Tuesday, March 22, 2011

GAMERA VS. ZIGRA / GAMERA: THE SUPER MONSTER

With this double-feature volume, Shout! Factory wraps up their excellent series of classic Gamera DVD releases.The two titles in this set - GAMERA VS. ZIGRA (1971) and GAMERA: THE SUPER MONSTER (1980) were the titanic terrapin's final big screen excursions until director Shusuke Kaneko revived the big guy in the mid-Nineties. Unfortunately, the first cycle of Gamera films ended with a whimper rather than a bang...

In GAMERA VS. ZIGRA, the seventh film in the series, Gamera, once again assisted by a couple of children (although this time, at least, one of them is a little girl), battles a silver-skinned "shark" from outer space called "Zigra," (natch'), who is under the control of a sexy alien babe in a  crown-shaped saucer. She's from a pollution-ravaged world and has decided that Earth would make a good replacement, once her monster has beaten ours.

There doesn't seem to be quite as much recycling of effects footage here, but the new monster sequences are rather shoddy and appear to have been rushed (otherwise, some shots would probably have been re-shot). The film opens with the alien saucer attacking a Japanese Moonbase, and the miniatures aren't very convincing, either. The live action material takes place primarily at Japan's Sea World, and it looks like a fun place to visit. This was the only early Gamera film not picked up by American-International for TV syndication, and wasn't seen on these shores until its debut on the USA Channel in 1987.

GAMERA: THE SUPER MONSTER was released nine years later, long after kaiju craze in Japan had faded (they weren't even making Godzilla movies then), and is frankly, unbearable. There are no new monster creations in this one as the evil aliens this time (who fly around in a Star Destroyer knock-off) simply pit all of Gamera's old foes against him (through the "magic" of stock footage) in their attempt to conquer the Earth. This time, Gamera is "aided" by three costumed superheroines who team up with the requisite kid to watch all of Gamera's greatest battles play out again.

The movie has a cheap, direct-to-video look and the stock footage is all terribly mismatched, much of it being blown up (this is the only film in the series not shot widescreen), which only emphasizes any flaws in the original footage. The story, such as it is, isn't very interesting (nor coherent), and its really a shame that the original series of films came to such an ignoble end.

Shout! Factory's treatment of these two lesser films, however, is outstanding. GAMERA VS. ZIGRA is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer culled from vault materials, and is nearly flawless. Audio options include the original Japanese language track and a hilariously bad English dub. A still gallery with promotional images and behind-the-scenes photos accompanies the feature. SUPER MONSTER is 1.85:1 anamorphic and looks very good, considering the nature of the film. Obviously there's some degradation evident in the copious stock footage, much of which (as noted above) was blown-up and re-sized for this movie, and therefore very grainy and fuzzy. Both Japanese and English language tracks are provided, but the English track is awful; badly performed and recorded. Once again, a publicity still gallery is included.

Gamera and kaiju completists will be pleased to finally have all of the original films in high quality home video editions, even if these two are the weakest installments of the cycle. The transfers are great, and the retail price is reasonable. A big shout-out to Shout! for their fine work on these releases!

BUY: Gamera Vs. Zigra / Gamera: The Super Monster [Double-Feature]