Friday, November 21, 2008

Shell Game: Giant Monster Gamera(1965)

While Godzilla justifiably dominates many discussions of giant monsters on internet message boards there is another monster from the Orient that has also enjoyed quite a big screen career as well: Gamera. This monster made its debut in 1965 in a black and white, letterboxed film released theatrically by Daiei Studios, the movie called Giant Monster Gamera.

Like any "origin story" film this movie goes about introducing Gamera to those watching the film. The storyline: a mysterious country(presumably the U.S.S.R.) drops an atomic bomb at the Arctic(near the North Pole) which causes a huge fissure to open in the ice. Awakened by the atomic blast a 150 foot tall turtle erupts out of the ice from a long slumber. The giant turtle immediately destroys an icebreaker/research vessel, then flies south, where it stops long enough to befriend a boy with a pet turtle and then engage the local military tasked with stopping it. Scientists discover that Gamera "feeds" on energy, especially fire, which makes attacking the monster with conventional weapons ineffective. To that end scientists and the military forum and come up with the "Z Plan", by which to lure the giant monster into the enormous, and opened, nose of a rocket, then close the rocket's nose and send the giant fire breathing turtle into outer space, never to menace mankind again.

To save budget this movie was shot in black and white. The aspect ratio of the movie is 2:35.1 widescreen. Giant Monster Gamera was directed by (the late) Noriaki Yuasa. Yuasa has done, IMO, a marvelous job of creating an entertaining kaiju film, in light of the time and budget constraints he always worked under while in Daiei's employment. Yuasa was also greatly fond of children and this no doubt factored into the inclusion of a child(the little boy) into the movie's storyline.
Admittedly I found the little boy an annoyance and distraction more than anything but this movie is just serious enough in tone otherwise to keep my attention.

Giant Monster Gamera(1965) was re-released in an "Americanized" version in the U.S. with the title Gammera The Invincible, and with the inclusion of American actors Brian Donlevy and Albert Dekker. Both of these films were released on VHS by Neptune Media back in the late 1990's, these VHS releases stellar, both versions presented uncut, in the original aspect ratio(2:35.1 letterbox), the prints very clean and looking quite good.

There has been no official region 1 DVD release of Giant Monster Gamera(1965) or its Americanized version. There are a lot of cheapie DVDs of the American version(Alpha Video comes to mind) but these do the movie no favor: they're usually grainy looking and have been cropped to a pan and scan format(shaped to fit a standard TV screen). These versions can also be seen on "Mystery Science Theater" re-runs as well.

Giant Monster Gamera(1965) is on Region 2 DVD but this disc is getting harder to find. The entire 60's Gamera films are sold at Amazon Japan as a Region 2 DVD box set which is, not surprisingly, very expensive.

Hopefully this film will be released to quality Region 1 DVD soon.

The original trailer for Giant Monster Gamera(1965):