Monday, November 1, 2010

Blu-Ray Review: Gamera/Gamera 2 (2010)

Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (1995) / Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996)
Mill Creek Entertainment

GAMERA - GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE (1995) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko / Starring Tsuyosha Ihara, Akira Onodera, Shinobu Nakayama, Hatsundri Hasegawa /Color /Unrated/103 Min. That giant fire-breathing turtle you loved as a kid is back with a vengeance in GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE. The super turtle combats both a misguided military and a hideous race of man-eating flying reptiles. Aiding Gamera in his fight are a courageous naval officer, an intrepid ornithologist and a beautiful young psychic. Don't miss the most incredible slam-bang, knock-down monster slug-fest ever filmed as Gamera turtle-waxes the evil Gyaos through downtown Tokyo in GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE! (from MillCreekEnt.Com)

 I missed out on earlier 1960's/1970's incarnations of Gamera, but after popping this in I was instantly transported back to my childhood and the Godzilla films I loved so much. So, apparently Gamera is a 200 foot-tall bio-engineered, bipedal fire-breathing giant-turtle created by the people of the ancient and highly advanced civilization of Atlantis. His purpose was to defeat another Atlantean engineered creature called Gyaos, which are gigantic lizard-like flying bird that eats humans. From what I could figure the Gyaos were created to combat pollution during ancient times. I guess this wasn't a problem until they started procreating and their numbers got out of hand and they started eating too many people. So, once this happened the Atlanteans had to create Gamera to fend of the Gyaos. No wonder Atlantis sank, this kind of logic is self-defeating. So, Gamera did defeat Gyaos back in ancient times and forced them into hibernation. Thousands of years later (1995) we have continued to pollute the enviorment and the Gyaos have returned. Following suite Gamera also returns to finish this ancient battle. Of course, the military is after Gamera, the one creature that's trying to save the human race. They're more concerned with the capturing the Gyaos and weaponizing them for military purposes. We get your classic man in a rubber suite on a sound stage full of miniatures here, but it is so well done. The creature, the miniature city, the special effects shots are very well inciorporated, quite seemless. I bought into the effects from the start and really didn't start thinking about the man-in-the-suite aspect until after the film. My only complaint of the film is the Gyaos creature design look pretty hokey at times, but effective nonetheless. So much fun - huge explosions, buildings crumbling under the might of two enormous creatures engaged in an ancient battle. Great stuff and exactly what you would want from these films.

GAMERA 2: ATTACK OF THE LEGION (1996) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko / Starring Akiji Kobayashi, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Miki Mizuno, Tamotsu Ishibashi, Mitsuri Fukkoshi /Color /Unrated/114 Min.  A freak meteor shower near Sapporo, Japan brings with it more than just a killer light how. Electrical problems, over-grown plant life and a whole slew of rather irritable critters also drop in to threaten the human race. Local science instructor Midori Honami (Miki Mizuno) is called to assist the brave Colonel Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima) in the military's oft-confused attempts to save mankind. They must find a way to successfully combine efforts with their reptilian protector, or both will face ultimate destruction from the Earth's bugged-out invaders. Join the battle as Gamera and his bipedal pals work to repel the Attack of Legion! (from MillCreekEnt.Com)

The second installment of what is known as the Heisei-era of Gamera films is Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion (1996). This time around Gamera must battle a race of insectoid aliens who arrive on earth during a meteor shower. The Legion (as they;ve been dubbed)build a hive in the subway tunnels of Tokyo and are building a sort of pod at the city's center. There are two types of Legion. Most are smaller swarming hive-creatures and then there is the gigantic main creature that grows to a size equivalent to Gamera. I really enjoyed the creature design in this film more so than the Gyaos from Gamera: Guardian of the Universe. The Legion creatures were quite detailed and the battles between Legion and Gamera bring mass destruction the miniature cities, it looks really great. To be honest the human element of these "kaiju" films are not of great interest to me, I wanna see some creature on creature action and Gamera 2 did not disappoint on that level at all. You get the usual array of characters: a young, attractive scientist Midori (Miki Mizuno) and Colonel Watarase (Toshiyuki Nagashima), who join forces early on to combat the alien-threat. It's an effective team-up and provides some comedy to the story. The Gamera: Guardian of the Universe films was a fun and action-packed, Gamera 2: Attack of the Legion actually ratchets up the action and the special effects look even better this time around.

DVD: Both features are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:a anamorphic wide screen in 1080p high definition with the option of Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 or 5.1 DTS HD or dubbed English 5.1 Dolby Digital with optional English subtitles. For the most part colors are vivid and crisp though there are parts that seem a bit soft and some compression artifacting is visible. The audio while not bombastic is effective and during the epic battle scenes comes to life. No supplemental features are included.

VERDICT: If you are a fan Japanese giant monster films (Kaiju films) and felt disappointed by the American reboot of Godzilla (1998) I think you'll find solace in this action-packed Gamera double feature, this is fun stuff. While I don't pretend to be a connoisseur of such films I can say without a doubt that my kids and I had a blast watching this.  
***1/2  (3.5 out of 5 stars)