As nearly anyone who is reading this knows, the original 1954 "Godzilla" - a surprisingly stark and bleak anti-nuclear allegory - was released in America in 1956 with 40 minutes chopped off (including most of the anti-nuclear material) and 20 minutes of Raymond Burr added. This DVD from Classic Media is the first time the original version of "Godzilla" has been released on home video in North America, and it's a revealation: gloomy and completely non-cathartic in its destruction sequences, the Japanese cut plays more like an art film than a monster movie; its thematic material and serious take on Godzilla make it arguable the best of the series from a cinematic perspective. The American version, on the other hand, is actually not the abomination that some people claim: while lacking the artistic merit of the Japanese version, it's still a sober and entertaining flick in its own right, thanks to the power of director Ishiro Honda's original footage and the solemnity of Raymond Burr's performance.
The DVD has both versions of the film, each on its own disc. Image quality is not especially striking for either, although this has more to do with the state of film technology in 1950s Japan than poor DVD restoration. In fact, both films look as good as they ever have, and this is probably the sharpest and clearest you'll see them in the forseeable future.
The major extras are commentaries on both versions of the film by historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski (these tracks also include occasional guest appearances by others). The tracks cover just about everything there is to cover, and there is almost no overlap between the two tracks. There are two featurettes ("Making of the Godzilla Suit,"
"Godzilla: Story Development"), neither of which will appeal to casual fans, but die-hards should appreciate them. Extras are rounded out by trailers for both the Japanese and American releases and an excellent 16-page booklet by Ryfle. Packaging is handsome, and the menus are also very good. All in all, a terrific package.