A classic giant monster film brilliantly restored.
What They Say During the height of the Cold War, East-West tensions lead to a nuclear disaster when a Soviet bomber is shot down over U.S. airspace in the Arctic! Massive radiation from the atomic explosion awakens an ancient, gargantuan creature - a long-forgotten legend of the lost continent of Atlantis - Gamera! Unleashed from its glacial tomb and proving impervious to all man-made weapons, the colossal chelonian smashes a cataclysmic swath across the globe! Can the scientists of the world, led by Dr. Hidaka find a way to stop this invincible supermonster.....or is mankind doomed?
The Review! Audio: The only audio present is a Japanese Dolby Digital mono track. The track contains a few dropouts that are likely due to the age of the original source material as this feature was created from a restored copy and the vast majority of the audio presentation is rather brilliantly restored for the feature. Outside the few dropouts the audio is very clear in regards to dialogue and soundtrack and no distortions were noticed during viewing.
Originally created in 1965 the black and white feature is presented in 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The encode of the video was taken from the Japanese remaster that was restored for the Japanese Blu-ray release of the film. The video contains a good deal of grain as well as some very minor print damage that shows up despite the BD remaster work. The film may actually be too clear as wire can be seen for some of the planes and in a few spots that the grain can’t quite cover up. Also present are occasional flickers, jitters and freezes of images that all look to be representative of certain film stocks of similar age.
The cover of the DVD features the titular monster attacking Tokyo Tower at the top, a banner with Gamera written in red and the subtitle The Giant Monster in white and also written in kanji. The bottom features 3 of the main characters with a panicked mob behind them. The cover is in blue-grays and black and white and is a gorgeous tribute to the black and the white film found within. The back has another shot of Gamera attacking this time using his fire attack with a small banner at the bottom that has a still of Gamera with a red tint and a shot of the main cast taken from the film along with copy about the extras included. The spine of the cover has a still of Gamera eating a train along with the kanji title and Gamera again written in red. The reverse of the cover features an anatomy shot of Gamera with some stats and also a cutaway showing some of the internals of Gamera. It also has some info on his fictional history and abilities.
In what seems to have become a rarity today the release also contains a mini-booklet that has an image of the original Gamera theatrical print that has a color Gamera attacking a train with flames and destruction behind him. The booklet contains images from the film as well as an old interview from the director talking about his time on the films. The booklet also contains character biographies for six of the main characters and the same anatomy shot of Gamera from the reverse cover. The last two pages focus on mentioning the Special Features and credits for the Shout Factory members who worked on the title. The DVD label has an image of Gamera attacking the lighthouse from the film in a storm on it.
Upon starting disc after the usual FBI warning and Shout Factories logo the main menu loads with the scene from the feature with the awakening of Gamera. The atom cloud from the feature can be seen in the background quickly as the screen changes to the ice cracking and a howl emerging from the depths. The menu then switches to one that Shout Factory made with a sheet of ice cracking and separating a bit with a red glow emanating from the cracks. The three characters from the bottom front cover are here in the lower right area and the upper right chunk of ice shows some scenes from the movie and the title “Gamera the Giant Monster” is in upper center of the screen. For added measure there is also a smoke effect made to look like it is from the crack that is animated across the screen. Both the Chapter menu and the Special Features menu use a sheet of ice back drop. The chapters menu uses small square stills to denote the chapter selections and the Special Features has a still of Gamera himself on it. The selection choices are indicated by a red square and the menu is quick to respond and load when a selection is chosen.
The extras included on the film include a 23 minute retrospective on the Gamera franchise by a number of the creators and staff of the films as well as an audio commentary track by August Ragone who wrote about one of the head of the Toho effects department that helped create Godzilla and thus the look of the giant monster films that followed. There is also a publicity gallery that contains images from original international sales brochure, press book, and a photo gallery that contains both publicity stills from the film and some behind the scenes still as well as an original theatrical trailer for the film.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
During the golden age of the giant monster movies in Japan Godzilla came to dominate the competition. And while the King of Monsters was the top of the hill he couldn’t become complacent due to a number of determined challengers- One of which was Gamera. Like most of the monster films of the time the goal was to do the best they could with the limited budget while also keeping up with competitors who were similarly clever in production and forced to be creative for the same reasons. With that in mind Gamera stands up in its effects and suits with its predecessor Gojira (Godzilla) made a few years previous.
Even the coldest reaches of the planet Earth may contain keys to ancient secrets while also being a battle ground for a cold war-but when conflict unleashes an ancient leviathan will cold war posturing lead to extinction for mankind in a way it never imagined? The feature introduces us to Dr Hidaka, his assistant Kyoko Yamamoto and photographer Aoyagi as they have been part of a scientific voyage to a remote Eskimo village to research the ancient legend of Atlantis and strange turtle legends. The team arrives at the village as a flight of unknown planes pass overhead. Given the state of heightened alert the US government intercepts and shoots down one of the planes which cause its nuclear weapons to explode.
While the explosion is far enough away not to endanger either the scientific team or the ship they came on it does cause a fissure in the ice to appear-out of which an immense and terrible monster arises from its long and frozen slumber. The scientific team as yet unaware of the beasts awakening is given a mysterious stone showing turtles and wave along with the name of what the Eskimo leader calls the Devil’s Envoy-Gamera. At the same time Gamera’s first action is to destroy the ship the expedition force came on before vanishing mysteriously.
While Dr. Hidaka hopes the 60 meter tall creature has perished due to radiation exposure the world is experiencing a rash of flying saucer sightings as a glowing spinning object is seen in many places of the world. In Hokkaido Japan a young boy named Toshio whose father mans a lighthouse is obsessed with turtles and is about to have a close encounter of the reptilian kind. While hanging out near the cliffs by the lighthouse after being separated by his family from his pet turtle Toshio becomes the first person to see the 60 meter behemoth and live and also discover its capricious nature when the creature saves him from falling as it destroys the lighthouse.
Now that it is known the creature has survived the world scrambles to try to figure out how they will deal with a giant creature that can shrug of the powerful radiation that comes from mankind’s most potent weapon. As the world tries to fight the creature they discover that conventional weapons are also useless against it and that the creature and the UFO sightings have a link that makes the creature a true threat to all of mankind-especially once it is revealed what it is the creature seeks and the devastation that will wrack on civilization. It is a race against time as humanity must find a way to somehow deal with the seemingly unstoppable creature.
Gamera is a classic Japanese giant monster movie in its use of monster suits, effects and models to convey the size and damage a giant creature could create. It also takes steps to show a creature that has a real potential to be a threat to the entire world (well, Godzilla does as well but outside 1984 and the Broderick film he has been mostly content to pick on Japan and the surrounding islands) and thus needing the whole world to try to come up with a solution. The biggest downside to the film as it seems to be caught between being a film featuring the young boy Toshiro while also featuring Dr. Hidaka and company’s scientific approach to dealing with the beast (though the flatness of the American actors at the beginning sure give any later seeming derailment a run for its money). It causes the film to be a tad schismatic in its focus and contrasts the horrible nature of the creature with the almost sidekick like attempt to peg the young boy in. It feels like an attempt to please two audiences at once that falls a touch flat.
Gamera the Giant Monster is a classic example of the Japanese giant monster movie. It contains plenty of the effects that the genera fans have come to know and love as well as a brilliantly restored picture and audio track that brings new life to a film approaching the half century mark. The film has a few flaws such as trying to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and thus lacking some focus but in the end the film gives us a giant monster stomping Tokyo (and other parts of Japan) into the ground which is what fans of the genera turn up for in the first place. Recommended.
Features Japanese 1.0 Language, English Subtitles
Review Equipment Samsung 50" Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.
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