As a kid, there was perhaps no bigger love in my life than Godzilla (…ok, maybe Batman too). I mean, come on, a 300ft dinosaur that breathes blue fire/radiation that destroys anything in its path and is impervious to tanks, jets, power lines, and those red lasers that the radar dish things shoot? What’s not to love for a young impressionable kid? Godzilla looks awesome and fights a bunch of other awesome looking monsters while a bunch of stuff blows up – nuff said. However, I think I’m reaching an age where the things I loved in my youth are starting to show their seams, and no, I’m not talking about the zipper in the back of the Godzilla costume.
The Return of Godzilla, or, as it was known to all young American kids growing up in the late 80s/early 90s, Godzilla 1985, was perhaps one of my favorite Godzilla movies as a child, which is surprising when I look back, as Godzilla doesn’t fight any monsters in this particular installment and is portrayed as a bad guy, contrary to the many Godzilla films that were made throughout the 70s that depicted Godzilla as a hero. But maybe it was precisely that reason why I loved it. After all, as much as I enjoyed the Saturday morning kids cartoon-like adventures of 70s era Godzilla (also known as the Showa Period), I think I liked the eviler and menacing version of the mid 80s even more. This was a Godzilla without mercy, without thought – a straight up evil and bad ass monster, unconcerned with appealing to the kiddies or jumping up and down exuberantly after defeating a foe.
The Return of Godzilla was released as a direct sequel to the original 1954 Godzilla, hence the change from hero to villain, and because it was released in the mid-80s, its main story focus was of course cold war tensions between the United States and the U.S.S.R., with Japan caught in the middle, forced to decide on whether or not to use nuclear weapons to kill Godzilla. And, as is par for the course with any Godzilla movie, there’s the usual “we shouldn’t muck with nature” and “Man created Godzilla” story beats. But there is one thing that distinguishes this chapter in the long running franchise from the rest, and that’s the fact that it, along with the 1954 original, were both heavily edited and changed for the American release.
Enter Raymond Burr…
As I mentioned earlier, The Return of Godzilla was released in America as Godzilla 1985, but that wasn’t the only thing that was changed when it came over from Japan. Like it’s 1954 predecessor, the film was cut down in length, some story beats were changed, and the overall tone was reduced to make it a little less bleak – also, Raymond Burr was added to the film in additional scenes as American journalist “Steve Martin”, you know, because we wouldn’t understand what the hell’s going on unless there’s an American to explain it to us. For years this was the only version of the movie I had seen or was even aware of. It wouldn’t be until decades later that I would discover that the original Japanese version was a rarity in the States, having never been released by Toho Studios in America. In fact, over thirty years later, even the American version isn’t available on any other format other than VHS (a problem associated with the studio that put the film out in the United States – you know, the usual nonsense involving rights issues). So, cut back to the present, it’s 2016 and independent label Kraken Releasing has finally managed to get the rights from Toho to release the original, uncut Japanese version of The Return of Godzilla. As a fan of the American version, I was understandably curious, and even a little excited.
Then I saw the film, and suddenly I began questioning if the so called “watered down American version” was actually better than the highly touted, uncut Japanese version.
Let’s be clear, I haven’t seen the Raymond Burr-Cut in what is probably going on twenty years at least, so my memory of that version may be a little clouded by nostalgia and good memories. But the whole time I was watching the Japanese version, I couldn’t help but feel like the American cut was tighter, maintained the same sense of dread and “we shouldn’t muck with nature” story beats, and overall just made Godzilla out to be much more of a threat than he comes across as in this “bleaker” version, which mainly consists of him standing around in the center of the city looking as if he just took a massive hit off of a kaiju sized bong. Yes, the American cut does trim a lot of scenes out of the film, but everything cut is simply fat – scenes that run on too long and end up sapping any feeling of menace from Godzilla.
To put it simply, and I’m sure I’m going to anger many a Godzilla fan out there; I found the Japanese cut boring. Most of the scenes run on too long, I don’t care about the brother/sister dynamic (mainly because the acting is terrible – and no, I did NOT watch it with the English dubbing), and Godzilla just seems like a stoned old man who just got woken up from a good nap and is now wandering around looking for a toke on a joint (or, in this case, a radioactive core) so he can get back to sleep. But, as I said, my memory of the American version may not be entirely dependable, so it’s totally possible that the Raymond Burr-Cut is just as boring.
Bottom line, and I hate to say this, but I think my love affair with old school Godzilla may have come to an end. Guys in rubber monster suits slowly walking around while mini explosions go off around them just doesn’t do it for me anymore. Like pro-wrestling and playing with action figures in the bathtub, Godzilla is one of the many things from my childhood that I think I finally put to bed.
THE VIDEO – 4/10
From what I understand, Toho Ltd. is a pretty difficult studio to work with in terms of getting good prints to make international transfers of their films on home video, and evidently this is a trend that continues with The Return of Godzilla. I’m sure Kraken Releasing did the best with what they had, but clearly what they were given to work with wasn’t exactly ideal. The transfer here looks more akin to an upconverted DVD. There are no real scratches or print damage to speak of exactly, but everything about the video just looks old and faded. The colors don’t pop, there’s no sharpness at all to the image, and most of the time it looks like I’m watching a 16mm version of the movie that Toho found lying around in the basement somewhere.
THE AUDIO – 6/10
Things fare a bit better on the audio side. Whether you’re watching the English Dub or the Japanese language track, both offer adequate DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround sound, with ok movement across the left and right channels and decent use of the surrounds when it comes to thunderstorms or the musical score (which was the first thing that jogged my memory of the film when I started watching it). Bass, like Godzilla’s stomping foot falls or the explosions that come when rockets bounce off of his chest, have just enough oomph. Everything here could be much better of course, but what we’re presented with is satisfactory, and after experiencing the video on display, practically THX quality by comparison.
THE SPECIAL FEATURES – 1/10
A pretty typical bare bones Blu-ray release, with the only special feature consisting of the film’s Theatrical Trailer, unless you consider finally having the original Japanese Cut of the film a special feature in and of itself.
THE FINAL RATING – 4/10
One of the worst things a film can do is be boring, and I’m sorry to say that the Japanese cut of The Return of Godzilla is just that. Combined with pretty mediocre video and a complete lack of special features (again, probably not the fault of Kraken Releasing), The Return of Godzilla is a release I’d only recommend to die-hard Godzilla fans. For anyone else, you’re better off sticking to the original 1954 classic (which has a fantastic release from Criterion Collection) or the 2014 reboot.