Saturday, May 3, 2014

Gamera Volume 1 (Blu-ray Review) - Mill Creek

Directed By: Noriaki Yuasa, Shigeo Tanaka,
Written By: Nisan Takahashi, Yonejiro Saito
Starring: Various
B&W and Color/345 Minutes/Not Rated
Region A
Release Date: April 29, 2014

The Films

GAMERA could be referred to as Japan's other giant reptilian monster. He isn't quite as famous and doesn't have as many films to his credit but he's no slouch. The giant fire breathing, jet propelled turtle was awakened from a frozen slumber when a plane carrying an Atomic Bomb crashed and unfroze him. The giant beast unleashed his fury on Japan, storing energy from electricity until a plan to trap him and send him into space was successfully implemented sending GAMERA into space.

The first GAMERA film is much like the original Godzilla in that it is the lone monster attacking Japan after the effects of atomic bombs awaken him. The main differences are the Cold War propaganda in GAMERA and the idea that GAMERA is friend to all children. The first GAMERA film is a decent introduction to the character and is pretty entertaining even if it tries too hard to be Daiei's answer to Toho's Godzilla and doesn't come away with the same impact or level of success.

Gamera gets his first monster opponent in the form of Barugon in GAMERA vs. BARUGON. A few treasure hunters end up in the jungles where they encounter a tribe who they believe is hiding a large Opal. When they find the Opal in a cave a bit of double crossing goes on and only one man makes it out with the gem. Doctors treat his injuries with a heat lamp which ends up incubating the egg that they believed to be a gemstone. Barugon is hatched from the egg and quickly begins terrorizing Japan with his ice breath and destructive rainbow laser blast. Gamera immediately comes to fight the monster but falls victim to Barugon's ice breath leaving it up to the military to formulate a plan of attack until Gamera thaws and can put Barugon to rest at the bottom of a lake.

GAMERA vs BARUGON is decent again, it seems that they were just figuring out how to have two monsters in the same movie and how to have them fight. Barugon is a decent foe for Gamera but the film suffers when Gamera is frozen for the majority of the film and awakens to fight Barugon in the final battle that doesn't fully make up for the lack of Gamera for so much of the film. Definitely entertaining and a big stepping stone for Daiei's monster franchise.

1967 brought us GAMERA vs GYAOS, the best of the series to this point. Gyaos is essentially the Gamera series' answer to Rodan. He's a giant flying dinosaur type creature with home plate for a head and shoots beams from his mouth that can split buildings clean in half. Gyaos' main weakness is UV rays so the military is defending a key area in the mountains that the government needs to purchase from the villagers to build a new super highway. This are is right under the home of Gyaos who is simply fucking up everything in his path. Gamera once again proves he is a friend to the children of Japan here and ends up having his best fight sequences to this point as well. This one is filled with monster blood and bits of gore as well.

GAMERA vs GYAOS was a big step forward for the series. The first two entries of the series looked and felt cheap, especially in comparison to the Godzilla films but this third entry really steps up the production value. The suits look quite a bit better than they do in the previous films and miniature work also looks more realistic. This is easily the best of the initial three films.

The final film of this Blu-ray set is 1968's GAMERA vs VIRAS, the obligatory alien/outer space entry of the series. An alien spaceship takes a couple of young boy scouts prisoner and captures Gamera as they intend to take over the world because their planet has gone to shit. Their ship, by the way, looks like four rotating bumble bees, or the thought I immediately had was four clones of that girl in the bee suit from the Blind Melon "No Rain" video from the early 90s. Anyways, Gamera doesn't like the fact that these bastard aliens have his friends captured or that they want to take over Earth so he fights back when they dispense Viras on him who looks like a giant Xacto knife.

It seems like all of the Kaiju series need this type of entry, and it's okay by me. It is a simple enough plot that lends its hand to more monsters fighting to save our planet. GAMERA vs VIRAS just takes too long to get to the monsters fighting. There really isn't a fight until we get over the hour mark and before that there are some face palm worthy moments such as when Gamera and the boys are trapped under water by the aliens with some sort of detaining dome which Gamera can't break through. Gamera can however simply lift it up from the bottom to let the boys escape in their submarine. A bit of a step backwards for the series in terms of quality as it had made a positive move in each previous entry.

The Audio & Video
Mill Creek brings GAMERA Vol. 1 to Blu-ray with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer in 1080i HD. Yes, depsite the case saying otherwise, these transfers are interlaced and not progressive. It sucks but the movies still look pretty nice and I've seen far worse 1080i (and 1080p for that matter) transfers than this. GYASO and VIRAS look the best which isn't a surprise as they also had the best production values. Colors are decent and detail levels are pretty strong. Overall I'm very pleased with the set even if it could be a bit sharper had these been progressively scanned.

Each film has a 2.0 Dolby track in the film's native Japanese with English subtitles. I've tried to figure out if these are the original subtitles made directly from the original Japanese audio track or if these are "dubtitles" made off the English dub tracks. I haven't found any definitive information but it's my feeling that they're dubtitles based on some English slipping in. That said, they read fine, and the audio tracks are more than capable of getting the job done. They're stable and free of any background noise that is distracting.

The Extras
Bare bones.

The Bottom Line
Gamera jet propels his way on to Blu-ray with this first volume set comprised of the first 4 films in the series. Each of the films is entertaining and despite there being a lack of special features the Blu-ray is a pretty nice set all things considered. Given it's bargain bin price (easily found for $10), this set is a no brainer. Go get it!

GAMERA VOLUME 1 is available HERE

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