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June 20, 2011

Movie Review: Gamera: The Giant Monster (1965)

Everybody loves an underdog. Hell, an underdog story is one of the most used kinds of narratives in film. Being a lumpy fellow, I've always enjoyed following some of the other lumpy underdogs in entertainment history. Porn star Ron Jeremy and wrestling legend Mick Foley are perfect examples of guys with 40 plus inch waists and decent size guts that have transcended both of their forms of entertainment. One colossal heavyweight of the rubber-monster world that belongs in this company is Noriaki Yuasa's Gamera. He's not as fast as Mothra and he lacks Godzilla's abs and matinee good looks ; what he does have though is devastating fire-breathing skills. Shout! Factory obviously loves underdogs. They certainly showed it with their release of the iconic 80's television underdog, Webster. Gamera has now finally gotten some tender-loving care via the cult film and pop-culture DVD pros at Shout!.

Buy Gamera: The Giant Monster on DVD

As Gamera grew into a popular series, like Godzilla, he became a hero for several films. It wasn't always that way though. Deep in the Arctic, Dr. Hidaka (Eiji Funakoshi) and his colleagues are on an expedition where they discover a unique ancient tablet the local hold with much trepidation. With that fear there is a respect. Unfortunately, the Cold War is hot and heavy and there’s a dogfight between the battling superpowers right where they’re having their meeting. One of the plane crashes into the ice awakening the gargantuous beast.

Gamera's front-page news, that is, until flying saucers are spotted around Tokyo. Now you have Gamera wreaking havoc, flying saucers and Cold War shenanigans. Can the people of Japan ever get a break?? Jeesh.

One consistent character-type I've noticed from watching giant monster films over the years is that they have to have a cute kid somewhere that has a relationship with the beast. In Gamera, we have Toshio ( Yoshiro Ochida) a turtle loving squirt who naturally becomes one of the few folks Gamera doesn't squish.

Shout! Factory has done a excellent job bringing the highest quality presentaion of the film. For a 45 year-old black and white feature the film materials look very good. Combine that with some top-notch restoration work by Shout! and you have an audibly and visually pleasing release.

When doing extras for a film it's always best to get people involved that know the subject. Japanese cult film historian, August Ragone, the main contributor to the supplements has a broad knowledge of the Gamera series and Kaiju in general. Ragone does a solo audio commentary over Gamera that is not only informative; it's also funny at times. This is isn't one the completely stiff "expert" commentaries that numerous genre DVDs include on their film releases.

Another gem among the bonus features is a documentary called, A Look Back at Gamera. It's in Japanese language but like the feature it has perfectly readable subtitles. The late-great Gamera director Yuasa is on hand delivering some anecdotes about production and the origins of the famous flying turtle. Apparently live rats were used to test the sets before production – which soon proved to be problematic experiment. We get to see some photos of this as other behind-the-scenes. Liner notes are also thankfully included to round out the package.

Gamera:The Giant Monster is essential viewing for any self-respecting Kaiju fan. Shout! Factory has no doubt rolled out the red carpet for this release putting forth an overall top-notch DVD release. Be sure to also check out Shout! Factory's other Gamera films - Gamera Vs. Barugon, Gamera Vs. Zigra/Gamera Vs. Super Monster, Gamera Vs. Jiger/ Gamera Vs. Guiron and the highly anticipated Mystery Science Theater 3000 collection

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