Though obviously very dated nearly sixty years later, Eiji Tsuburaya’s special effects are still quite effective. The Godzilla monster was actually a person inside a suit. The result is inevitably somewhat hokey looking, especially when the creature’s full body is seen lumbering around. But effects such as melting electrical towers and collapsing buildings remain impressive when their age is taken into consideration. A featurette on the DVD shows before-and-after stills of scenes utilizing matte painting that are, in fact, difficult to detect even today. Miniatures are sometimes glaringly obvious - a damaged helicopter, in particular, looks rather toy-like. Actually some of the most effective scenes, from an effects standpoint, are the stormy scenes on Odo Island early in the film before we actually see the monster. These scenes are ominous in their suggestion of the monster’s presence.
Criterion’s DVD presents an entirely acceptable visual and audio experience, considering the age of the movie. Stock footage of depth charges being deployed at sea looks horrible, but I’m sure that was inherent in the source. Criterion’s Godzilla is also available on Blu-ray if you’re looking for an even better visual presentation. Godzilla, King of the Monsters! is a great supplement to the main feature, as it offers a distinctly different take on the story. Raymond Burr stars as Steve Martin, an American reporter, in this re-edit, with footage directed by Terry Morse strategically inserted into the original. Martin’s narration provides exposition for English-speaking audiences that reduces the need for subtitles. The references to Godzilla as a nuclear creation are reduced in the American version, making it more of a traditional monster movie. While the Japanese version is preferable, the recut is an interesting companion piece.
Both the original and recut version are supplemented by audio commentaries, both by film historian David Kalat. Cast and crew interviews make up the bulk of the extras on disc two, while the aforementioned featurettes on the visual effects and real-life Lucky Dragon incident are the meat of disc one’s extras. A fourteen minute interview with film critic Tadao Sato is also included on the first disc, with Sato explaining the significance of the original film.