In 1965, Daiei Motion Picture Company came up with Gamera to compete with Toho Studio’s very popular Godzilla franchise. There are a lot of similarities, but Gamera could never seem to top the publicity machine that was Godzilla. He was always condemned to second place until, in 1995, director Shusuke Kanedo decided to resurrect the kaiju (literally – strange beast) and he actually did it right, besting the ridiculous efforts to reboot Godzilla here in the states a few years later.
Gamera: Guardian of the Universe (GGOTU) owes a lot to Steven Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park film. Not only is the overall look and feel of that film outright copied here, but the international success of JP probably opened pocketbooks in Japan when Kanedo was shopping this reboot of Gamera around. I’d never thought of it before, but JP really is just a big budget kaiju film.
There isn’t much story here. Some weird, pterodactyl-looking “birds” (they keep calling them birds in the movie despite the fact that they are clearly reptilian) are found on an island after they’ve eaten some people. These crazy birds head toward more populated areas at the same time that a mysterious atoll is found floating about in the sea. The atoll turns out to be Gamera, who heads into town to kick some serious bird ass. Yes, there are some people involved, but they fall into the same broad categories as is usual for this genre: politician, military commander, scientist, and the one kid who is involved for some reason no one quite understands. This is not great filmmaking, but it is fun.
When compared to the original 1960’s Gamera features, GGOTU stands head and shoulders above in almost every category except for the rubber suits. At the end of the day all the great computer compositing and beautiful shots (we must see the Spielberg push-in forty or fifty times in this movie) can’t hide the fact that we’re watching a couple of sweaty stuntmen in heavy rubber suits slugging it out on models of Japanese cities. Yes, the city models are really impressive, and I felt a certain, nostalgic joy in watching Gamera smash an apartment building out of anger, but at the end of the day you kinda have to put on your childhood goggles to be able to partake in all that a film like this has to offer. In some ways, the upgrades given to the other production elements make the monsters even more incredulous, at least to adults.
The blu ray of GGOTU is produced by Mill Creek Entertainment. While the picture quality is very good, the overall experience is less than stellar due to Mill Creek’s pitiful subtitles. There’s no excuse for not translating onscreen text that is vital to the story. There are many times when there are newspaper headlines and other text that the camera dwells on, but we’re left to wonder what information is being communicated. I wonder if the folks at Mill Creek even bothered to screen this before releasing it. I simply don’t understand why you’d invest in the production of a product and then just shove it out onto the market with so little care.
I have yet to watch the other two parts of this reboot trilogy, but I’m looking forward to them despite the reports that the subtitles get worse with each subsequent entry. Recommended for children and for those who are still children at heart.