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Godzilla (2014) Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Godzilla (2014) movie poster Godzilla

Theatrical Release: May 16, 2014 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Gareth Edwards / Writers: David Callaham (story), Max Borenstein (screenplay)

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ford Brody), CJ Adams (Young Ford Brody), Ken Watanabe (Dr. Ishiro Serizawa), Bryan Cranston (Joe Brody), Elizabeth Olsen (Elle Brody), Carson Bolde (Sam Brody), Sally Hawkins (Vivienne Graham), Juliette Binoche (Sandra Brody), David Strathairn (Admiral William Stenz), Richard T. Jones (Captain Russell Hampton), Victor Rasuk (Sergeant Tre Morales), Patrick Sabongui (Lieutenant Commander Marcus Waltz)

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In Japan, Godzilla is an institution. Introduced in 1954, the giant fire-breathing monster has been a staple of that nation's cinema and the cornerstone of Toho Company,
the studio that has featured it in 28 films, most recently in 2004.

In the United States, Godzilla is one of many pieces of Japanese pop culture that only catch on briefly if at all with the American public. The very first Toho production was adapted for US moviegoers to a good deal of success in 1956. Subsequent films didn't make as much effort. The biggest attempt to bring Godzilla to Hollywood came in 1998 and that US production from the makers of Independence Day is still regarded as a failure of epic proportions. Though it grossed nearly $400 million worldwide, it barely earned its production budget back domestically in the face of putrid reviews and toxic word of mouth.

The American film industry allowed sixteen years to pass, letting the negativity surrounding that Matthew Broderick tentpole die down, before trying again to make the giant monster a marquee attraction. To some, it might seem like an impossible task, making a 60-year-old Japanese B-movie concept palpable for audiences who have witnessed all sorts of spectacular destruction and mayhem convincingly brought to life on the big screen with the best technology around. At the same time, you can appreciate the revival of a franchise that can be considered an ancestor to some of the biggest blockbusters of our time, from Armageddon to Transformers.

In spite of that legacy and the weight the title still commands, 2014's Godzilla still seems like a pretty huge gamble, especially for Legendary Pictures, the production company footing 75% of the film's $160 million budget (the rest being covered by distributor Warner Bros. Pictures). Elevating the risk is the fact that this movie comes from unknown and largely untested filmmakers. British director Gareth Edwards, a former visual effects man, has just a few television documentaries and the 2010 thriller Monsters (which played in a grand total of 25 North American theaters) to his name. David Callaham, the American credited with story, has a filmography that starts with the 2005 flop Doom and stops with The Expendables. Prior to this, screenwriter Max Borenstein has only penned a 2003 student film as an English major at Yale.

You could easily assume that this all bodes poorly, but perhaps new blood unjaded by experience is just what this reboot needed. This Godzilla seems to benefit from having fresh eyes at the helm. Though mostly unproven, the eyes belong to those who seem to know what makes a good disaster film work.

Fifteen years after losing his wife in a nuclear plant incident, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is convinced the truth has been concealed. Joe's son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), an Army Lieutenant EOD, emerges as the film's human lead.

We open in 1999, with scientists marveling at and speculating over what appears to be a site of epic ruins. On his birthday, the nuclear workplace of Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston), an American scientist in Japan, undergoes a meltdown disaster, resulting in deaths of numerous colleagues, including his wife (Juliette Binoche). Fifteen years later, the scientist remains obsessed with discovering the truth about the incident, which his personal research has revealed to be quite different from the official account of a deadly typhoon. The scientist is arrested for trespassing at his family's long-quarantined home. Son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who has grown up into an army lieutenant, bomb disposal expert and a father himself, helps secure Brody's release but wishes his father would move on past conspiracy theories and crackpot research.

Father and son make another trip to their former home, where they discover the air is in fact perfectly breathable in spite of the radiation that should still exist. They also learn that Dad isn't completely out of his mind, as giant bug-like creatures were involved in the past disturbance and are again threatening to wreak more havoc on major ocean coasts. The U.S. military (led by David Strathairn) prepares a potent missile plan to eradicate the creatures, but Japan's leading scientific authority (Ken Watanabe) hopes mankind might instead summon another giant creature to fight the others and defend the planet: Godzilla.

Doctors Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) provide the voice of science as learned experts.

Despite the title, Godzilla maintains a supporting presence here. In screentime, he trails not only a host of human characters, but also those "M.U.T.O.s" of similar scale and impact.
We do not get our first clear look at Godzilla until right before the one-hour mark, but that overdue first appearance prompted applause from my theater audience and produces joy even rewatching this at home alone. Godzilla may not get a slew of scenes, but the movie definitely belongs to him. Each sighting is a highlight, as this larger than life figure provokes strong reactions and generates excitement from what little we know about him.

There's no denying that a movie about one gigantic thing battling another gigantic thing is an open invitation to stupidity. This Godzilla does a pretty impressive job of minimizing that stupidity as much as it can. Yes, this is a film best enjoyed by fans of ambitious visual effects and spectacle. But it doesn't require the mentality of a geek, a fanboy, or a mindless action junkie to stay entertained. There is surprisingly little to insult your intelligence. The cast includes some accomplished talents in actors like Binoche, Watanabe, Strathairn, and Sally Hawkins, although only Cranston (overcoming two distracting wigs) gets to make much dramatic impact and even then much too briefly. The film certainly could do more with the human characters considering how much more often they are onscreen than their enormous digital castmates.

It almost goes without saying that the visuals are outstanding. Effects have come a long way from obvious miniatures and human actors in Godzilla costumes. A number of sequences dazzle in scope alone and manage to do so even on a modest-sized television. There's no denying that this will go down as one of the year's most dynamic uses of picture and sound. At this point, it's looking like only Christopher Nolan's Interstellar has a shot of topping it on a sensory level.

There will be fire. Godzilla makes the most of one of his too few moments.

Adding to the global appeal that big genre movies always possess, the movie concludes with a minimum of dialogue in its final half-hour or so. There are layers to the action, some of them human, and we're not left to merely watch and sort out the giant creatures doing battle. But those entering the movie wanting nothing more should still come away satisfied on that front.

Earning good but not quite great reviews, this Godzilla performed significantly better than the infamous 1998 version, at least when we don't adjust for ticket price inflation. Its narrow eclipsing of the $200 million mark domestically may not sound like much compared to the aforementioned descendants; Armageddon grossed more the same summer as the Broderick movie and even this summer's least successful Transformers movie did too. Still, the performance was more or less on par with the more expensive (and better) Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 and not far from the season's second-tier blockbusters, like Maleficent, that fourth Transformers, and X-Men: Days of Future Past.

Warner and Legendary must be content with the box office numbers. They have scheduled a Godzilla sequel for June 2018 theatrical release. That gives you plenty of time to check out the various DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D editions of the reboot that were released this week.

Godzilla (2014): Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 7.1 DTS HD-MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: September 16, 2014
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Limited Edition MetalPak Blu-ray Combo ($49.99 SRP), Blu-ray 3D Combo ($44.95 SRP), 2-Disc DVD ($28.99 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Regular readers will notice that I spent an unusual large amount of the body above extolling Godzilla's technical virtues.
One must because the film truly delivers a first-rate audio-visual experience, although the recognition may be aided by the viewer not being fully invested in story and characters. Nonetheless, Godzilla is a feast and one that Blu-ray treats well. Sharp, pristine, and vibrant, the 2.40:1 picture is flawless.

Better yet is the 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack. It gets your attention early with rumble from the prologue's explosion. That is simply the beginning of the workout your subwoofer will get, as bits of score and no shortage of effects keep things lively and interesting. The track does get very loud at times, but not by accident. Full of directionality and aural stimulation, this production seems certain to be recognized in one or both of the Oscars' sound categories, even if it requires Academy members to stretch their memories back to what was technically late spring.

MONARCH's The M.U.T.O. File is declassified for us. A conspiracy theorist seeks the truth in "The Godzilla Revelation."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's all-HD extras are divided into two classes.

MONARCH: Declassified houses a couple of fun classified for-MONARCH-eyes-only shorts that disseminate information about Godzilla and his adversaries. Some of this footage is excerpted in the film. "Operation: Lucky Dragon" (2:44) is presented like a 1950s military film. "The M.U.T.O. File" (4:29) is more modern in its design, though it too makes use of convincing/licensed old footage. The section closes with "The Godzilla Revelation" (7:25), which is something of a dry amateur news report on the recent coastal incidents, like what you'd find from a YouTube crackpot.

"Godzilla: Force of Nature" shows us a pre-visualization animatic, or what "Godzilla" might look like as a cheaply-made animated film. This brand new minivan gets wrecked in "A Whole New Level of Destruction."

More conventional bonus features fall under the heading The Legendary Godzilla.

They begin with "Godzilla: Force of Nature" (19:18), a featurette celebrating the character's rich, long history. The filmmakers, cast, and crew voice their appreciation for the excerpted 1954 original and then we shift to this movie's attempt to maintain the legacy getting into the nitty-gritty of visual challenges. Unsurprisingly, there is nary a mention of the Matthew Broderick movie.

"A Whole New Level of Destruction" (8:24) focuses on the realism and detail brought to scenes of urban destruction, the staging of which we get several glimpses of.

"Into the Void: The H.A.L.O. Jump" (5:00) dissects one of the film's climactic action sequences, showing the numerous layers that went into the plane jump scene.

We get an up close look at Godzilla's foe in "Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s." The Godzilla DVD relegates all bonus features to a second disc not included here.

Finally, "Ancient Enemy: The M.U.T.O.s" (6:49) pays notice to the film's antagonists,

considering the visual and sound design and nature of these creatures that inevitably fight Godzilla.

Since Warner treats Godzilla to one of their two-disc DVDs, it gets all the same bonus features on that format as Blu-ray, but since the content is relegated to the second disc that isn't included here, the combo pack's DVD is a movie-only one. The disc is well under dual-layered capacity, so it could have easily included some of the shorter bonuses.

The Blu-ray opens with a static ad for the graphic novel Godzilla: Awakening, followed by promos for UltraViolet and Edge of Tomorrow. The DVD starts with the same three things and proceeds to promote Into the Storm, Batman: Assault on Arkham, and the 1960s "Batman" Numbered Limited Edition Blu-ray Collection.

The basic menu attaches unlooped score to the same image that serves as the poster and cover art. The Blu-ray resumes playback like a DVD.

Though Warner shows some creativity in their Godzilla packaging elsewhere (the Limited Edition MetalPak features a "roar" button and the 3D combo presumably sports a lenticular cover), this edition simply houses the two plain black discs in an eco-friendly keepcase topped by an embossed slipcover repeating the same artwork below. The lone single-sided insert supplies your Digital HD UltraViolet redemption code and directions.

Nurse Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olsen) worries about her son, her husband, and human civilization at large. M.U.T.O.s have one clear advantage over Godzilla: they can fly!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Godzilla is a decent summer blockbuster that would seem better had it not been followed by a number of significantly better summer blockbusters. Defying its makers' inexperience and the much-maligned previous attempt to Americanize the Japanese sci-fi series, this 2014 filming offers a technically superb experience and a fairly good time too. It could use better characterization and maybe a sense of humor, but all things considered, this should meet or surpass most reasonable expectations considering the franchise's intellectual limitations.

Warner's Blu-ray combo pack offers okay bonus features, but its lack of deleted scenes surprises. Some may also be disappointed by the absence of a commentary or playback enhancing mode. Nonetheless, the set stands out for its positively top-notch picture and sound. A/V buffs always hungry for a choice new movie to show off their home theater may very well not find a stronger 2014 demo title than this, even if there are sure to be dozens of more entertaining movies released this year.

Buy Godzilla from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray Combo / Limited Edition MetalPak Blu-ray Combo / Blu-ray 3D Combo / 2-Disc DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed September 18, 2014.



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