GAMERA TRILOGY Blu-ray Review
Join Dr. Nagamine, Inspector Osako and the lovely Asagi Kusanagi as they attempt to unravel the mysterious and deadly monster attacks of both the Gyaos and the Legion. With the "help" of the military, the survival of the human race depends on them. And the fate of the world depends on a gargantuan, aeronautic and flamably breathed reptile - Gamera, the guardian of the universe! This limited edition box set includes all 3 feature films from the Heisei Gamera trilogy, all beautifully remastered in stunning high definition. Also included is a wealth of Bonus Features!In 1995, Daiei decided to resuscitate the long dormant Gamera kaiju series. Throughout the '60s and '70s, Gamera took a backseat to the Godzilla juggernaut, but managed to carve out its own niche as the kiddie version of Godzilla. Gamera was the friend to all children, and as such, his films were typically a bit less violent and explody than his more "mature" counterpart. However, in many cases, Gamera's films were also a lot more fun. Daiei's return to the Gamera series was feared to be a reboot of this less type of kaiju film, but when Gamera: Guardian of the Universe was released, it blew away many of the more modern kaiju films on the market.
Rather than dissect the individual films in this review, I'm going to go with my overall impressions. The Gamera series have all been covered by people much more qualified than myself, and I'd hate to show my ignorance up front and rather keep you guys guessing as long as possible. In that spirit, I love these fuckin' movies!
As a person who has repeatedly attempted to sit through the numerous Godzilla reboots in the last fifteen years, I have become tired and disillusioned with kaiju films. For every good Big G movie, there are 8 shitty ones right behind it, and even some of the most talented filmmakers in Japan can't seem to make those films work anymore, I blame Toho, but I digress. Daiei took a big step in resurrecting Gamera, they abandoned his old image as a giant cuddly turtle with massive tusks, and made him an ass-kicker. It was a gamble but it paid off. In addition to the shift in tone of the Heisei (modern) Gamera series, they also took full advantage of the latest technology to give the film some heft, and I think that this is where the Godzilla series seems to falter.
The sequences of mass carnage and destruction in these three films blow away anything that Godzilla has done in the modern era. Gamera goes for realism in it's effects, and not kitsch. The Showa Gamera films aren't kitschy, they are a product of their time and the limitations thereof, the Heisei Gamera films are modern monster movies. Even though the monsters are largely (apart from Revenge of Iris) men in suits, they are incorporated incredibly well into their surroundings. With the massive budget and army of technicians behind Godzilla's ill-fated US debut, they couldn't touch the heart that this Gamera trilogy has in spades.
One of Gamera's great successes is in its ability to create a mythos that doesn't rely on goofball mysticism. Gamera in this incarnation is a far more believable character than he should be. Much of the background for the character is based on dubious science, but at least there is an attempt to give him a scientific backstory, which wins points in my nerd book. Sure, there is an Atlantis-like mythology present, but it fits rather well with Japanese mythology and manages to connect to present day concerns on much the same level as Ishiro Honda's original Godzilla did way back in 1954. This is a huge success in my book, and goes a long way toward making the film work.
After sitting on these discs for nearly a month, I finally decided to give them a spin with the least of expectations and I came out a huge fan. The monster suits look great, especially in the first two films, and the destruction was absolutely fantastic. Creature design was on par with any of Toho's major productions in the last fifty years. My one reservation as far as creature quality goes was the excessive, in my opinion, use of CG in the third film, Revenge of Iris. There were times where it was helpful in creating the scale necessary, such as in the destruction of the Shibuya district during an early battle scene. Unfortunately, there are numerous flying sequences with Iris and Gamera that just took me out of the moment too often. It's a small quibble in the grand scheme of how much I love these fuckin' movies, though.
Mill Creek released the first two films as a double feature disc a while back for a ridiculously low price. For this newer set, they've included the original double feature disc and a third disc with the final film and special features, and it costs even LESS than the double feature disc in some places. You'd think that squeezing two films onto one disc would be to the film's detriment, but honestly, this looks pretty much as good as any HD coming out of Japan. I'm sure they could look better in some alternate universe, but they are an upgrade from DVD quality and that's fine by me. The sound is a bit of a different story. All three films feature three audio tracks, the Japanese DTS-HD HR 5.1 track, a Dolby 5.1 Japanese track, and a Dolby 5.1 English dub, with the third film adding a DTS-HD MA 5.1 track. The Japanese DTS-HD HR tracks do not really create as potent an audio experience as most modern action films, but the DTS-HD MA track on Revenge of Iris is a ball buster! Personally, I enjoy dub tracks for kaiju films, and I wish they'd included HD audio in English as well. The overall experience on Blu-ray is pretty damned impressive, especially considering at the time of this review you can get all three films for less than $7 total at Amazon.
This trilogy release corrects a major hole in the original double feature disc by adding a massive pile of extras. The second disc holds bonus material for all three films. The great news is that the video extras cover nearly three hours, the not so great news is that it is sort of difficult to navigate and the subtitles are out of sync for most of it. However, if you don't mind riding the FF button, you can find a ton of really cool behind the scenes footage of guys in suits destroying shit, as well as suit fittings and design sessions, the stuff that kaiju fans really want to see. I was impressed, I just wish it didn't all run in one long sequence. I felt sort of obligated to sit through the whole thing!
You can't argue with a set like this. It's super cheap, the movies are an all out blast, and they look pretty decent. I say it's a winner all around. Buy it.