Friday, March 06, 2009

Gamera (1965).

The Scoop:
The folks at Japan's Daiei Studios wanted to compete with Toho in the kaiju arena by creating their own monster movie series to rival "Godzilla." So they came up with this -- a black and white film about a nuclear explosion that awakens an evil monster. (Kinda sounds familiar, doesn't it?)

Unfortunately, they miscalculated a bit -- turtles, even giant ones, just aren't that scary. So, even at his most fearsome, Gamera is no match for the original lizard king himself.

The plot is almost a complete rehash of "Godzilla" -- a nuclear explosion in the Arctic awakens Gamera, who has been sleeping under the ice for millenia. Of course he wakes up on the wrong side of the bed and goes on a worldwide rampage looking for energy. A group of scientists try everything they can to stop him, but to no avail. Instead (and this is the only original wrinkle in the formula), it is up to young boy with a special link to Gamera to put a stop to his rampage.

The results just don't hold a candle to the first "Godzilla" movie. Not only are the writing and directing weak in comparison, but the effects are laughable and Gamera comes off as more humorous than threatening. It is no wonder that as the series continued, he was quickly made into a good guy who, as the script of every film likes to remind us, "is the friend to all children."

The film's American distribution rights were bought by schlock-meister Sandy Frank, who dubbed it, recut it, shot some new footage and released it as "Gammera the Invincible." For years, that version was the only one available in the United States. If you have a choice, opt for the original if you can. That doesn't necessarily mean it's better, but at least you'll be seeing it as the director intended.

Best Bit:
Old Man: "I guess that flying saucer I saw was really Gamera."
Old Woman: "As the old saying goes, 'We see terrible things if we look too long.'"

Side Note:
"Gamera" was the last of Japan's tidal wave of monster movies to filmed in black and white.

Companion Viewing:
"Godzilla, King of the Monsters" (1955) and the rest of the "Gamera" series.

Stomp Tokyo.
Brain Eater.
Beyond Hollywood.
Sci Fi Japan.

Take a Look:
The trailer:

Much like the Spider before him, Gamera hates rock 'n' roll:


scifi said...

I enjoyed your post about Gamera, and hope you won't mind a few corrections.

I don't know if you can say Daiei miscalculated in making GAMERA because the film was a big hit at the box office and quickly led to an A budget sequl, GAMERA VS BARUGON. BARUGON had a more serious tone (and no kid actors in lead roles) but didn't do nearly as well as the first film so Daiei went back to the kids for the third film which again struck box office gold. In the mid/late 1960s, Gamera was a serious box office rival for Toho's monster movies so they were doing something right.

The film's American distribution rights were actually acquired by a company called World Entertainment Corp., and they dubbed it, shot new footage in America, and released it as GAMMERA THE INVINCIBLE. Most of the other early Gamera movies were released straight to TV by AIP.

Decades later, the rights had reverted back to Daiei. In the mid-1980s Sandy Frank purchased rights to several of the Gamera films and re-released them on TV and video. The Sandy Frank Gameras have different English dubbing (some done by Daiei, some by Frank) than the original US versions. The Sandy Frank version of the first film does not have the American inserts and is simply called GAMERA, not GAMMMERA THE INVINCIBLE. The Sandy Frank versions were later shown on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000.

Lastly, if you don't think Gamera can be as fearsome as Godzilla you should check out the 1999 movie GAMERA 3: REVENGE OF IRIS. Gamera is brutal in that film, and it's widely considered the best Japanese giant monster movie of the past 20+ years.

SciFi Japan

Desuko. said...

Thanks for the clarification on the distribution history. It certainly is convoluted for a lot of the films of that era.

While they may have been popular, I still have a hard time taking the Gamera films seriously, mostly because the Godzilla films did the same thing so much better.