"More Fantastic Than Any Written By Jules Verne?"
Incredible news! But, is it too early to celebrate? ©1954 Toho
Yesterday, I posted the fantastic news that the Criterion Collection had slyly announced, with a simple photo, that they will be prepping a DVD/BD release of the original Japanese version of GODZILLA aka GOJIRA (1954) — see previous blog post — and while, it seems, that Honda's seminal film will be getting a much-needed restoration, some have been asking if the corresponding US version helmed by Terry O. Morse, GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (1956), starring Raymond Burr, will be included in this release. Previous home video releases of this film — and all versions screened on television, cable, and online in the last 30 years — have been culled from the same, edited telecine transfer of a 35mm master, prepared in the early 1980s by Henry G. Saperstein's UPA (United Productions of America). Unfortunately, Toho has nothing for the US version (barring the cropped "cinemascope" version released in Japan in the late 1950s), and since there was nothing else readily available, Classic Media used this very same three decade-old transfer for their 2006 release.
What was deleted? UPA's transfer is missing the original "A Transworld Release" logo at the top of the film (printed over Toho's sunburst logo), seen in early television versions (before UPA's acquisition), a starring and directed by card after the opening title, and the original — and full — ending credits sequence, which appeared between the fade out and "The End" title card. While Classic Media's release, reinstates the original ending credits sequence (taken from a 16mm print owned by a private collector), it was placed after the "The End" title card. But, the other two deletions remained absent. While several fans have 16mm prints of the initial television transfer of GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! (from a Reduction Negative) — some complete, others not — the search for original 35mm negative elements, or at the very least, an uncut 35mm theatrical print, had proved to be elusive. While there are several private (and notable) collectors who do have 35mm prints of this film, most of them wish to remain nameless, out of fear that these prints will be confiscated (which has indeed happened to collectors in the past).
So, Criterion put the call out to film collectors, everywhere, to help locate 35mm elements for GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! Startlingly, within 24 hours, through the auspices of several fans — working together and respecting the anonymity of the source — according to "insiders", a veritable Rosetta Stone, something far better than a 35mm print has been located: A 35mm Fine-Grain Print! "So, what does that mean?", you might ask. It's actually quite big deal, really. Why? The following explanation is from the article, "Duped Negatives" and "Lavender Prints": Understanding Film Restoration from The Picture Show Man:
Sometimes called a "fine-grain sub-master", or "protection print", or "lavender print", or "purple print" (because the fine-grains of the film have a slightly purple color to them). These are positive prints, made from either camera negatives or dupe (duplicate) negatives, using film that has a low contrast, extremely fine-grained emulsion. They are made expressly and exclusively for the purpose of making another dupe negative, and are not meant to be shown. (In fact, the projected image quality of these prints is poor compared to a timed projection print, and the perforations have a slightly different shape than projection prints.)
In plain English, this means that the next best thing to finding an original Interpositive (the first "positive print" made from the Camera Negative) — a first-generation print! So, while celebrating this early may be premature, I'm going to start popping the Champagne corks (or maybe some Champipple) — because a transfer from this Fine-Grain should prove to be stunning in comparison to what has been previously available to us, especially once such a transfer gets a Criterion Touch digital restoration! Many of you out there may not quite grasp the monumental thing that has happened here. This is an earth-shaking, screen-shattering thrill! This is big news, towering and tremendous — akin to the discovery of a Missing Link — and is more fantastic than I ever thought possible, to paraphrase Burr's character in GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS!
In the meantime, while the pieces fall into place, let's just keep our fingers crossed for Criterion, but not hold our collective breath (we don't want to jinx this, do we?). But still, so far, this really has been a "tale to stun the mind!"
Stay tuned for more updates as they become available!