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Case Number 27434: Small Claims Court

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Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 (Blu-ray)

Gamera: The Giant Monster
1965 // 78 Minutes // Not Rated
Gamera Vs. Barugon
1966 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Gamera Vs. Gyaos
1967 // 86 Minutes // Not Rated
Gamera Vs. Viras
1968 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by Mill Creek Entertainment
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // June 4th, 2014

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All Rise...

Judge Patrick Bromley is friend to all children, until the restraining order arrives.

Editor's Note

Our review of Gamera Vs. Gyaos / Gamera Vs. Viras, published September 24th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

Guardian of the universe! Friend of all children!

The Case

The recent release of Gareth Edwards' big-budget reboot of the Japanese monster classic Godzilla has everyone—me included—renewing their interest in the kaiju genre. Giant monsters are on all of our minds this summer, and distributor Mill Creek is very wise in timing their release of Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 (Blu-ray) and Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 2 (Blu-ray) to capitalize on the kaiju renaissance. Collecting eight Gamera films over two volumes—in their original aspect ratios and language for a change—these two Mill Creek sets are invaluable for any fan of that lovable flying turtle.

Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 collects the first four films in the series, kicking off with Gamera: The Giant Monster. When an atom bomb releases Gamera—an enormous prehistoric turtle with the ability to fly and blow flames—he begins terrorizing and destroying Japan. As he continues his reign of terror, the military, scientists and government officials work together to devise a plan to stop him.

If the plot of the original Gamera sounds familiar, that's because the movie is clearly working from the original Godzilla (Gojira) template. Shot in stark black and white and far less campy and fun than the subsequent films, Gamera stands out by making its monster a monster—he is not yet the "guardian of the universe" he would eventually become. The movie is good; though it lacks the sense of post-war melancholy that characterizes Godzilla, director Noriaki Yuasa still treats the material with a degree of seriousness. That's both the movie's blessing and its curse. While a more straightforward monster movie approach makes the film more palatable to a wide audience (later installments appeal only to kids and the most devoted), it can be challenging to reconcile the seriousness of the tone with the fact that Gamera is an enormous flying turtle. Sure, he's been given tusk-like fangs to make him appear more monstrous, but he is, at the end of the day, a big turtle.

Having not seen any of the Gamera films prior to diving in to the series for review purposes, I was surprised at the weight afforded to the first film. My tangential understanding of the franchise was always that it was the kaiju for kids; while the original movie features a child protagonist and isn't really scary at all, it wasn't made with a young audience in mind. It's a B-grade Godzilla knock off (ironic, since many consider Godzilla to already be a B-movie, even though they are wrong) and a pretty good one at that.

The movie was successful enough to immediately put a sequel into production, meaning Gamera vs. Barugon, the second film featured on Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 was in theaters just one year later. Having been launched into space at the end of the last movie, the sequel finds Gamera returning to Earth and getting drawn into a battle with Barugon, a giant lizard hatched from an egg stolen by jewel thieves. Yes, there's a jewel thief subplot in Gamera vs. Barugon, which marks its transition into a more traditional kaiju movie (which often have a bunch of human business to kill time while the monsters aren't on screen). Once again, the military tries to come up with a way to save the city and protect the people while the giant monsters duke it out.

Gamera vs. Barugon is much more of what I was expecting from a Gamera movie. It's bigger, splashier, shot in color and features lots of monster-on-monster action in which Gamera is our hero. The turtle has not yet become "friend to all children," though, and the sequel is much more like Gareth Edwards' 2014 incarnation of Godzilla. It's treated fairly seriously by director Shigeo Tanaka, taking over for Noriaki Yuasa (who stepped in to create this movie's special effects) but has a lot of color, energy and fun—all things lacking from the original, even if that movie works in different ways. It's very entertaining.

Up next is 1967's Gamera vs. Gyaos, which introduces what I'm told is one of the giant turtle's greatest enemies, Gyaos the flying monster (who bears a passing resemblance to Rodan from the Godzilla series). Here's where the formula really begins to settle in: a young boy (Naoyuki Abe) enters into the proceedings and winds up being saved by Gamera, the military tries to come up with solutions to defeat a giant monster but the job ultimately falls to Gamera, who shows up, beats some kaiju ass and then disappears into the sea again. It's the story we would see play out many more times—not just in the Gamera series, but in all of the giant monster genre.

Part of the appeal of Gamera vs. Gyaos is in its ridiculousness. I don't like to watch things ironically (I'd much rather watch these movies straight than the now-famous Mystery Science Theater 3000 versions), but there is a charm to how straight certain elements are played. The solutions for how to defeat Gyaos are increasingly silly, culminating in a spinning disc-like platform designed by the military and a giant bowl of fake blood. Because of course that's a thing. Returning director Noriaki Yuasa embraces a sense of fun he didn't have in his first outing, but this is still a sci-fi horror movie—Gyaos kills and eats people. Making Gyaos especially monstrous only endears Gamera to us even more; the worse his enemy is, the more heroic Gamera becomes.

The final film in the collection, Gamera vs. Viras from 1968, is the most kid-friendly of the original four movies. It's also where the series really goes deliriously bonkers. Viras is a squid-like monster from outer space (it's a truly silly monster design) who only reveals himself near the end of the movie; for most of its running time, the aliens take human form (as is often the case in these kaiju movies, even as recently as Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004). The aliens capture a pair of boy scouts and threaten to kill them unless Gamera does their bidding and destroys a bunch of cities. Gamera, who by now is officially Friend to All Children, has no choice but to comply. Eventually the human-looking aliens combine Voltron-style to form Viras, the beak-faced squid, who goes alien-toe-to-turtle-toe with Gamera. Guess which monster wins?

I know I shouldn't love Gamera vs. Viras, but I am powerless to its nonsensical charms. Though the least conventionally "good" movie in the set, it plays like the self-actualization of the series—this is what it would look like going forward. Yes, it can be seen as campy and laughed off, but no one was making it as a goof in 1968. There is something so winning about the fact that a group of filmmakers made a movie in which a giant turtle has to rescue boy scouts from the aliens that capture them and plays it all, more or less, straight. All of the films on the Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 appeal to my inner monster kid, but none more so than this one.

Now for the really good news: after years of botched releases, pan-and-scan copies, English-dubbed releases and re-edited versions of all of these films, Mill Creek has collected the first four Gamera films in the right way. All four movies are presented in the correct 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio in their original unedited versions. The 1080p HD transfers vary a bit; the original Gamera: The Giant Monster fares the worst, with a black and white image that's lacking in contrast and looks pretty washed out overall. The other three movies look surprisingly good for movies that are almost 50 years old. The color really pops and the prints appear mostly scratch and defect-free. For a budget release from a studio known for being somewhat inconsistent with their HD releases, Mill Creek should be applauded for their work here. All four films are also presented with the correct Japanese language mono audio with English subtitles. There are no extra features included.

The Verdict

The lack of bonus features is hardly a deal breaker when you're getting four Gamera movies in the correct format for around $10-12 bucks. If you're a longtime fan of the Guardian of the Universe or, like me, trying to dive in to as many classic kaiju movies as possible this summer, Gamera: Ultimate Collection, Volume 1 (Blu-ray) isn't just an education—it's a necessity.

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Scales of Justice, Gamera: The Giant Monster

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Gamera: The Giant Monster

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 78 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gamera: The Giant Monster

• None

Scales of Justice, Gamera Vs. Barugon

Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Gamera Vs. Barugon

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gamera Vs. Barugon

• None

Scales of Justice, Gamera Vs. Gyaos

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Gamera Vs. Gyaos

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gamera Vs. Gyaos

• None

Scales of Justice, Gamera Vs. Viras

Judgment: 82

Perp Profile, Gamera Vs. Viras

Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Subtitles:
• English
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Gamera Vs. Viras

• None








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