Gamera: Ultimate Collection 1 and 2 Blu-Ray Review
Blu-Ray Review- Gamera: Ultimate Collection Volume 1 & 2
Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment
Street Date: April 29th 2014
Technical Specifications: 1080P Video, Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Audio, B&W/Color, 2.35:1 Aspect Ratio, English Subtitles
Runtime: Volume 1- 5 Hours, 45 Minutes, Volume 2- 5 Hours, 43 Minutes
“Guardian of the Universe. Friend of all children!”
Originally conceived as a rival to Toho’s Godzilla franchise, Daiei Studios’ beloved Gamera series quickly became a hit across Japan with the 1965 release of Gamera: The Giant Monster. Starting out in a similar fashion to the aforementioned Toho films, Gamera began as an ancient turtle unfrozen by an atomic bomb, terrorizing Japan with his size and indestructability, but quickly became the family favorite “friend to all children” in later films. Unlike the Big G’s awkward transition to kid friendly entertainment, Gamera seemed a much more suitable monster for children’s fascination. He was a giant fire-breathing turtle with teeth, a shell that could repel rockets, and the ability to fly into outer space. He protected Earth from alien Kaiju villains, and watched over the children of Japan, who rooted for him from the sidelines. The Showa era films were produced and distributed by Daiei Studios until their bankruptcy in 1974, until a parent company took over and assisted with one last Gamera release in 1980 (thus the large gap in releases during the 1970’s). Here’s my quick plot breakdown and thoughts for each film included in these two wonderful collections:
- Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)- A soviet bomb awakens Gamera from his icy slumber, and he quickly makes his way to Japan to cause destruction of epic proportions. Much like the original Godzilla film, the Military intervenes to come up with a plan to get rid of this giant nuisance for good. The first film in the franchise is the only one filmed in black and white, and features Gamera as a villain. I enjoy the original, but it’s no match for the later, cornier, family friendly entries featuring Gamera as a friendly protector of Japan and it’s children. It’s actually a bit funny to say that, since I usually prefer the darker tone of Kaiju films, but the later Gamera films are too much fun to forget.
- Gamera Vs. Barugon (1966)- As a comet collides with the rocket that trapped Gamera and sent him into space, a thief steals a precious stone from an island in Japan. Turns out the stone is actually an egg, and after accidentally leaving it under a light for some time, Barugon is born and begins terrorizing Japan. Gamera falls from space and the ensuing fights begin! While still not quite the “friend to all children” of later films, Gamera’s intentions do seem to be protecting Japan from Barugon in this entry, and he’s less hell-bent on unnecessary destruction. There are some fun battles between the creatures in this one, and plenty of destruction in Daiei’s first color film in the series.
- Gamera Vs. Gyaos (1967)- This is the beginning of Gamera’s clear intentions of protecting the cities and children of Japan, and one of my favorite entries in the Gamera series. Gyaos, resembling a giant pterodactyl, is found in a mysterious mountain cave by a young boy, and Gamera quickly flies into action to save him. The resulting battles here are a lot of fun, and this third entry in the series has a change in tone and atmosphere that marks the beginning of the family friendly switch for Gamera.
- Gamera Vs. Viras (1968)- A seemingly humanoid alien race comes to earth, declaring Gamera as their enemy. They kidnap two young boys, and put a mind control device on Gamera, who cannot help but do their bidding, and begins destroying parts of Japan. Gamera, soon free from their control, sets out to battle the aliens, who have now formed together to create the giant monster Viras. This is another exciting entry in the series, which absolutely has its corny moments, but it’s a lot of fun. The final battle between Gamera and Viras is especially entertaining.
- Gamera Vs. Guiron (1969)- This entry is possibly my favorite in the series, but though it’s seemingly family friendly with it’s plot, beware that there are a few intense scenes within involving Guiron’s blade kills, and the planet Terra’s female alien cannibals (though they are not referred as such). Two young boys are whisked off to outer space after entering a UFO that had landed nearby their homes. Landing on the planet Terra, they discover a female race of aliens with dastardly plans, the giant knife-nosed monster Guiron, and more. Gamera quickly comes to the rescue.
- Gamera Vs. Jiger (1970)- Set during the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, the porcupine-like Jiger soon appears, mysteriously connected to a statue that is in the midst of removal. One of Gamera’s trickiest opponents yet, Jiger is one of the most memorable Kaiju villains from the series. The film itself is a bit too convoluted for the youngsters, but it features some great battle scenes and Gamera in dire circumstances for the first time in awhile.
- Gamera Vs. Zigra (1971)- The last “true” Gamera film from the Showa series, Gamera vs. Zigra is a lot of fun. After a family investigates the crash site of a strange alien ship, they quickly regret their choice as their held hostage by a female Zigran, of the planet Zigra. She uses her advanced technology and power to create earthquakes all across Japan. Gamera swoops into action to save the day, but his fire breath transformers the Zigran spaceship into a massive Kaiju shark. The battle scenes are a lot of fun, and Zigra is a towering opponent for our favorite turtle.
- Gamera: Super Monster (1980)- This is quite the disastrous last film in the Showa Gamera series. Made by Daiei (and their new parent company) after nearly a decade of bankruptcy and leadership turnover, this Gamera film features stock footage from all of the previous entries in the series, edited together with newly shot scenes featuring the alien Zanon. This entry reminded me Godzilla Vs. Megalon’s production, which similarly spliced together stock footage and newly filmed scenes in an incoherent fashion.
Mill Creek Entertainment has done a phenomenal job transferring all eight Gamera films to High Definition. Licensed directly from Kadokawa Pictures, these transfers feature beautiful color reproduction, with a mostly clean and clear image for each film. There are occasional artifacts and anomalies throughout that seem inherent to the source material, but wow, color me impressed! Detail on Gamera and other Kaiju’s is remarkably effective, with an almost tangible scaled and slimy appearance. Flesh tones on our human friends are accurate, and never appear boosted. In fact, the High Definition presentation on all eight films is so good that you can clearly make out the special effects components of the time period, including wires and matte paintings. All of the films appear authentic to the time period and original presentation, with digital noise reduction held at bay, the film grain is left intact to maintain a natural appearance.
The Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital Track included for all eight films suits them well. There is a slight “canned” effect to some moments of dialogue and sound effects, but it all adds to the nostalgic fun of these entries in the 1965-1980 Gamera series. English subtitles are included of course, and occasionally appear and disappear a bit too fast for the dialogue to keep up. I was actually surprised by the dynamic sound in quite a few sequences, especially from a two-channel track. The audio on all eight films is more than suitable, and easily recommended when paired with the beautiful picture quality.
If I have a single solitary area of complaint on these discs, it’s in the bonus features. There is not a single supplement across all eight films and two discs. Not a commentary, vintage featurette, photo gallery, or trailer. I would imagine this is due to the specific licensing agreement that Mill Creek obtained with the rights holders, because there must be some features out there waiting to be unleashed for Gamera fans.
As you can see from the “Unboxing” pictures below, these Blu-Ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment come with gorgeous slipcovers that perfectly capture the destructive yet fun mood of the Gamera franchise. With both the English and Japanese titles, a mini-poster for each film with the respective title and release date, and an epic shot of Gamera from the respective Daiei Studios eras, the artwork couldn’t be any more perfect. On the reverse of the case and slipcover you’ll find a brief synopsis for each film, as well as the technical specifications. On the interior of the case is a single Blu-Ray for each 4-film set, with some nice artwork that mimics the front slipcover. Well done!
Often overshadowed by Toho’s Godzilla series, the Gamera films from Daiei Studios are true gems from a bygone era. With a much more family friendly atmosphere than some of the aforementioned Godzilla entries, Gamera remains the true guardian of the universe, and friend to all children. The Blu-Ray releases from Mill Creek Entertainment feature outstanding and authentic video presentations with remarkable color reproduction, intact film grain, and surprising detail and depth in most sequences. The 2.0 Dolby Digital audio presentations are mostly respectable here, with dialogue coming through clear and music and sound surprisingly dynamic. If there were a lone complaint on both of these sets, it would be the lack of special features, which I would assume is due to licensing agreements between the distributor and rights holder. Despite that small complaint, Gamera has never looked better, and is a welcome addition to any Kaiju fans collection. Highly recommended!