Sony // 1956 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Barrie Maxwell (Retired) // November 11th, 2002
Perry Mason goes to Tokyo.
This is the Americanized 1956 version of the original "Godzilla" film released in 1954 by Toho Co. in Japan under the title "Gojira." The latter was directed by Ishiro Honda and ran some 98 minutes in length, but was shortened for its American release with new footage featuring Raymond Burr added to explain the story and reduce the need for dubbing of Japanese dialogue. The story is probably familiar to most people. Basically, a prehistoric monster dubbed Godzilla arises from the depths of the Pacific and makes its way to Tokyo harbour, from which it proceeds to lay waste to the city before returning to the sea. A Japanese scientist has developed a process capable of removing all oxygen from water, and it is proposed that it be used as a last resort to deal with the monster before it returns.
I've never seen the original Japanese version, although others have suggested that it was a superior experience to the Raymond Burr version. The complaint that the Burr footage is poorly integrated into the film is not one that I share, however. Certainly, some of it is awkwardly done, but it is not any more awkward than some of the miniature and rubber suit work used throughout the film. The new Burr sequences provide a reasonable framing structure to the story and director Terry Morse has done a fairly good job matching them up with the rest. I've always been a big Burr fan, and here he's very much in his calm, rational Perry Mason mode. It seems consistent with the character he's playing -- a representative for an international news service.
The film itself has considerable appeal, if one makes allowances for its technical inadequacies in comparison to contemporary special effects capabilities. The story is well structured, the film builds suspense effectively, and the destruction of Tokyo by Godzilla is quite nicely realized. At 78 minutes, the film seems well paced and it's hard to imagine an extra 20 minutes improving on that aspect at least.
This current DVD release comes from Sony Music Entertainment. The transfer is full frame, which looks correct. It seems likely that the original Japanese release was filmed in the old Academy standard aspect ratio of 1.37:1, although its American version was likely matted for its domestic release. The black and white source material is very beaten up, and the result is an image riddled with scratches and speckles. Despite that, much of the image is not bad in terms of black levels and contrast. Many of the inserted Burr sequences are a bit brighter than the rest of the original Japanese material, which tends to have a dark look to it. Two Dolby Digital sound tracks are provided -- the original mono and a reprocessed 5.1 mix. The latter is not particularly effective; it seems more like a five channel mono mix at best. LFE are not impressive. One is just as well off to stick to the original mono mix, although it has a lot of noticeable hiss. The English dubbing, though minimal, is pretty poor. Other than a promo for a Godzilla Gamecube of some type or other, there are no supplements on the disc.
Despite the mediocre presentation, the disc's modest price ($13 list) and the simple pleasures of the original Godzilla film make the disc worth considering for fans.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1956
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* "Godzilla" Gamecube Demo