A new Godzilla rises from the corpse of the first American remake
Toho’s aggressive response to an American Godzilla flub screams, “We do it better,” and undoubtedly, the Japanese utilize the best parts of their icon – while grossly overstepping their capabilities. Godzilla 2000 was tossed into rapid production and metaphorically funded by the groans of weary audiences leaving theaters from Roland Emmerich’s critical dud. Godzilla was back, quite literally edgier with voluminous back plates and notable piercing fangs. Tsutomu Kitagawa’s athleticism inside the suit commands this slouchy-postured design for the first time in a continuous streak (through to the climatic Godzilla Final Wars), adding vivid energy and character to a newly non-dormant creation.
This is surely Godzilla’s film, pushing aside spunky human characters who by the close of the feature, have little do other than look on in awe of the kaiju tussle with their arcs complete. Crisis Control Agency lead Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe) is comically stone faced and impervious to emotion with an underdeveloped grudge against Godzilla, clashing with rival scientist Shinoda (Takehiro Murata) whose goal is using the beast for research. Stand offish confrontations barely elicit a narrative whimper, although Godzilla 2000 reaches for some broken blockbuster humor which feels mostly uncomfortable under guidance from series veteran director Takao Okawara, lensing his last film to date.
All of that humor is part of an unspoken mantra where Toho is attempting to replicate foreign filmmaking for their own localized audience, without the financial musculature needed to squeeze out a successful facsimile. An influx of weary, shaky digital composites and abysmally rendered CG effects of a shimmering UFO were aged in 1999; now, they’re a crime to cinema.
Digital effects expectantly age as technologically advanced systems take their place. Yet, the slew of miniatures and rubber suits maintain their ability to entertain for generations. Godzilla 2000’s introduction – atmospheric and clouded in shadow – is among the most effective and credible since the creature first slipped onto screens in 1954. Lighting, smoke, and fire are brilliantly executed with immediacy to lend credence that Toho’s style is viable in the current millennium. Shame then so much of this is tossed for the sake of modernization.
Of all of its credits, none are more impressive than Godzilla 2000’s issuance into American theaters, the first of Toho’s works to do so since Godzilla 1985 was embarrassingly re-edited for its Stateside distribution. Sony’s crew was respectful (mostly). Editing was sharper, while bolder sound design bridged the action better, although hokey dub work scripting remained an unfortunate side effect of this process.
Either way, Toho’s re-establishment of their icon is a divided victory, loaded with unusually generous levels of monster action sequences. On the flipside, it shows the damage a lean human story can cause to a film otherwise oozing competency for the genuine source material. Well, except for Godzilla’s new perfunctory intergalactic foe Orga. Nobody liked Orga.
Sony’s Blu-ray release is the first time the original Japanese cut is being made available here in the US officially. It’s a single disc release with both versions sharing a BD-50, and given enough space to be adequate. Sadly, the key master is as outdated as many of the CG effects in the film itself, particularly in terms of resolution.
Focusing squarely on the Japanese cut, softness permeates although some facial detail is evident in close. Edge enhancement remains from the dated techniques used to create this not-so-HD version, crushing medium shots in a dreary digital haze. Opening moments, which are almost all layered in fog, bring about added troubles which will thankfully clear up. However, the pitiful compositing will cause inherent variations in the quality. Colors are dulled and black levels lessened.
It appears to be culled from early DVD-era work, lacking in precision fidelity. Murkiness is common. Notably, the Japanese cut suffers from appalling grain management (with excessive smearing) while the US version wipes much of grain in direct comparison. Digitization of this original film source is not handled pleasantly, and since the masters likely belong to the source studios, any blame is respective.
At the least, Sony has produced fresh work for their shorter version and despite some questionably heavy reduction in grain, the results are strikingly clean. Images contain tighter clarity and colors are rendered in richer hues. Note some color timing alterations have been made. Black levels feel natural as opposed to washed out without crushing much in the way of shadow details. Some errant noise is infrequent, while the only major goof lies in gamma levels. They have been significantly (and obviously) raised, brightening the images with the side effect of making composites and CG artifacts stand out whereas they were hidden by shadows or lighting previously.
Likewise for the audio, the differences take on two extremes, if not with negatives but positives. Toho only produced the film with a stereo track, replicated here accurately. DTS-HD powers the widely staged mix with spectacular results for only a two channel source. Missiles are flung side-to-side perfectly and the spread of monster action is satisfyingly rich. Takayuki Hattori’s score may lack symphonic weight by design, but the horns blare beautifully in this environment.
Dependent on your views toward authenticity, the Americanized audio can be either an abundance of considerate spatial design or a desecration because of the deluge of added sound effects and score pieces. Scenes which were almost eerily silent are given activity to broaden the stage and keep things constantly moving. Additional Akira Ifukube compositions are used while chipper military marches are inserted along with some emotional numbers. What can’t be ignored is the power added to this track (despite the dubbing) by the addition of a true LFE channel, sending buildings tumbling and explosions outward with raw force. Dynamic range is vivid for the sake of escalating the monster work. It’s fun, but debatable.
Bonuses! It’s been a rarity for these Toho Godzilla Collection Blu-rays, although to weaken their addition, most are merely pulled from a 13-year old DVD. Ah well. A commentary comes from some of the US translation team, including producer Mike Schlesinger, editor Mike Mahoney, and sound editor Darren Pascal. They remain energetic and talkative about the changes. A super short look at raw effects footage never loses its charm, and a trailer for the original version (this a new addition) is offered.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.
Bonus US version screen shots: