Thursday, July 13, 2006

ULTRAMAN – SERIES ONE, VOLUME ONE

From BCI/Eclipse comes a completely different kind of escapism: Eiji Tsuburaya's ULTRAMAN – SERIES ONE, VOLUME ONE (1966/67), featuring the earliest episodes of the fantastic sci-fi adventure/monster mash that has been a pop culture phenomenon in Japan for four decades, complete with a multitude of sequel series, feature films, and countless merchandising tie-ins. And it all started with these twenty fun-filled episodes.

Hayata (Susumu Kurobe), an officer of the international Science Patrol, is chasing a couple of UFOs when his jet is destroyed in a collision with one of the extraterrestrial spacecraft. As it turns out, the saucer is piloted by a friendly, silver and crimson alien from M78 Nebula who is in pursuit of Bemular, an evil, criminal monster. The alien from M78 Nebula saves the injured Hayata by transferring his own life force to the human and giving him a Beta Capsule -– a device that, when activated, will give Hayata the alien's super powers (and appearance) and make him fifty feet tall.

Over the next 20 episodes, Hayata and the Science Patrol tirelessly battle a seemingly unending invasion of giant, alien monsters bent on the conquest or destruction of the Earth. Every episode follows the same basic formula: the Science Patrol is faced with a new monster that they simply cannot defeat with the weapons at their disposal. When all looks lost, Hayata becomes Ultraman and saves the day by wrestling the behemoth into submission.

ULTRAMAN was created by legendary Japanese special effects artist Eiji Tsuburaya at the height of the kajiu phenomenon in Japan. Tsuburaya had supervised and designed the effects shots for all of Toho's original Godzilla films, and while ULTRAMAN had a budget vastly smaller than those widescreen kaiju epics, Tsuburaya's crew shows the same ingenuity and attention to detail in ULTRAMAN's countless effects scenes that they had demonstrated on the features. The episodes are all action-packed, with terrific, old school miniature effects and an endless parade of impressively insane monster suits (including, in one episode, a thinly disguised Godzilla!).

BCI presents ULTRAMAN SERIES ONE, VOLUME ONE in its original, 1.33:1 full frame aspect ratio. The transfer is quite good, with bright, vivid colors and only minimal print damage. Black levels are rock solid, and details are sharp throughout. There are no noticeable problems with compression, artifacts or edge enhancement. This set comes with Japanese and English audio tracks, presented in Dolby Digital mono. The Japanese language is preferable, as it is free of any hiss or distortion and dialogue is crisp and clear. The English dubbed track has some distinct background hiss and other occasional defects. Optional English subtitles have been included.

BCI/Eclipse's extras include the U.S. opening credits and an extensive kajiu (Monster) encyclopedia detailing all the monsters that appear in the series. There's also an interview with American voice actors Peter Fernandez, Corrine and Earl Hammond, the U.S. credits sequence with its catchy theme song, and a booklet with liner notes on Eiji Tsuburaya and the ULTRAMAN series, and an episode synopsis for all the episodes included with this set.

For kaiju fans, kids who enjoy TV shows like POWER RANGERS, or adults looking for unsophisticated, nostalgic entertainment, ULTRAMAN, SERIES ONE is highly recommended. And, conveniently enough, it streets today!

BUY: Ultraman: Series One, Vol. 1