberrations could be dispatched by the same science that created them, GOJIRA offers no such consolation.
Director and co-writer Ishiro Honda (himself a war veteran) tried to capture a realistic sense of war-like devastation, a warning of what was bound to happen since the nuclear genie had been unleashed from the bottle. Aided by Eija Tsuburaya’s special effects and Akira Ifukube’s dramatic music, Honda went a long way toward achieving his goal, but much of the impact was mitigated in the American release, which not only added Burr’s scenes but also deleted several sequences (U.S. prints ran less than 80 minutes, approximately twenty minutes short of the original).

The restored footage helps fill out the characterization and ground the story in a convincing sense of reality. Several previously unseen moments stand out: the clarification that the film’s morally conflicted Dr. Serizawa lost his eye in WWII, meaning he’s a war hero; Serizawa’s overheated insistence that he “has no German friends” (he doth protest too much, making one wonder whether in fact he is not in touch with ex-Nazi scientists he might have met during the war); the insistence by paleontologist Dr. Yamane’s (SEVEN SAMURAI’s Takashi Shimura) that Godzilla is worth studying because he is capable of surviving an H-bomb (something that should be of interest to the only country ever to suffer a nuclear attack).
Of the restored scenes, most memorable is a brief dialogue aboard a train: when a male passenger jokes that his girlfriend will be the first victim should Godzilla appear in Tokyo, she responds, “Not me. Not after I survived the bomb at Nagasaki.” One shouldn’t overemphasize the impact of this scene (as filmed, it’s almost a throwaway) but the fact that it was deleted from American prints for decades lends its reappearance here the uncomfortable cutting edge, reminding viewers that Godzilla exists because of America’s nuclear attacks on civilian populations.
In other cases, subtitles enhance scenes that were visible but not translated in the U.S. version. In one scene, a mother hopelessly huddles with her two children on the sidewalk; with nowhere left to run from Godzilla’s rampage, the only comfort she can offer to her offspring is, “We’ll be with your father soon. We’ll see him in heaven.” In the second, as a crowd of evacuees stands near the shore, one orphaned character repeats, “Damn it!” while helplessly watching Godzilla overturn a bridge on its way back to the ocean. Unlike later Godzilla sequels, which filmed endless monster battles as if they were a wrestling matches staged atop a toy train set, moments like these keep the camera at eye level with the human characters, so that the special effects never become mere fun-filled spectacle. This is a film that makes you want to cringe at the destruction on screen, not applaud the ingenuity of the technicians.

Low-key lighting obscures flaws in the suit-mation effects.
Low-key lighting obscures flaws in the suit-mation effects.

This approach helps overcome the flaws in the special effects. The film’s “suit-mation” technology has always been derided by American purists, who preferred the stop-motion techniques used by Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (in which puppets with metal armatures are filmed one frame at a time). But the use of a man-in-a-suit, stomping around a detailed miniature cityscape, allowed for scenes of destruction that would have been impossible to achieve with the painstakingly slow stop-motion process. Filmed with low-key lighting to suggest the nighttime attacks, Gojira’s raids on Tokyo achieve a wonderfully moody atmosphere that does not quite blind the eye to the occasionally visible wires, but does incline one to forgive the mistakes in favor of appreciating the overall tone.
That’s because these sequences have a cumulative effect that is more impressive than anything scene in the 1998 American blockbuster. Edited together with shots that are always dramatic (even when not convincing), the imperfections fly by almost too fast to register. Thanks to fast-paced editing and stark photography, Godzilla’s rampage conveys a sense of approaching, inevitable doom as no other special effects sequence ever has. With numerous composite shots to put Godzilla in the frame with his human victims, the sense of danger is conveyed unlike anything in any subsequent sequels. The achievement is best illustrated, perhaps, by the brief moment when television cameras atop a tower broadcast long shots of the Tokyo skyline engulfed in a sea of flames. The reporter on the scene insists to his viewers (and by extension to the film’s actual audience) that this “is not a play or a motion picture!” Of course, we know it really is a movie, but we get the message: the film is telling us to take what we’re seeing seriously, and for perhaps for the one and only time in a Godzilla film, we do.


click to purchase
click to purchase

Classic Media’s two-disc DVD contains both versions of the film, plus some nice bonus features. The DVDs are packaged in a lovely box that, intentionally or not, suggest the look of import DVDs of the film that you used to find in specialty stores like Anime Jungle in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles. Inside the box there is a glossy sixteen-page booklet, featuring a few publicity photographs from the film, along with an excellent essay on the film’s history by Steve Ryfle (author of Japan’s Favorite Mon-Star: The Unauthorized Biography of the “Big G).
Disc One contains GOJIRA(divided into 24 chapter stops), plus a handful of extras: an audio commentary, two featurettes, and a Japanese trailer.
Both featurettes consist of voice-over narration illustrated by publicity stills and/or storyboard artwork. The first documents the development of the story (along with the many changes that occurred betwixt conception and final execution). The second performs a similar service regarding the design and construction of the Godzilla suit. Both are so informative that even well-read fans may find much they do not already know, and the absence of on-screen interviews is hardly felt, thanks to the effective use of still images to illustrate the spoken text.
The audio commentary by Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski fares slightly less well. If you have read books are articles by either of these two experts, you are likely to hear much that is familiar, especially during the early portions of the film, when the discussion examines the general background of the film, rather than scene-specific details. Fortunately, as the two authors delve deeper into the subject, they mine details and offer opinions that should entertain and enlighten the faithful. In one case, they even point out a special effect that I had never noticed, despite watching the film numerous times: when the villagers on Odo Island respond to the alarm bell by running up hill, you can see Godzilla’s footprints in the hillside.
Ryfle and Godziszewski make a solid argument for considering the film as a classic, and they do a good job of underlining the film’s themes, particularly as they are expressed in the conflicted character of Dr. Serizawa, a scientist whose invention can destroy Godzilla – but only at the potential cost of releasing an even more dangerous superweapon upon the world. They also acknowledge the film’s flaws (e.g., the miniature missiles bouncing off the painted sky in the background) without undermining their central thesis, that the film is a somber work worthy of serious consideration.
Disc Two contains GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (divided into a meager 9 chapter stops), a U.S. trailer, and another audio commentary by Ryfle and Godziszewski.
Unlike the Japanese trailer, which emphasizes the somber tone of the film, the American trailer is awash in enthusiastic hyberbole that is not only rather infectious but also gives a good idea of the diverging approach the American produces took when preparing the film for U.S. audiences, tightening the pace and emphasizing the action, so that the result emerged looking rather like a typical American sci-fi film from the period.
The audio commentary on this re-tooled version of the film is perhaps more interesting, because there is so much ground to cover in terms of pointing out the changes made and discussing the details of transplanting Gojira/Godzilla from Japan to America. Ryfle and Godziszewski are joined at different points by Ted Newsom and Terry Morse, Jr (son of the man who directed the new American footage), and Ryfle also plays audio excerts from interviews he conducted with some of the people involved in purchasing the rights to distribute the film in the U.S.
Ogata (Akira Takarada, center) and Emiko (Momoko Kochi, right) convince Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata, lest) to use his Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla.
Ogata amd Emiko (Akira Takarada and Momoko Kochi, center) convince Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata, left) to use his Oxygen Destroyer against Godzilla.

Although Ryfle and Godziszewski obviously prefer the original GOJIRA, they treat the Americanized version with respect, even pointing out a few instances when it improves upon the original, such as Ogata’s line to convince Serizawa to use the Oxygen Destroyer against the monster: “You have your fear, which may become reality. And you have Godzilla, which is reality.”
Perhaps the most salient point that the duo make is that, although GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS may seem like a bastardization of the original, it nonetheless deserves its place in film history because its success helped launch the Japanes giant monster craze that followed. GOJIRA may be the superior version, but it never would have played in local theatres across America. By adding Raymond Burr as a reporter-narrator, director Morse and company gave the film a much needed Occidental point-of-view that allowed audiences a way of seeing into the Japanese world of the film.
Unfortunately, as essential as this DVD set is, it is not quite perfect. GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS lacks subtitles of any kind, making it difficult to follow the story while listening to the audio commentary (something I prefer to do). The subtitles on GOJIRA are of a slightly dull color, making them sometimes hard to read depending on the background image. Both prints are in good shape, having been struck relatively recently, but the sad fact is that that film may never be seen in pristine form again, thanks to wear and tear on the negative that especially rears its ugly head during the special effects scenes.
Ryfle and Godziszewski make a gaffe or two. In the GOJIRA commentary, Godziszewski refers to a shot (of a mother huddling with her children during Gojira’s night-time raid on Tokyo) as missing from the American version, which is incorrect. Fortunately, in the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS commentary, Ryfle rightly points out that the shot is there; it is simply not subtitled, so you miss its significance. (The young mother hopelessly tells her children they will be joining their father soon in heaven – which evokes thoughts of the Japanese soldiers who died in World War II.)
Perhaps most disappointing, the GOJIRA audio commentary mentions a reference to the atomic bombing of Nagasaki that does not actually occur in the film, at least in the print on this DVD. In the scene (which was deleted from the American version), a woman commuter laments the appearance of Gojira and – in the subtitles for some prints – adds, “I hope I didn’t survive Nagasaki for nothing.” Although both Ryfle and Godziszewski mention the reference (Ryfle even quotes it later, in the GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS commentary), it is not seen in the subtitles here. And truth be told, listening to the Japanese dialogue, I’m not sure I can hear the woman say Nagasaki, leaving me to wonder if the subtitles on earlier prints were a mistake. In any case, it is a glaring anamoly to hear the two experts discussing something is not actually visible to the viewer, and only someone who had seen older import tapes of the movie would know what they are talking about.
Despite these minor flaws, the new GOJIRA DVD is a genuin gem. Thanks to later sequels, which rapidly descended into juvenile, anthropomorphized antics, with Godzilla acting as the proctor of Earth against other monsters and/or alien invasions, Godzilla is not something we take seriously as film art. Yet the monster’s very first film appearance ranks as one of the classic sci-fi-fantasy-horror films, worthy of standing beside the original KING KONG in all his majesty. Hopefully, this DVD will help secure GOJIRA’s rightful place in the pantheon of movie monsters.

An elaborate miniature setting for Godzilla's raid on Tokyo

GODZILLA (Gojira, Toho Studios, 1954; a.k.a. GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS,1956). Directed by Ishiro Honda. Written by Ishiro Honda and Takeo Murata, from a story by Shigeru Kayama. Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura.

  • Alone among Godzilla films, the 1954 original was known for many decades – even in English-speaking circles – only by its Japanese title, GOJIRA. This usage made sense when the film had not been released under the title GODZILLA; it helped distinguish the uncut Japanese version from its Americanized off-shoot, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS. However, since Rialto’s 2004 release used the English title GODZILLA, that is the usage adopted in this review. As a side note, no one seems to know precisely why or how Toho Studios decided to rename their most famous monster for export to the rest of the world.