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GAMERA


GAMERA--"Titanic Terror Tortoise" 


The Complete Blu-Ray Collection

By Dark Starr

"Gamera, use your jets!" If you enjoy watching the gigantic turtle like creature that is Gamera do that, you will find plenty to enjoy in Arrow Films' new Blu-Ray collection. Over the eight discs in the set you will find all twelve Gamera movies ever released. It also represents all three eras. The first eight were all part of the first run. That was followed by a reboot which included three movies. Another reboot has given us one Gamera movie. 

The very first Gamera film was "Gamera, the Giant Monster," and it was released in 1965. Essentially intended as competition to Godzilla, it introduced Gamera as a giant turtle with jets that allow him to fly. In addition he breathes fire. 

The first movie was filmed in black and white, but all the films that followed were in color. In a lot of ways, the first film was pretty typical of the genre that was to become the Kaiju (or strange creature) genre. A nuclear explosion in a frozen wasteland awakens a creature from before the era of man. A series of attacks by the creature ensue, making up the bulk of the film. While it was nothing unique or overly imaginative, the movie was fun. It was also the start of an unusual journey for Gamera. 

With the follow-up, "Gamera Vs. Barugon," Gamera was shown in color for the first time. Additionally, the concept of Gamera as a hero pitted against another monster began. That pattern would hold the series going forward. In fact, as the movies continued, they evolved to the point where Gamera became less monster and more non-human superhero, coming to the rescue of humanity, or more specifically. 

He eventually became known as both "The Friend of All Children" and "The Guardian of the Universe." After a while there was a real sense of communication between the children and the monster introduced. The movies gradually shifted to being more "kids' movies" and less serious. The thing is, I'd say they became a lot more fun, too. You knew what was going to happen. Gamera was going somehow be pulled in to battle one or more similarly enormous creatures. He would become injured, and sometimes seemed even to be killed, but in the end he would come back and save the day. 

It was always a fun ride, though. I would add that, despite the formula, they changed the stories quite a bit. Some creatures came from Earth and others from outer space. Sometimes there were alien intelligences directing the action. Some of the battles took place in space and even on alien worlds. While not particularly nuanced, there was some real creativity happening. 


Budget concerns were obvious, though. Part of that could be seen in the effects of the movies. Mind you, it was sort of par for the course of those types of films, and almost a charm, but the effects were not overly convincing. Another budget concession was the fact that the movies reused scenes from previous films in the newer ones. That became more and more prevalent as time went on. 

The final film of the original run was 1980's "Gamera: Super Monster." Not only was that the only movie of the original series after the first to break the "Vs." title, it really changed a lot of other things. For one thing, they used pretty much every monster Gamera had fought to that point. It was necessary to do that because the studio was in serious money trouble at the time, and the film was meant to try to bring quick cash in. 

Using all the previous monsters allowed them to reuse footage from every movie in the series, cutting down on the amount of new footage needed. They even went further, though, including footage from "Space Battleship Yamato" and "Galaxy Express 999." Much of the story focused on a group of "space women" who were disguised as humans. Using a choreographed series of movements they transformed into their true selves. The whole thing seemed very much like a Power Rangers movie. The movie might have been cheap to make, but it is also the only film in the series I found hard to take. I don't imagine I'll ever watch that one again. It was silly, confusing and just didn't really feel like a Gamera movie. 

It would be fifteen years until another Gamera movie was released. That movie would be "Gamera: Guardian of the Universe." It represented a reboot of the series. Much was changed. First, production values were vastly improved, with the movies becoming more in line with high budget features. The tone was the most serious of the whole series. The story was more complex. We are introduced to several characters who will return with the next couple movies, too. 

While I'm not sure I'd call that first film of the new run a horror movie, it was definitely a serious monster movie. The second, though, " Gamera 2: Attack of Legion" definitely has a horror vibe to it. The legion creatures are downright frightening. While the previous movie had done quite a bit to establish a sort of mythology of Kaiju, it was expanded upon in the second film. 

The third one, "Gamera 3: Revenge of Iris" brought a new sense of realism to the kind of mayhem and destruction a battle between gigantic creatures would represent to humans. It's something not seen before in any of the other Gamera movies. The film builds more into the Kaiju mythology and is quite a good movie. I think I prefer the previous one, though for several reasons. 


First the story of "...Revenge of Iris" seems a bit overly complicated. Then there is the segment I found really cringe-worthy. Without giving too much away, the concept of human-monster integration communication, which has continued through these three movies, gets a new (and I would say "distasteful") wrinkle. There is a scene in the movie that seems heavily insinuate a sort of "tentacle erotica" element. I know that's another Japanese import, but personally, I found the reference a little out of place, it just felt creepy, and not in a good way. The other complaint I have about the film is that it ends as it seems to be getting ready for a massive battle. My hunch is that they intended it as preface or set-up for the next movie, but that film never happened. So, it feels unfinished. 

The successor to that 1999 film didn't come until 2006. It was titled "Gamera the Brave." It was another reboot. While the better effects and production values were retained from the previous series, this time around they were reaching back to the kid-based concept. The story was simpler, and involved kids working with Gamera to help him defeat a threat. While it was definitely less serious, it was also a lot of fun. I'd actually consider it one of my favorites from the whole series. 

This collection includes quite a few bonus features on the discs. The majority of those are interviews, and I have to admit that I didn't watch all of them. One reason I only caught a few was that I wanted to actually view all the movies before writing my review, but I also wanted to get the review done in as timely a fashion as possible. Secondly, though, the couple that I did watch, didn't really capture my attention. I think perhaps people who were fans of the whole Kaiju thing before viewing this will appreciate them more. I'll probably watch and enjoy them when I revisit these films. 

The box set also includes a large book and comic book. I can't comment on those or the packaging as I was sent review copies that consisted of preview Blu-Rays with no packaging. What I can tell you is that I really enjoyed these movies. I have never been a big fan of Kaiju in the past, but this series has really changed that. It's also turned me into a diehard fan of Gamera. I really hope they do more movies because I will be anxiously awaiting them going forward. I should mention that, if you haven't figured it out, these films are in Japanese with English sub-titles. It doesn't take long to completely forget that and feel like what you are reading is the actual dialog.