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DID YOU READ

“Godzilla” roars onto Criterion Blu-ray

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I don’t know about you, but when I hear the name “Godzilla,” certain images come to mind. I see a dude in a rubber lizard suit stomping around a Papier-mâché city. I see Japanese men and women pointing at the sky in terror while unaccented English springs awkwardly and unconvincingly from their lips. I see giant turtles and moths and three-headed flying dragons, all held aloft by visible strings. In other words: I see bad movies.

Godzilla has endured through fifty years of films, most of them — let’s face it — terrible. Fun? Sure. Entertaining? Absolutely. Art? Mmmm, not so much. But what Godzilla became and what Godzilla was created as are two very different things. All those schlocky sequels have polluted our memories of the character, whose very first movie, made in 1954 by director Ishiro Honda, was quite different than the camp spectacles that came in its wake. Now that “Godzilla” is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD for the first time. It hits you in the gut with the impact of a 150-foot dinosaur.

Very little of what I imagine when hear the name “Godzilla” is present in Honda’s movie. True, Godzilla himself is still a dude in a costume. But filmed in stark black and white cinematography rather than the murky, drab color stock of the later sequels, the creature takes on a surprisingly convincing ferocity. Criterion’s Blu-ray presents the film sans dubbing, so you can appreciate the Japanese cast’s terror without the impediment of horrific American voice actors. And in this earliest “Godzilla,” there’s no other giant creatures for our titular dino to fight. In fact, Honda puts more emphasis on what Godzilla represents than what he does.

If you’re just interested in monster movie havoc, the big bust-’em-up finale will satisfy your craving. But Godzilla himself doesn’t get a ton of screen time; most of his attacks are brief, and a few happen entirely off-camera. What we see instead are the people who bear the psychic and physical scars of his devastation. And since Godzilla’s appearance is directly linked to underwater hydrogen bomb tests, we can link those psychic and physical scars to those suffered by the Japanese in World War II. Premiering less than a decade after the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, “Godzilla”‘s images of a city burning in atomic flames bore a special significance. So too does the incident that starts the whole storyline (inspired, Criterion’s Blu-ray tells us, by a real-life tragedy) in which a fishing boat is suddenly destroyed by an underwater explosion and a blinding flash of light. The intensity of the acting in this scene always upsets me. This isn’t camp. This isn’t Godzilla on Monster Island palling around with Godzuki. These are real people torn to shreds by a giant walking metaphor for nuclear power. This is perhaps the scariest horror movie of the atomic age.

Though the fundamental subtext of “Godzilla” couldn’t be removed from the film, the overt references to H-bombs were considered too radioactive for American audiences. So when “Godzilla” premiered stateside in 1956 as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” it arrived 15 minutes shorter than its Japanese counterpart and stripped of nearly every direct mention of atomic bombs. That wasn’t the only concession for stateside tastes either. When “King of the Monsters” lost almost a quarter of its runtime it also gained a new hero: American journalist Steve Martin (the wild and crazy Raymond Burr), who stops off in Tokyo on his way to Cairo (from where?!?) just in time to witness Godzilla’s rampage.

Looking to boost the picture’s local appeal, “Godzilla”‘s American distributors hired Burr for a couple of days and got filmmaker and editor Terry Morse to shoot him on sets designed to mimic the original Japanese locations, with body doubles subbing in for the Japanese cast. With the none-too-deft use of cutaways, Burr was inserted into the story. “King of the Monsters” was a monster hit in the United States in the 1950s — and it remained the way most Americans, myself included, saw “Godzilla” for decades. As a kid, the Burr “Godzilla” seemed like a prototypical badly dubbed schlock monster movie. Seeing it now, it looks more deranged than silly, like a film cut by aliens who’d been told what a movie was without having actually seen one themselves.

Though “King of the Monsters” was designed for the mainstream, it plays like an experimental film. The Japanese “Godzilla”‘s straightforward narrative gets contorted and distorted to accomodate Burr’s voiceover (and to eliminate the pesky atomic nightmare material). In perhaps the single worst example in movie history of telling rather than showing, Burr narrates almost everything: dialogue, character development, even some of Godzilla’s attacks. Sometimes he even gets his facts wrong — he says that the sole survivor of Godzilla’s fishing boat attacks died of his injuries, but that character shows up again a short time later on Odo Island. Throughout, Burr’s voiceover and on camera demeanor are shockingly disinterested. The man is witnessing the rebirth of a creature that just spent a couple million years under the Pacific Ocean. You’d think he could at least feign surprise. As he watches Godzilla raze Tokyo, his face barely registers any emotion. Later, his good friend — the man he supposedly came to Japan to see — dies; Burr looks like he’s stifling a yawn. Burr flattens “Godzilla”‘s drama more effectively than Godzilla flattens Tokyo.

Burr’s inexplicably disinterested performance reinforces his outsider status in the story, but it also forms the basis for the only case I think can be made for “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Because Morse didn’t have the budget to bring over Honda’s Japanese cast, Burr’s character couldn’t really affect the narrative in any significant way. Hence he just stands on the sidelines and watches the action. That makes Steve Martin a bad hero and a weirdly appropriate protagonist for a movie about nuclear horror. Burr’s impotence suggests humanity’s impotence in the face of atomic weapons. Science gave us the power to destroy ourselves; all we can do now is bear witness to that destruction. On a textual level, Burr is a joke. On a subtextual level, his helplessness is absolutely perfect.

The new “Godzilla” Criterion is just about perfect as well. You get both versions of the film as well as two versions of Godzilla scholar David Kalat’s commentary track, which are loaded with interesting details about both productions. The supplements include new interviews with actors Akira Takarada and Haruo Nakajima, a featurette on the special effects, and an essay by J. Hoberman. It’s enough to make you think of something new the next time you hear the name “Godzilla.”

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…