Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gamera: The Giant Monster on Shout Factory

My last couple of posts have been kinda complaint oriented, so I wanted to single something out for praise before this blog turns into the internet equivalent of the old man in the park who yells at the pigeons.

Yesterday I picked up the recently released Shout Factory DVD, Gamera: The Giant Monster, and was really impressed with the thought and care that went into the packaging. The DVD comes with a nice 10 page booklet that includes a written reminiscence from the late director of the series, Noriaki Yuasa, as well as helpful character biographies and lots of promo pictures.

The DVD is packaged in a standard DVD shell that is made of clear plastic, and a cool diagram of Gamera detailing his anatomy and special powers is visible inside the window. If you ever wondered how a turtle could fly, you can now clearly see that it is because of his arm and leg jet sacks. Duh!

It's clear that a lot of thought and frankly, love, went into the package design, so kudos to Shout Factory, and packaging supervisor Jeff Palo and art director Karrie Stouffer in particular. It is nice to know that there are still people who care enough to do a really great job.

In the United States, poorly-dubbed, panned and scanned Gamera films have long been a staple of unlicensed cheapo multi-DVD sets (and SLP video-cassettes before them). This Shout Factory release marks the first time Gamera: The Giant Monster has been released in its original Japanese version and its original widescreen aspect ratio in the United States. The DVD was authored from a newly created HD master from vault elements. The quality of the video is quite good and certainly looks better than I've ever seen it in the past.

What can I say about a movie that is about the destructive rampage of a flying, mutant turtle and the little boy who helps save the world because of his love of turtles? Roger Ebert made the following, very intelligent observation about a different Gamera film:

There's a learning process that moviegoers go through. They begin in childhood without sophistication or much taste, and for example, like Gamera more than Air Force One because flying turtles are obviously more entertaining than United States presidents. Then they grow older and develop "taste," and prefer Air Force One, which is better made and has big stars and a more plausible plot. (Isn't it more believable, after all, that a president could single-handedly wipe out a planeload of terrorists than that a giant turtle could spit gobs of flame?) Then, if they continue to grow older and wiser, they complete the circle and return to Gamera again, realizing that while both movies are preposterous, the turtle movie has the charm of utter goofiness--and, in an age of flawless special effects, it is somehow more fun to watch flawed ones.

I think Ebert basically gets it right. Gamera: The Giant Monster is the kind of film that nearly any adult can tell you is "bad." But that is a value judgment we have to be taught how to make. Children instinctively know that movies about flying turtles that eat fire and destroy things are good movies, because--let's face it--flying turtles that eat fire and destroy things are cool. (My 8 year old son awarded Gamera 4.75 stars out of a possible 5, and noted that it is definitely better in the original Japanese.) Adults on the other hand have been taught that movies should be about adults that talk about things, and not about mutant turtles, which are silly, and besides everybody knows that no animal (no matter how large) can eat fire. Personally, I think we have a lot to learn from our children.

Shout Factory plans to release the rest of the Showa era Gamera films for the first time in the United States in their original Japanese versions and in anamorphic widescreen. The next entry in the series, Gamera vs Barugon, is due out on July 6th. I'm guessing the next one will earn a full five star rating, because the only thing cooler than a movie about a giant, flying, fire-eating turtle is a movie about a giant, flying, fire-eating turtle who does battle with a giant lizard with a freeze ray.


Doug said...

I think the internet already has turned into the cranky old man in the park, but that's another story.

I was never a huge fan of these Japanese monster shows when I was a kid but I watched them some. Looking back at my adulthood I appear to have skipped that period of "taste"; I always would have preferred Gamera over Air Force One.

Pete Bilderback said...

Yeah, I never developed the kind of "taste" that would allow one to enjoy a movie like Air Force One either.

Anonymous said...

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