There are few modern film institutions more beloved by film geeks than the Criterion Collection, as their exacting attention to the details of restoration, transfer, special features, creator involvement, and of course packaging has become legendary. While the collection has always had great taste and included a number of off-the-wall choices and genre favorites in with their catalog of art-house classics and foreign masterworks, fans were nevertheless excited to see such a prestigious group tackling the King of Monsters himself… Godzilla.

Unfortunately, it seems like the good folks at Criterion may have taken artistic license too far and caused Gojira purists to hang their head in shame, as hidden behind the awesome cover design of the DVD/Blu packaging is a bit of pop-up art… Taking a closer look, you may notice that the pictured creature is decidedly not the classic Gojira design of 1954, and instead something closer to the modern “Millennium Design” featured in several of the later Toho films. So while the cover we’ve seen is more vague (though the tail is apparently off on that too) about which design it’s aping, the inside cover makes it pretty clear.

Criterion didn’t waste much time commenting in the Facebook photo thread that started the controversy, with a clarification that basically points to the artist who interpreted Criterion’s instructions as creating a composite of many design ideas that represent Godzilla…

Artist Bill Sienkiewicz used the original, ’54 Godzilla as reference for his artwork, but all of the renderings are nevertheless, in the end, Bill’s personal vision of the creature, albeit one that is Toho approved. We can see why some viewers consider it to be more akin to the 2002 incarnation of Godzilla because the back plates seem more sharp-pointed and jagged than the curved tips of the ’54 original, for example, or the tail tapers more to a point, but those plates don’t exactly mirror the ones from the 2002-3 monster either.

We pushed Bill to address Godzilla as a force of destruction, an elemental being, to step away from a rendering that would be purely literal and fetishistic in detail, and think he came up with a terrific interpretation. This is also why there is color in the packaging art. Although the movie is a beautifully-photographed B&W work, we kept leaning towards the elemental aspects of fire and water and wanted the color palette to evoke that.

I’m not sure I’m really convinced they made the best call here, as there’s no reason poor ole 1954 Gojira couldn’t have been interpreted as a badass without running to the modern designs for inspiration. The original suit had a more rounded, stop-motion-esque feel that is lost in today’s sharp, aerodynamic suits that are also very cool, but lack the naive charm of the ’54 version. Alas, this is the very definition of a first world geek’s problem, and it’s ultimately minor if the actual disc and its contents are as well put-together as one would expect.

Still, a bit out of character for Criterion, no?

A few commenter have pointed out that this is akin to releasing a DVD of the ’31 Dracula with a Gary Oldman interpretation on the cover, or perhaps a Dr. No pressing with a caricature that resembles Daniel Craig. My nose usually shoots sky high when nerds get their dander up over something like this, but you know, I think they may have a point on this one.

Of course, I by no means think anybody should be picketing the Criterion offices or boycotting the release… we need to support what this organization does, especially in a time when VOD and instant streaming are dragging picture quality and attention to cinematic context through the mud. Hopefully they’ll just keep a closer eye out next time…

If you still care to grab the release (and the inside art shouldn’t stop you), then look out for the set on January 24th.

What do you think? Is the design remarkably different? Does it matter?

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(via Criterion Corner)