Release Date(s)2014 (March 23, 2021)
Studio(s)Legendary Pictures/Toho (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: C+
Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) has had a difficult life. As a boy living in Japan, he lost his mother in a nuclear plant accident and his father Joe (Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston) was never the same afterwards. Ford eventually overcame this tragedy, joining the US Navy and becoming a lieutenant in Explosive Ordnance Disposal. His wife Elle (Elizabeth Olsen) is a successful nurse at a San Francisco hospital and both she and their five-year-old son adore him. But when his father gets arrested in Japan, Ford must return there to bail him out. It seems that Joe’s been investigating the accident that killed his wife, an effort that soon leads the pair to mysterious international organization called MONARCH, which has been keeping the real cause of the accident secret: Some of the giant prehistoric creatures that once roamed the Earth have survived, deep underground and in the ocean depths… and now they’ve returned to wreak havoc upon humanity.
The experience of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla definitely benefits from having seen its two sequels, Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019). While Godzilla takes its story more seriously than they do, it does have more heavy lifting to accomplish in reestablishing the premise of MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms—aka kaiju) for a new generation of filmgoers. (Those already familiar with Toho’s classic Japanese films should still feel right at home here.) Godzilla also suffers from something of a bait-and-switch, as its promotional campaign made it seem that Cranston was the star. But he and Juliette Binoche (The English Patient) check out early on, leaving newcomer Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass) in the lead. And herein lies the catch: He’s solid in the role, but the story twists itself into pretzels to keep him in the heart of the action, so much so that it strains credibility. Then again, this is a movie about 300-foot, radiation-eating monsters; viewers should probably check their disbelief at the door.
If you can get past these issues, what you’re left with is a series of pretty terrific set-piece action sequences and ominous, almost Lovecraftian imagery, including a nighttime HALO jump by Special Forces into San Francisco that’s set to Ligeti’s Requiem. Now, that’s ballsy. Tayler-Johnson and Olsen aside, the remainder of the cast is also quite good, including Ken Watanabe (Tampopo), Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water), David Strathairn (Good Night, and Good Luck), and Richard T. Jones (The Rookie). It’s worth noting that Tayler-Johnson and Olsen would appear onscreen together again just a year later in Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron as the super-powered Maximoff twins.
Godzilla was captured digitally in the ARRIRAW codec (at 2.8K) using ARRI Alexa Plus cameras with Panavision Primo and Panavised Cooke lenses. It was finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio, with visual effects rendered in 2K. For its release on Ultra HD, that source was upsampled to 4K and graded for high dynamic range (only HDR10 is available). The first thing to know about this film is that it’s dark—it was in theaters and on Blu-ray too, and it is again here. Even the daytime footage is dark, and there are many nighttime sequences. But the HDR does help by expanding the contrast. Shadows are a little deeper, but the highlights are notably brighter, which means that overall detail is more visible in almost everything. Obviously, given the 2K source, any uptick in detail is modest. But with the film’s dim setting and dense atmospherics, it’s hard to imagine that native 4K capture would have helped much. The color palette is relatively muted too, but it looks a bit more nuanced and natural now. Comparing the Blu-ray and 4K directly, the latter is definitely my preference. So the improvement here is genuine.
The previous Blu-ray edition included a terrific 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, but Warner’s 4K release raises the game with the film’s theatrical Dolby Atmos mix, reconfigured for home systems. It’s absolutely fantastic. The soundstage feels massive here and fully hemispheric. Panning is smooth and effortless, with precise positioning, and lively movement. Clarity of dialogue and sound effects is mostly excellent, acknowledging of course that the sonic destruction in this film is relentless. The use of the height channels is thrilling—again, 300-foot tall monsters—and it’s damn near constant in set-pieces. And holy cow, the bass! The dynamics are muscular, with aggressive low end that’s audible not just in the usual crash-boom-bang, but even in the sound of the MUTOs’ strange clicking and squeaking. The score is terrific too, with percussion and other instruments filtering in from all around. This is a reference quality Atmos experience from start to finish. Additional sound options include English Descriptive Audio, Quebec French, French, German, Italian, Castilian Spanish, Latin Spanish, Czech, Hungarian, Polish Voice-Over, and Thai. Subtitles are available in English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, French, German for the Hearing Impaired, Italian for the Deaf, Castilian Spanish, Dutch, Korean, Latin Spanish, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, and Thai.
There are no extras on Warner’s 4K disc, but the package also includes the previous Blu-ray release, which offers the film in 1080p HD and adds the following special features:
- MONARCH: Declassified – Operation: Lucky Dragon (HD – 2:44)
- MONARCH: Declassified – MONARCH: The MUTO File (HD – 4:29)
- MONARCH: Declassified – The Godzilla Revelation (HD – 7:25)
- Godzilla: Force of Nature (HD – 19:18)
- A Whole New Level of Destruction (HD – 8:24)
- Into the Void: The HALO Jump (HD – 5:00)
- Ancient Enemy: The MUTOs (HD – 6:49)
Half of these features are “in universe” video reports on the creatures, presented as if created by MONARCH itself. The other half are behind-the-scenes looks at the production. And though it’s not a lot of content, it’s mostly interesting if you appreciate the film. A commentary with Edwards and his team would have been nice, but nothing of the kind is included. Neither, unfortunately, is the Blu-ray 3D version of the film (though it’s still available separately). You do at least get a Digital copy code on a paper insert. And the new slipcover artwork is quite nice, so there’s that.
Godzilla is a solid American take on the classic Japanese monster mythos, nicely updated for our times. (And if you enjoy it, be sure to check out Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s excellent Shin Godzilla (2016) for a modern Japanese approach.) It was also a good start to Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, so it’s nice to finally have it available in 4K, just in time for the debut of Godzilla vs. Kong. There are certainly better looking 4K titles out there, but the HDR makes a difference and there are few UHDs that sound quite this good. On balance, it’s a nice upgrade for fans. Recommended.
- Bill Hunt