So now it's been about a month since The Criterion Collection's Godzilla: The Shòwa-Era Films, 1954-1975 came out in the US so I figure now's the time for a review.
So before we get into the set itself might as well explain the events that lead up to the set being announced.
Back in November of 2017 we got an announcement that Janus Films and The Criterion Collection acquired the rights to:
- Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
- Godzilla Raids Again
- Mothra vs. Godzilla
- Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster
- Invasion of Astro-Monster
- War of the Gargantuas
- Son of Godzilla
- Destroy All Monsters
- All Monsters Attack
- Godzilla vs. Megalon
- Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
- Terror of Mechagodzilla
These films prior to Criterion acquiring them were leased by: Classic Media(later turned DreamWorks Classics), Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, and Tokyo Shock(a subdivision of Media Blasters. The films Classic Media held the rights to came from the purchase of Henry G. Saperstein and the UPA(United Pictures of America) library which was Gojira, Godzilla Raids Again, Rodan, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster, Invasion of Astro-Monster, War of the Gargantuas, All Monsters Attack, and Terror of Mechagodzilla(including their US cut counterparts) these films presumably reverted back to Toho around 2015 or 2016. While Sony had licensed Son of Godzilla and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla in 2004 that ended around 2010 and Media Blasters had the rights to Godzilla vs. Megalon and Destroy All Monsters which they presumably lost the rights around 2016(for Destroy All Monsters) and 2018(for Godzilla vs. Megalon).
The Godzilla films not mentioned in it's initial release included:
- King Kong vs. Godzilla
- Ebirah: Horror of the Deep
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah
- Godzilla vs. Gigan
These films were owned by 2 separate companies these were/are: Universal and Section 23/Kraken Releasings. Universal still owns King Kong vs. Godzilla due to a deal made back in 1962 basically making Universal the owners of the film outside of Japan. So basically what Universal wanted that is what was shown, one of the issues with this was the loss of the Japanese version outside of Japan. But for the set we're talking about it includes the Japanese version... This is because while getting together each of these films Criterion, Toho, and Universal sat down and worked out how to include this film and it's Japanese counterpart(which was downgraded to just a supplement on disc 8).
For the films that Section 23/Kraken Releasing (which is all the rest) had a lease to the films that lapsed earlier this year. Back in the 1950s/60s/70s they leased films for 20+ years then in the early 2000s it went down to approximately 10 years and now it's around 5 years generally. So if you look at when Section 23/Kraken Releasings acquired the rights to these films it was in 2014 then you add five years to that lease date, their rights would have lapsed in 2019 which is exactly what we saw. And once those rights elapsed Janus Films/Criterion acquired the rights to them in early 2019.
So that's where these films have been in a nutshell. Now, as stated earlier, in November of 2017 we got the announcement after that things were quiet other than seeing Criterion contacting artists about doing some artwork. Then in July 2019 at G-Fest(where I was present), during the "Bringing Godzilla Down to Size" panel with Ed Godziszewski and Steve Ryfle, Ed said something along the lines of "Expect an announcement within the week.”, referring to the Criterion release. Then after the panel I was able to catch up with them and talked to them for a bit. I learned that they "wrote a book for the set" which is what came to be true. But, going back to the panel, it wasn't the week after but 2 weeks after when Criterion sent out their November release schedule. However, nothing was on the email about their highly anticipated spine 1000 nor the Godzilla set. However, at the top it said, "Get ready for a big announcement next week." which basically confirmed the set.
Then the week after we got the reveal which was met with mostly positive first reactions. Then as people started to look into the set they slowly got less and less excited. But let's get into my thoughts of the set...
To start off, I'm going to discuss the artwork of both the book and the films then the disc art, the cover art, back cover art. To me, all the art for this set leaned too much into pop art. I feel like this set went too far with the bright colors. It's eye catching but not in a good way. Also the way that Godzilla is drawn is very disproportionate.(Art by Yuko Shimizu)
But moving onto the art for each independent film, the art for Gojira is definitely interesting but the piece missed a groove when trying to translate this film from a movie to a picture. From the colors used to how Godzilla is portrayed, it feels off from the film.(Art by Bill Sienkiewicz)
Godzilla Raids Again's art isn't my cup of tea either. However I do think the colors are better than the ones used for Gojira, especially since both of these films are black & white and should use more mute colors. But the main issue with this art is the fact that both Anguirus and Godzilla seem to not have anything to do and the background makes no sense to me whatsoever.(Art by Katsuya Terada)
King Kong vs. Godzilla: the artwork for this film is amazing! Out of all of these, this one is the best translation from movie to art. Between the design to the look and coloration it's what these should have been.(Art by Arthur Adams)
Mothra vs. Godzilla was one of the artworks that suffered from using the wrong designs of the monsters. This one uses the 2003 designs from Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., not the 1964 ones. Also, the texture of this one feels off, and the pose that they are in was taken from another piece.(Art by Angela Rizza)
The artwork for Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster was my biggest disappointment from this set. The fact that they made it look like it was made by the Aztecs was very confusing. The film has nothing to do with the Aztecs which leads me to believe that the artist was using concepts from 2019's Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but still, this was probably the biggest disappointment from the set.(Artwork by Monarobot)
Moving to another art piece that fell for the alternate designs was Invasion of Astro-Monster where the Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2 design for Rodan can be seen. In this art, King Ghidorah is also butchered due to the fact that he appears to be "King Vacuum" and not Ghidorah. But, I will say that, other than the representation of those 2 monsters, the rest of the art fits and works really well with the set.(Artwork by Benjamin Marra)
The artwork for Ebirah: Horror of the Deep to me, was another highlight of the artwork. The designs are somewhat accurate and the coloration of it fits with the film. This is probably in my top 5 favorites for the art in this set.(Artwork by Simon Gane)
Son of Godzilla: my main issues with this one is mainly the fact that Minilla doesn't look correct. But other than that I'm fine with the art.(Artwork by Robert Goodin)
Destroy All Monsters: This one is a lot more chaotic and all over the place. And yet again some designs appeared to not be the ones from the film, such as how Godzilla seems like the Baby Godzilla from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2 and most of the kaiju seem like chibis and not their actual selves(Artwork by Sophie Campbell)
The All Monsters Attack art is very interesting to me. The idea the artist had was great but the execution of how Godzilla, Gabara, and Minilla look were not good. They are not proportioned right. Godzilla's arms seems too far up, Minilla looks too fat, and it turns me off of the art piece as a whole.(Artwork by Jorge Coelho)
Now moving on to 1971's Godzilla vs. Hedorah. This is a great opportunity to what each of these should have been. Only thing I dislike is the amount of detail that was put into the art. Had it been slightly less detailed I would have enjoyed it through & through but I dislike it mainly because it didn't fit with the rest so the fine details look off.(Artwork by Geof Darrow)
Yet another highlight of the set, Godzilla vs. Gigan, this was probably my favorite from the 70s stuff. The only issues I have is that the human characters feel not needed in this artwork. They feel like they were maybe last minute and not thought through. And even though I'm down with the design, Godzilla could be slightly improved upon.(Artwork by Becky Cloonan)
And from a high point to a low point, Godzilla vs. Megalon feels very disconnected from the rest of the art. I like the concept of Godzilla being a mushroom cloud but again the way it was delivered wasn't good. And the style that Megalon, Jet Jaguar, and Gigan are drawn in is awful. That's some of the worst concepts from the artwork present in this set.(Artwork by Ronald Wimberly)
Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is vastly superior in terms of the artwork. I like the more realistic route they took and how both Mechagodzilla and King Caesar look and what little we see of Godzilla looks good. Only thing is I wish is that we could have seen more of Godzilla in this piece.(Artwork by Takashi Okazaki)
And the final bit of art in this set, Terror of Mechagodzilla... I was highly disappointed with this artwork. Not only does Godzilla seem evil in the art but the style, the text throughout the piece is too distracting and takes away from the art. This was one I was hoping would be really good but they abused this one greatly.(Artwork by Chris Wisnia)
Overall, the artwork in this set is very "hit or miss" for me. I like ones like King Kong vs. Godzilla or Godzilla vs. Gigan but then I hate ones like Terror of Mechagodzilla and Mothra vs. Godzilla. But the biggest thing that I dislike is the fact that all the art is very disconnected and doesn't fit as one huge set, and that hurts this box set a lot.
To quickly bring up the disc art, they are unified and look well with each other as a set.
Moving onto the special features, this set isn't one to write home about. It includes the stuff from the 2011 Criterion Collection's release of Gojira and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! such as:
- Commentary for Gojira and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! by film historian David Kalat
- 2011 video essay about the real life tragedy that inspired Godzilla
- Interview with Tadao Sato
Which it's nice that those were brought back so you didn't have to worry about buying the 1954 movie solo. But to get you to buy this set it includes stuff like:
- Interview with Alex Cox about Godzilla
- Interviews with cast & crews that are both new and archival
- New subtitles
And stuff they were able to get such as:
- A program talking about how they did the special effects on some of these movies
- International dubs for the films: Invasion of Astro-Monster, Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, Godzilla vs. Megalon, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, and Terror of Mechagodzilla
- The English cut Godzilla, King of the Monsters!
- The Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla
The stuff from the 2011 Criterion release is all found on the first disc. In Fact the first disc is just simply a reprint of the 2011 Blu-ray except some slight updates like including the Janus Films logo in the front of Gojira and Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and a new main menu screen to match the feel of the pop art along with some new coding of the disc. Then the rest of the special features can be found on disc 8, the final disc of the set, that includes the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla.
What we got is nice, however, to better all the films, separate discs would have been better and then really hammer it home with some special features that are specific to the different films and including such things as commentaries to the films; especially both versions of King Kong vs. Godzilla to help explain the differences and history of this monumental film of the franchise.
We did get a new booklet this release too. It's different from the ones we got from the Classic Media set and the original 2011 Criterion release so don't let go of those. This booklet was written by Steve Ryfle and is pretty informative for the new fan. However, if you've researched Godzilla before you'll know basically anything and everything said in the booklet. But something nice is that Ed Godziszewski did all the synopsis for each film and helped Steve out on the booklet, so that's a nice little inclusion.
Speaking of inclusion, something this set really hurts in is the alternate cuts of the films and lack of the English dubs. As stated earlier, this set does include the international dubs of:
- Invasion of Astro-Monster
- Son of Godzilla
- Destroy All Monsters
- Godzilla vs. Megalon
- Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla
- Terror of Mechagodzilla
These dubs aren't anything too exciting, nor anything to write home about in fact, this set is missing many dubs and cuts to be this "Ultimate Collectors Set". Dubs for films like:
- Ebirah: Horror of the Deep international dub
- Destroy All Monsters international dub
- Godzilla vs. Hedorah international dub
- Godzilla vs. Gigan international dub
All these Toho approved dubs don't see a spot on this box set which doesn't make any sense from their track record and their views of these dubs. But this hurts it in the fact that this set doesn't include 4 perfectly good dubs that Toho is known to approve.
And let's not forget the biggest thing people were upset about… the English cuts. For those that don't know what English cuts they didn't include:
- Gigantis: The Fire Monster a.k.a. Godzilla Raids Again (Warner Brothers)
- Godzilla vs. The Thing a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Mothra (American International Pictures)
- Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster (Walter-Reed)
- Godzilla vs. Monster Zero a.k.a. Monster Zero (United Productions of America)
- Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster (Walter-Reed)
- Son of Godzilla (Walter-Reed)
- Destroy All Monsters (American International Pictures)
- Godzilla's Revenge (United Productions of America)
- Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Hedorah (American International Pictures)
- Godzilla on Monster Island a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Gigan (CinamaShares)
- Godzilla vs. Megalon (CinamaShares)
- Godzilla vs. The Bionic Monster a.k.a. Godzilla vs. The Cosmic Monster a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (CinamaShares)
- Terror of Godzilla a.k.a. Terror of Mechagodzilla (United Productions of America & Bob Con Enterprises)
Some of these films included alternate dubs by Titan Sound. Those include:
- Godzilla vs. The Thing a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Mothra
- Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster
- Son of Godzilla
- Destroy All Monsters
- Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster a.k.a. Godzilla vs. Hedorah
The other films were dubbed by different companies such as Grimaldi for Godzilla Raids Again. And Bellucci Productions for Ghidorah: The Three Headed Monster.
These dubs are known to not have a good reputation in the eyes of Toho but these have all seen the light of day at least on a VHS(some on DVD). But as stated earlier, this set was marked as the "Ultimate Godzilla Collectors Set" and the fact that they couldn't include the dubs and cuts is an insult. However, the addition of the Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla is a great addition but it wasn't enough to make this "that amazing set" it was made out to be.
But, this set does have the Japanese cuts which is good to finally have the original Japanese versions of some of these films(no alterations), and the audio tracks for the Japanese dialogue is in good shape. However, for the international dub of Invasion of Astro-Monster it has a couple changes to the film(in it's English dub counterpart) and those scenes were never dubbed. So, during the film it on occasions switches back to the Japanese dialogue which can be jarring to viewers. But, other than that the rest of the dubs match perfectly with their films.
And to wrap up my review, the video quality has put off a lot of fans over the set mainly because Toho did not allow Criterion to digitally restore any of the film's so it was strictly the video representation that Toho gave them which were cheap 2008 Blu-ray remasters Toho made back then to make a quick buck off the Godzilla movies. So these already aren't the best quality possible transfers. As stated earlier, Toho forced Criterion to not be able to digitally restore any of the movies so instead they altered the colors to make them more vibrant, or increase the black light to make stuff pop out. And anyone that works on video editing knows that altering colors also damages the video quality. So the fine details found in the Sony and Kraken's transfers are not found here. Some films have more clear altering than others, but it's still noticeable. Toho could have supplied better stuff than what they did (like the 2014 remasters), but with what Criterion had they did a bang up job.
Overall this set leaves much to be desired. From the audio options to the special features, this set was a huge letdown to me and many fans hoping for the Criterion treatment for each of these films. The artwork could have been more cohesive and more aligned with the Shòwa era films, maybe even getting artists known for kaiju art like Matt Frank or Bob Eggeleton. The audio was good there really wasn't anything else they could have done. The video presentation definitely could have been way better than what we got, but as we speak, Toho is working on 4K transfers of all 29 Japanese Godzilla movies and when that comes out, Criterion may try to pick up those for a US release. Also, if possible, making or getting more special features to add specific features for each movie would be a nice addition. Of course, the worst part of this set is something I have strong opinions on. The US dubs and cuts must be included, even if it was only once just to get these versions to see the light of day one more time before they become lost on any official platforms. That would be amazing to see.
Out of 5 stars, I give it 2½ out of 5 stars.
Now one question I've been asked is, "Do you recommend this set?" And the quick answer is no. But to just quickly state why I don't recommend this set...This isn't for new fans, unless they are used to subtitles, but the average American doesn't want to read a movie they want to watch it. That takes out new fans and some American fans. Also, the future likelihood of them re-releasing the set with more stuff is high but that's only if they end up doing the Heisei and Millennium sets that I believe they will do within the next 10 years. But, if you're a completionists like I am, then you most definitely will want this set.
Also, to make sure that people don't think I hate this set, it does include the best possible releases of Gojira, Godzilla, King of the Monsters!, King Kong vs. Godzilla, Son of Godzilla, and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, so it isn't the worst set ever it's just not the best. Had it been released by Mill Creek or Arrow Video, it would have been more understandable, but this is Criterion and they should have been able to do more with this set, but Toho shut them down on so many things. But as usual, Toho doesn't play too well with people.
Had they done 2 volumes of the set, one around the time of Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the other in March for the original Godzilla vs. Kong release date and really give each film the time and care they deserve it would have probably been best for all. Like the size of the set, lots of people dislike the size. Had they gone with 2 volumes they could have tried to include the other dubs and cuts along with loads of special features and commentary tracks for each independent film. Making more cohesive artwork for the set would have helped it also.
Order your copy of The Criterion Collection's Godzilla: The Shòwa Era Films, 1954-1975 here.
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